Bimmy. If there's one thing people know about Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones, it's Bimmy – a typo during the game's (multiplayer) intro that humorously renames the main protagonist. There's more to this third NES entry in the Double Dragon series than a small chuckle however. There's a challenging globetrotting adventure to be found with some cool-looking moves. There have been some changes compared to the previous games, but it still boils down to smacking a lot of people in the face.
Story-wise the game takes place a year after the events of its predecessor, and although Billy and Jimmy Lee defeated the Shadow Warriors there is now a new threat. The good news for Marion (as she is spelling her name on this occasion) is that this time around she hasn't been shot. The bad news is that she has once again been kidnapped. A woman appears saying she knows who the captors are and that they will release Marion if the Lee brothers deliver the three sacred stones of power to them.
Acquiring the stones and freeing Marion will see the brothers visit five different countries, but the rescue mission will take a while as the game is tough. This is apparent from the get-go, when shortly after your friend Brett dies before he can tell you something important, two members of this new mystery group rush in and attack. You might expect the enemies in the opening level to just run into your fist, but these people are surprisingly competent. They kick and punch as well as run and jump about the screen, and will even work together, attacking you from different sides or with one using the other as a springboard to launch a jumping kick.
When the action moves to the streets outside you are faced with a lot more gang members, some now with weapons. There's only ever two on-screen, but dispatch them and two more quickly take their place. You have to be careful to avoid taking too much damage as levels lack any health-replenishing items. Also adding to the difficulty is the absence of extra lives, so should you receive a severe beating or fall off the high platform that features later in the level, you will instantly be treated to the Game Over screen.
You can choose to tackle the game alone or have a friend help out, with the second player being given control of Jimmy. The brothers handle the same with a button for punching and a button for kicking, push them together to perform a jump. This method of jumping is not ideal for clearing gaps and the default button layout is a little awkward with any controller other than a Wii Remote, but you can of course remap to something more comfortable via the Virtual Console menu.
There are only a few instances where you must jump between platforms, and the main reason for jumping is actually to perform one of the special moves. Pressing buttons whilst jumping will allow Billy or Jimmy to pull off a jumping kick, a "Cyclone Spin Kick" or the "Mid-Air Somer-Assault". Performing these moves takes some getting used to, but once you've mastered them your odds of completing your quest improves significantly and it also makes the game more fun. The Cyclone Spin Kick is a powerful attack that usefully knocks enemies flying (it's particularly useful if it knocks them flying into a pit). The Somer-Assault is a spectacular looking move in which your Lee brother jumps at the enemy, grabs them mid-air then flings them out of the way. The jumping kick looks a little rubbish in comparison, but is easy to connect with. In a two-player game you can team-up just like the enemies and use it to perform a springboard kick.
In addition to your fists and feet a couple of weapons can be picked up; a smashed bottle and a knife. As well as these, the brothers also have nunchuks that can be equipped and used a limited number of times each level. The nunchuks are a good way to get out of a tight spot, but are best saved until the end-of-level bosses due to the amount of damage they inflict. As you progress you learn how best to deal with certain enemies and ones you struggled with previously are quickly dispatched. Overall the combat is difficult but fair; don't get trapped between two attackers, think things through, perform the correct moves and you will prevail.
The visuals that accompany all this action use plenty of colours, and scenery has a fair bit of detail. There are a number of differently designed enemy characters and each locale has a distinct look. There's the occasional duff moment such as a building exterior towards the end of the China level that looks like a garden shed, and there's plenty of graphics flicker (not too distracting in the heat of combat), but overall this a good-looking NES title. Sound effects are basic beeps and crunches, but are largely inoffensive whilst the music goes for an action-adventure vibe; it fits but is forgettable and can get a bit whiny at times.
In a change from the previous NES games, it's not just Billy and Jimmy who are available to players. At the end of the second stage you encounter Chin, a Kung-Fu master who is seeking revenge for the death of his brother (killed during the Lee's battle with the Shadow Warriors). Presumably they weren't that close however, as following the fight Chin hands over the sacred stone he was holding and then decides to join you on your quest. Similarly Ranzou, the ninja boss of stage 3, joins your party after he has been defeated.
Once Chin and Ranzou have joined, you can select them on the subsequent levels. They behave differently to Billy and Jimmy and have their own sets of special moves. Chin is slower than the others, but has very effective punches, whilst Ranzou permanently carries a sword and has a number of shuriken he can throw across the screen. The addition of these characters adds some variety to combat and helps alleviate the problem of the lack of extra lives; should your character be getting low on energy, simply switch to someone else. It's important that you do switch-out characters near death as should they be defeated on a stage, they are unavailable for the rest of the game.
The game remains difficult throughout, be it thug after numerous thug running on screen, a tricky jump or the occasional other moment such as entering a building and immediately getting jabbed by a floor spike! A two-player session allows you to take one on-screen enemy each, but the game compensates by throwing more attackers at you. Once Chin and Ranzou have been acquired it helps a little, but then the enemies become trickier, with more throwing things at you or performing kicks from a wall-jump. For the last two levels of the game the developers must have been feeling guilty as they provide you a continue to use; as this restores your full party to health it's a big help.
The difficulty ensures that, until you've mastered the moves and got used to how the various enemy types behave, you will be kept busy with the game. It can certainly get frustrating. There are also times when two enemies run on screen identical to the pair before them (and the pair before them), that the action can feel a bit too samey, but defeating a bunch of attackers after stringing together a mix of basic attacks and special moves is very satisfying.
It's occasionally repetitive and the audio's unremarkable, but the new characters are a welcome addition and there's a decent combat system in place that makes the fighting mostly enjoyable. Jumping over gaps can be awkward, but luckily it's not something you are required to do often. The game is challenging from the offset whether in single or multiplayer mode; that can frustrate and will be off-putting for some, but persevere and there's plenty of enjoyment to be had from Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones.