[Double Dragon III Logo]

[Stage 1]

System: NES
Publisher: Acclaim
Designer: Technos
Release Date: February 1991
Genre: Action/Beat 'em Up
Players: 1 or 2
Save Feature? No

Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones is a largely unknown game due to its fairly late NES release along with its legendary difficulty. Make no mistake about it, however; this game is a real hidden gem! It is every bit as epic as Double Dragon II and the graphics, music, and controls/gameplay are all very solid as well. It goes against popular opinion for sure but in this gamer's eyes, Double Dragon III is the best game in the series.

Overview: Like the first two games in the ultra-popular Double Dragon series (people forget how big these games were back during the NES era), I have the fondest memories of playing Double Dragon III with friends and family. I still remember my good friend Jeff introducing me to this unheralded game way back in 1992. We had such a great time playing this game and discovering all of the little nuances that you need to know in order to have success. I still recall Jeff giving me all kinds of sound advice along the way. Granted, we played this game almost every time we got together and we had to endure countless defeats but after playing DD3 over the course of several months, we finally beat this game together and I still smile whenever I think of our amazing accomplishment. :)

As far as the actual gameplay goes, Double Dragon III plays a lot like the second Double Dragon game with a few idiosyncrasies of its own. This is another classic beat 'em up that involves punching, kicking, and throwing enemies in a variety of ways (without getting beaten to smithereens yourself of course). Like DD2, you can pick up weapons that enemies drop like bottles and throwing knives as well. However, on top of that, each character in this game has a limited amount of special weapons that can cause massive damage if used properly. Billy and Jimmy (not "Bimmy" like the opening movie states...gotta love typos in classic NES games) use Nunchuks, Chin can equip deadly Iron Claws, and Ranzou has the best ranged attack in the game with his Shurikens. Resourcefulness is huge in this game because the margin for error is much less than any previous Double Dragon game. I will explain why in the "Challenge" section of this review.

Another important tidbit of information that I want to mention is that Double Dragon III is the only game in the series that involves enemies (in this case, bosses) actually joining your party! I thought that this was a very cool/original idea because Chin and Ranzou (the aforementioned bosses that join you if you can defeat them) are a lot of fun to use! They add a completely new element to the game with their unique fighting styles (particularly in Ranzou's case) and essentially give you one additional life as well.

[The Great Wall of China!]
[Menu Screen]
[Stage 1 Boss]

Graphics: Maybe it's just me but I actually find myself preferring the style of these graphics over the more arcade-like style found in the first two Double Dragon games. Despite containing a mere five stages (compared to a whopping nine levels in DD2), the diversity of the visuals is still quite impressive in DD3 and I feel that the graphics did a nice job of creating the right atmosphere/feel for each location. I remember my friend Jeff pointing out the Great Wall of China in the background of the China stage and thinking how cool that was. Heck, we were kids then and this was the NES era after all. It didn't take much to please us back in those days. The other stages look appropriate as well. The color schemes, bold outlines, and attention to detail all add up to a satisfactory game aesthetically.

And the animated effects, while nothing spectacular, are still at least decent. The move where you jump, grab an enemy by their hair (or head in some cases...some of the baddies are bald), and throw them looks great as does the vintage Spinning Cyclone manuever. Some of the enemies do look a little stiff at times but others like the ninjas in Japan as well as the enemy special moves (where one enemy jumps into the other then does a long distance jump kick in your direction) balances it out. I thought that Technos (the game's developer) did a good job here.

Music: Say what you will about Double Dragon III's inferiority to Double Dragon II but hear me out when I say this: Double Dragon III has the most complete soundtrack of the series! From the superb title screen remix of the original game's theme to the surprisingly thought-provoking ending track, DD3 really came through in this area. The China theme in particular just sounds perfect for that particular level and is easily one of my favorite tracks in the game while the initial Japan tune with its beautiful flute sound is quite impressive as well. Italy, while being one of the more laid back levels (since it is essentially a training ground for the final battle), also features a fairly catchy, memorable tune (at least to me anyway). Some of the music in the game's final stage is pretty appropriate too.

In addition to the title/stage/ending music, there are a whopping five different boss themes in Double Dragon 3 which was quite the novelty at the time. Most of these tracks really get the blood flowing and are very appropriate for each particular boss as well. Even the final boss has a pretty good theme (despite the frustration you will undoubtedly experience as you hear it).

To be fair, the sound effects in this game don't seem to have the same pop they had in Double Dragon II. The DD3 sounds are certainly adequate but I miss the sounds that you would hear when using the knee bash or quick uppercut moves in the previous game. Meh...perhaps I am just being nit-picky.

Play Control: Although it admittedly lacks the explosive energy of Double Dragon II, Double Dragon III also features fun, fairly easy-to-use controls. I do miss the knee bash and the ability to throw a quick uppercut when landing from a jump but DD3 still offers an eclectic selection of moves to keep the gameplay fresh. You still press the A and B buttons at the same time to jump and for fighting purposes, the A button punches while the B button kicks. You can also double tap to run in this game which is useful for both attacking and running from enemies. Just be careful when you find yourself near the edge of a platform because you can accidentally use this move with relative ease resulting in some pretty frustrating instant kills. Moving right along, the Spinning Cyclone seems slightly easier to execute for some reason and you will be using regular jump kicks a lot in this game. The new move that is a lot of fun to use in DD3 is the hair grab. It is tricky to execute (you have to jump close to an enemy then press A at the perfect moment) but man does it ever look awesome!

