Bad Dudes is another one of those games where you stroll around, causing trouble and picking fights – a “fighting game,” if you will. As with most of Data East’s wares, this one began its life as a coin-op, and made the jump to just about every home system available. And as should be obvious to anyone, this is another game jumping on the scrolling fighter bandwagon, which was probably 60 miles to Albuquerque by 1989.
Also by ’89, there were plenty of other scrolling brawler options available on the NES. So what in the world would make you want to buy Bad Dudes? How about the GREATEST VIDEO GAME PLOT EVER CONCEIVED?
INT. DAY – A lime-green screen. A single man in a flight jacket and shades addresses the camera. He is either VAL KILMER FROM TOP GUN or DUKE NUKEM.
VAL FROM TOP GUN or DUKE
The President has been kidnapped by Ninjas. Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the President?
Did I write this game? Seriously, who else would appreciate the idea that ninjas were waiting, quietly training and growing in numbers, for the day in 1988 that they would leap out – not just a couple of them, mind you, but an entire CITY of ninjas – to capture “President Ronnie” …whoops, that’s in the arcade, here I mean “The President” (Nintendo wouldn’t allow any political references). After you, macho example of whitebread America, pound over twelve hundred years of Asian culture and discipline into dust, you and President Ron… The President will go enjoy a hamburger. I’m serious. You can’t make this stuff up.
Now, I must admit that my initial impression of Bad Dudes was not very favorable. I never owned or rented the game when it came out, which didn’t help to color my view of it, since I thought at the time that Double Dragon 2 was pretty much as good as it was ever going to get. However, the more I played for this review, the more I got the feeling that this was the way the NES port of the original Double Dragon should have been. That is meant to be a compliment.
In Japan, this game is called Dragon Ninja. In America it is generally Bad Dudes. In the arcades, it was Bad Dudes vs Dragon Ninja. It’s all the same game. You’ll travel left to right, beating up ninjas that appear, with a single button to attack and a single button to jump. You have a life bar that will allow you to take about 15 hits per life, far more generous than many other fighting games, and results in a game slightly more focused on ninja walloping over self-preservation. Most ninjas are blue “intern ninjas.” It’s their first day on the job, and they’ll get clobbered in one hit. Sometimes, grey or teal “master ninjas” will show up. The grey ones throw things at you, while Mr. Teal has a polearm and jumps up and down on it like a pogo stick. Sometimes a helpful red ninja will show up and drop a life-sustaining Coke if you take him out. You’ll fight a boss at the end of each level.
The tale of the Bad Dudes fighting the Dragon Ninja wouldn’t be much more interesting than the standard fare if it weren’t for a couple of saving graces. First are the multitude of attacks you can manage out of those two little buttons. By default, you cycle through some punches and kicks by slamming the attack button. These are generally good enough for dispatching the blue ninjas, and deflecting the ninja stars thrown by the greys. Holding down the button for about a second charges up a flame punch useful to make short work of bosses. Pressing both buttons gives a jump kick also useful for bosses. Pressing both buttons and forward at the same time produces a charging hurricane kick that’s good for spamming over and over while you knock back a brew and beat the game with minimal effort. Picking up a knife or nunchucks will also help you breeze through the game, as you only lose them if you lose a life.
Second, the game looked much better in the arcade, goes without saying, but what they pulled off for the port are reasonably impressive NES graphics. The characters are far better than the oversized heads of Double Dragon NES, and the backgrounds are comparable. Both appear to take place in the same city with sepia-toned buildings, green metal bars, and the same generic skyscrapers in the background. The animations for attacking aren’t that bad either, though the results follow the ol’ flicker ‘n fade technique.
The sound effects will seem very familiar to those who have played RoboCop, especially the punching and power up collection chimes. If my timeline is correct, Robocop actually stole those sounds from this game, but that is not the point. It’s proof that Data East hired a sound designer one time, made a library of his work, and ran with it for as long as they could. The other way of looking at it is that this sounds like every other Data East NES port. I don’t recognize the music, however, and it has a few reasonably catchy beats that support the idea of white Americans pummeling trained martial artists. Oh yes, and lets not forget the audio highlight of the game, where your Dude beats the stage boss, flexes for the camera and announces:
…in the most overmodulated, garbled digital voice possible. This is also about twice as loud as the rest of the game, so prepare yourself or your volume accordingly. He really wants to let you know he’s bad.
About the only major complaint I have regards the very flaky jumping controls that get easily confused between intending to do the “jump to a higher platform somersault” and the “little pussy leap forward that serves no purpose other than to clear tiny gaps.” There are occasional moments when you will need to jump between trucks or railcars, and the pussy forward jump won’t do the job. There are other, more frequent moments when you need to jump up or out of the way of incoming death, and you instead do a little hop on one foot, the act of which might as well just go ahead and remove a life bar itself.
The actual fighting part of the game is pretty solid, it’s when the fighting, evading, or navigating need to leave the ground for a moment that it all goes pooey. Similar trouble is also in store for any attempts to do a crouching kick, which is useful on some bosses, and to clear away the giant sharpened jacks thrown out by the greys. It requires a diagonal down and direction press to pull off, and gets just as confused as diagonal jumps.
It should also be mentioned that Bad Dudes is a two-player game, but only in the leapfrog technique. Two players do not get to play the game at the same time, which is a bummer and a half. I don’t know what they figured out to fix this problem by Double Dragon 2, but dammit, I’m glad they did.
The environments you will fight in are varied but overused across all these types of games – city streets, sewers, tops of moving vehicles – you’ve seen them before. The enemies you fight are rarely interesting either – ninjas and more ninjas – but the game itself isn’t half bad if you like the genre. It’s certainly far better than I was expecting, and works pretty well as a companion to the other NES brawlers. Now go liberate President Ronnie, so you can get that hamburger he owes you before he forgets about it. HA! HA! HA! HA!
Not a bad brawler, and a very good arcade translation. I stand by my statement that this is the game the first Double Dragon NES version should have been.
Two players still can’t play at once, controls get imprecise on the jumps and the diagonals.