DOUBLE DRAGON 3 / Acclaim / NES
"Unplayably difficult" sums up Double Dragon 3 in a nutshell. I actually had this game on my NES as a kid and somehow I eventually put in the time to beat it, though I don't remember how (or why).
The set-up for this one is that Marian is kidnapped yet again ... actually according to the game it's "Marion", so maybe it's actually Bimmy and Jimmy's black male buddy or something, I dunno. Some random old lady comes out of nowhere and tells them they have to collect the Rosetta Stones to find her, which coincidentally involves Fightin' Round The World with tons of punks at various locations.
It's pretty much the same style as the previous two games but there's some minor tweaks, which all manage to add up to major headaches. First, you only get one life, and there's no opportunity to refill health in the midst of levels. Lose all your health, game over, back to the beginning. Now, after level 1, you start gaining other characters that you can switch to who have their own separate health bars, which is the one mildly cool aspect of the game. You start out with only Jimmy, who is just the red-garbed clone of Bimmy, but after defeating the bosses of the second and third levels, they join you. The first is a fat little Chinese dude who has a pretty crappy moveset, but the second is a high-jumping ninja who actually makes the game drastically easier once you get ahold of him. Of course, he takes the longest to get.
Good luck even making it out of the first level with just Bimmy on hand, though. Enemies don't fuck around and their common punches and kicks take off one or two bars of your 12-ish points of life. Enemies also seem to have way better priority as far as hits go, and the hit boxes are ridiculously finicky for your attacks. Oh, and if you get surrounded, which is always what enemy groups try to do to you, they can keep attacking you as you're getting up and eat off 1/3 of your life bar before you get any opportunity to get out of it. The game added a lot more elaborate moves to your arsenal, like dashing reverse jump kicks and a hair pull throw, but they're so finicky and time-consuming to pull off it's rarely a good strategy to actually use them. The old stalwart Cyclone Kick is still in the roster, but for some reason the timing of doing it is exceptionally finicky and half the time it doesn't work even when it appears you got the inputs right. Oh, and they did some stuff seemingly just to screw with veterans of the series. Like, you know how when you have a guy in the face-knee grab thing, but then some other dude is creeping up, so you want to toss him away quickly? Yeah, in all the other games you press away from the guy and the same button you'd been attacking with to throw him in the opposite direction. Not so in this one, where doing that just makes you let them go, whereupon they usually immediately start punching the shit out of your face and sap off two or three precious health bars.
There is one technique that makes the game manageable. Bimmy and Jimmy's basic kick seems to be the only move that has good priority over the enemies, so if you stand above or below them and wait for them to walk up or down to you (they never move diagonally in this game for some reason), if you start the kick just before they get there it's almost a guaranteed knockdown for you. Of course, this does tiny damage, and is slow as shit, and turns the game into a boring grind. But it's virtually mandatory to at least survive the first three stages until you have a full complement of characters and the game's difficulty actually goes down to a manageable level.
Even though I gave them all the same overall rating, the three Double Dragon games released for the NES really descend in quality starting with the first. The first one was a decent re-imagining of the arcade game fit to the constraints of the NES, and in a lot of ways was actually better than the arcade original (certainly smoother to play and less clunky and stiff.) The second one was a similar re-imagining of its arcade counterpart that was an overall improvement, but was actually too easy and simplistic for its own good, yet still had somewhat satisfying fighting action. The third game had a framework set to continue this pattern but someone decided the challenge had to be taken UP TO 11!!!!, but apparently had no idea how to actually do that in a fair and measured way, so they just made the shit cheap as balls.
* Gameplay Video