Warning: Hot Jams incoming. Sorry, had to get that out the way. Our screenshots come from a couple different versions of the game, just to show off how many players can play at once. Two players? Yes. Three players? Sure. Four players? Why not. Anyway, I think the important thing to establish with this article is that we have studied D. D. Crew, yes, we link our sources, but we're not super-great at it. We're not good at any video game, to be honest, and while we have done our best, consider this more the layman's perspective, the everyman's experience with D. D. Crew, albeit with an informed view behind it. Thanks for your understanding.
Time for a Sega scrolling brawler from the arcades.
No, not Golden Axe or any of the ones you've actually heard of. There's plenty of them hiding in their back-catalogue!
Sega's most significant contributions to the scrolling brawler genre are, of course, not found in the arcade at all- the Streets of Rage trilogy on the Mega Drive, the second and third of which can serve as a dividing line between people over which is superior (oh, we won't show you our hand, of course). There is the original arcade Golden Axe too, mind, as well as The Revenge of Death Adder, but I would think it's fair to say that when it comes to Sega scrolling brawlers, you think of the Bare Knuckle, of the turkey under the phone booth, of Galsia and Y. Signal. You don't think about Spider-Man: The Arcade Game, do you? There's a couple of stragglers here and there- Alien Storm, Dynamite Dux and Dynamite Deka / Die Hard Arcade- that at least got home ports, but then you end up looking at things like Arabian Fight, the Sega / Sunsoft collab Tough Turf, and today's subject, D. D. Crew, perhaps one of the weirdest Sega games of the '90s. Los Angeles (judging from F.F's police department in the intro, contradicted by the Empire State Building in the ending) is under siege from the Zero Corporation, who have been planting bombs across the city. Four heroes of justice rise up to defeat the evil terrorist syndicate!
... Yeah, there's actually no stats or profiles for these guys, just names. Sorry.
At first glance, D. D. Crew looks like it fits right in with every other brawler of the era. It has a unique art style, yes- emphasising realism over cartoonish visuals, with some very elaborate animations for almost every single action your characters or the enemies can do- but you should be able to pick this up pretty quickly and get to cracking skulls, right? Hell, the flyer even says, direct quote, "ITS SIMPLE OPERATION ALLOWS ANYONE TO PLAY!" so this should be nice and easy to get into, right? Wrong. 'SIMPLE OPERATION' is a lie. The first few times I played D. D. Crew, I tried to play it like a normal brawler, got nowhere with it, and mentally filed it away with all the other one-star trash games you find littering the arcade world. I then went on to not think about it for quite some time, until it came up in Lord BBH's weekly MAME Roulette streams (and later finding his earlier 1CC video and Streetwize's very useful tutorial), where a friend of mine plays randomly-selected arcade games at a higher level than, well, definitely me. Watching someone else play the game properly, the way to beat it on one credit even, is pretty eye-opening because it reveals that D. D. Crew has a very... Unique style of play.
(To make it as clear as possible: we didn't figure out these strats on our lonesome.)
(Only through the sources above did we learn how to play this!)
To understand D. D. Crew properly is to truly embrace crowd control. Post-Final Fight brawlers generally have some kind of 'crowd control', techniques that let you stem the tide of mooks surrounding you and give you some room to breathe. Most commonly, this is in the form of a desperation attack that attacks all around your character, getting enemies off you, at the cost of some health, but there are more subtle ways other games do it to, in particular allowing you to hit multiple enemies at once, or having weapons that offer such a long teach that you'll often hit more than one enemy with one swing. These form a basic toolkit from which you, a lone warrior, can hold a ghost of a chance against the hundreds of popcorn enemies standing between you and the end. D. D. Crew has neither a desperation attack, nor does it let you hit multiple enemies at once- even if two are lined up, only one will be hurt- and it doesn't even have traditional grabs or battering weapons (all you get are rare knives and grenades to throw). What's worse, even your basic attack isn't that effective- it changes depending on distance, and after a few hits enemies will be stunned to allow you to throw them by pressing both buttons but they very quickly snap out of it and immediately counterattack you (sometimes using a completely unique move you won't see otherwise!) if you don't realise you can throw them, you can't follow up with an automatic throw like Final Fight, and again, only one enemy at a time. That's why trying to play this like a normal brawler simply does not work, the standard brawler toolset is way, way less effective at crowd control here, and mashing the button for your combo will not help you that much. Even though only about four enemies ever appear on-screen at once and only two really attack you at once, that's more than enough to do you in.