[Ugh...the final boss]

Challenge: The unforgiving difficulty is probably the main reason why so many gamers prefer the second Double Dragon game to this one. This is a fair assessment too because Double Dragon III is a daunting challenge indeed. The main culprit for DD3's brutality is quite simple when you get down to it. Instead of having your typical 3-4 lives in stock like in DD2, you start DD3 with literally one life. No joke. In Stages 1 and 2, you have to either beat the stage without dying once or prepare to face the Game Over screen a lot. I am just assuming here but I'll bet anything that most gamers played DD3 a few times, couldn't beat Stage 1, and simply gave up and chalked up the game as a terrible follow-up to the greatness that was DD2.

This is truly unfortunate because, while DD3 is a tough-as-nails video game, you do catch a few breaks if you can just make it far enough. I already touched on Chin and Ranzou being playable characters which means that, if you can defeat Chin in Stage 2 along with Ranzou in Stage 3, you will earn their trust along with their lives which basically give you two to three lives in stock versus the one life you have at the beginning of the game. Naturally, if you are playing DD3 with a friend, you will share all of the lives (four lives total since both Billy and Jimmy would be utilized instead of simply Billy making an appearance). Also, remember that you can change characters at any time so if someone's life gets low, switch to a healthy character and preserve your party as long as possible. If any character dies at any given time, that character is literally gone for the game. However, everyone's life gets fully replenished between levels so definitely keep that in mind.

Even with those juicy tips in your back pocket, Double Dragon III is still a difficult video game. Granted, it is probably easier with two players since enemies will have a much more difficult time surrounding you and getting in cheap shots (which they will so beware!) but the fact that you share all of the lives sort of balances that out I suppose. Whatever the case, the biggest challenge in this game, other than staying healthy, is avoiding the one-hit kills. You don't have to worry about this issue for most of the game but the final stage is a nightmare in this regard so tread carefully once you make it that far. Also, never forget that you have special weapons! My buddy Jeff would always advise me to use Nunchuks against the first boss of the game which was indeed great advice! Special weapons seem effective against other bosses too so remember that! Also, knowing that enemies cannot hit you unless you are both at the same angle/trajectory is valuable intel. Move up and down and draw enemies to you...you might find yourself having much more success than simply fighting them all head-on.

Lastly, the final boss in Double Dragon III really is the toughest enemy in the entire game so don't feel badly if you lose to her over and over and over... Her stamina is unreal and some of her attacks are as cheap as they come (you literally have to jump at the perfect moment when she reappears or face the fiery consequences). The only advice I can give you is to observe her attacks and make the necessary adjustments. Jeff and I never gave up as mere 11-12 year olds and we eventually took her down so that should give you some hope!

Storyline: As a kid who grew up playing more than my fair share of cheesy NES games, I actually found the Double Dragon III story to be quite appealing despite its somewhat odd, random feel. Basically, this game takes place one year after Double Dragon II and all is right with the world until Marion disappears mysteriously. After being kidnapped by Jimmy in Double Dragon then gunned down (quite literally) by the Shadow Boss' gang in Double Dragon II, it finally happened...Marion simply vanished before something bad could happen. Actually, she was kidnapped again but in any case, it appears that Marion was destined to live a "Murphy's Law" type of life. Soon after the mysterious disappearance/kidnapping, an odd old woman/soothsayer (Hiruko) appears seemingly out of thin air and she seems to have some insight into Marion's whereabouts as well! Hmmm....... Apparently, someone desires the three Sacred Stones of power which are held by powerful men (and women!) throughout the world. This explains why Billy and Jimmy decide to pay foreign countries like China, Japan, and eventually Egypt a visit.

It might not razzle and dazzle but for an early 1991 NES beat 'em up, this story was pretty good! There is some brief dialogue in DD3 along with a major plot twist (which happens so quickly that a black dialogue screen is necessary to explain it all) which gives this game a bit more depth than your average beat 'em up. And if you are fortunate enough to actually beat the evil final boss (Hint: This is what happens when you get screwed enough times. Everyone has a breaking point!), the ending is very good and even somewhat deep for an NES game. How about that?

[Don't Fall!!!]

Funfactor: I am going to go against popular opinion here and say that Double Dragon III, despite its hefty, sometimes brutal challenge level, is still a very enjoyable gaming experience. Once again, DD3 was meant to be enjoyed by two players and you will probably get the biggest bang for your buck by choosing that option. Nothing about this game is truly awesome or other-worldly but all in all, it easily fits into the "Very Good" category and was a fitting final cog in the Double Dragon NES trilogy. Technos did themselves proud here...despite the negative reaction that this game elicited from most of the NES community. On the flip side, however, my friend Jeff, cousin Randy (for a time, Double Dragon III was Randy's all-time favorite game!), and I can't all be wrong, right? :)

Negatives: I have already discussed the challenge level of this game at great length but, due to DD3's difficulty, this game certainly isn't for everyone. If you are a hardcore NES fan who is persistent and determined and never, ever give up when facing a "Nintendo Hard" challenge, you will have a great shot at conquering this game. However, if you are a novice and impatient and want everything to come easy to you, then stay far, far away from DD3. Admittedly, the cheap one-hit K.O. falls are extremely frustrating for any gamer but then again, the second Double Dragon game was equally offensive (perhaps even more so!) in this area.

The only other thing that comes to mind is the brevity of this game. Double Dragon III is only a five stage endeavor with the stages themselves being quite short when you stop to think about it. As a matter of fact, from a sheer content perspective, I'll bet that this is one of the shortest NES games ever made (especially for a 1991 release). It doesn't really take anything away from the game but additional content could have made this game even better!

[A victory well-deserved]

Ratings: Graphics: 3.9 Music: 4.2 Play Control: 4.0 Challenge: 4.0 Storyline: 4.2 Funfactor: 4.4 Overall Score: 24.7 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Bronze Bravo

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Last Updated: March 25, 2015
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