Right, OK, let's have a look at what you do have then and how to use it, and this is where it gets weird. Your string combo aside, you can hold Up or Down plus Attack for different attacks (both are parts of your combo string which change depending on your distance, but generally the Down version has better range, such as King's kicking attack) which can be much more useful than your normal string, and there's that stun-throw, but three techniques in particular are what will get you through the game. First, the jump attack will knock enemies down when used as you descend (if done when ascending, you'll stop in the air to attack and it won't knock down) and you can also alter your vertical position while jumping, a rarity in the genre. Once an enemy's down, you can grab them and either catapult them off the screen with both buttons, or more usefully press Attack to pick them up and throw them when you're ready. This actually knocks other enemies down when it hits them, and is by far the most reliable way to clear out crowds. Your other technique is the running attack- dash by tapping a direction twice, then press both buttons for an attack with a huge windup. This move can't be thrown out willy-nilly, because hitting enemies too early in the animation will make you take damage and fly backwards. Successfully land the hit though, and enemies behind your target will also get knocked over, giving you some much-needed breathing room. The main limit here is that once thrown, you can't pick them up until they've gotten up and you've knocked them down again. Beyond that limitation, the core strategies are thus revealed- focus on keeping enemies apart or incapacitated by knocking them over and grabbing them to clear crowds, or using the running attack to knock 'em over like bowling pins and again, grab and disperse.
As I said, people bounce off this game hard because of how unintuitive it is, and this is something evident from the opening moments, with no quarter given. Yet, while the game brutalises the player from the off, with no easy-going first stage to ease you into its weird foibles and mechanics, it doesn't get particularly more difficult or change too much as time passes, so once you get the hang of things, you can apply it to most of the game (assuming you pick F.F or King, generally regarded as the best characters for their attacks- Buster is more viable, don't play as Gung-Ho, is what I've learned from the masters). There are only five (5!) basic enemy types (introduced by the start of Stage 3) but to its credit it does its best to make them as varied as possible, even amongst colour variations of the same enemy type- red judoka have a lethal dashing kick their white counterparts lack, and the gold knife guys are the most dangerous enemies in the game as they're very fast and will rush you with a flurry of stabs. However, the fact that enemy groups only ever come in fours and will often consist of the same enemy types does mean mob construction and variety is a little weak. On the plus side, the bosses aren't too bad... When you learn their patterns, anyway. They'll crush you on your first time, but once you figure out their easy-to-exploit behaviours, they're a welcome breather from the rest of the game. The lady in Stage 3 seems impossible at first, for instance, until you realise you can bait her to jump, and the jump she does after reaching the end of the screen leaves her vulnerable afterwards, and Stage 4's breakdancer always does a high jump before breakdancing and that he can be hit near the end of that attack. Stage 5's boss though, you're on your own for that guy (not to say there are no strats for him, he's just rough).
Another point against the game is the level design itself, as while there are some visually impressive parts- the theme park ride that swings wildly during the Stage 1 boss fight, the tram that takes up most of Stage 2 and shows you the entire city- there's almost nothing to them beyond mooks. No destructible items outside of one bonus stage, very rare knife and grenade drops, and life-ups are literally the words 'LIFE' and 'MAX', missing the charm of trash meat and road cone apples. Many of the backgrounds aren't great either, lacking the care and love given to the character animations. There's only really two environmental hazards, even- a hole in Stage 2, and conveyer belts and gaps in Stage 6- and so adding in the lack of interactables and proper weapons, the stages feel barren and flat. Most infamous is Stage 4, which starts with a bizarre guessing-game (pick left or right to land on the boxes or take damage) and quickly segues into the dreaded Fire Escape, three floors of nothing but brick walls and a very-slowly scrolling screen that keeps filling up with bad guys every few pixels, that eventually has you defeating over one hundred enemies before you make it to the bottom. If you're struggling with the game, this won't make it any easier for you. At least the game knows to keep the inevitable boss rush short- no mooks, no parts inbetween, just a straight gauntlet of bosses before the final boss.
Despite these criticisms, when you learn how the game expects you to play... There's something weirdly compelling about D. D. Crew. It is not an accessible game in the least, and bouncing off it straight away is absolutely a valid reaction to it. Once you figure out how to hold your own against the mechanics and what you're supposed to do... It's kind of fun. Not a sudden masterpiece if you ask me, but it has something to it. It's pretty satisfying to land those running attacks and throw dudes into other dudes, and it really feels like you're mastering a craft, putting the effort in to struggle against the game and maybe coming out on top. It is a struggle though, and many times I've started playing it thinking, "Yeah, I can really get into this" and then the run goes south and I get really hacked off with it and give up. The aforementioned level design and length of some of these sections really doesn't help either. You'll have to multiply that feeling if you want to play with a friend, as they'll need to be trained in all these weird, inconvenient crowd control mechanics. It is a frustrating game because it's certainly unique! It's just so hard to get into. It's not even because it's difficult- because it is, this is not an easy game- it's just it feels so unintuitive and absolutely not a pick-up-and-play game that you'd expect from an arcade brawler. I'd almost say this is a choice for genre hardcores, but it certainly doesn't feel like it was intentionally made to be for the elite brawler connoisseur, just a game that happened to be made that way by a few design choices here and there. A happy accident, resulting in an incredibly strange game.
What D. D. Crew does have going for it, undeniably, is the goofy charm of the whole thing. While the character sprites have a really dark palette most of the time (with perhaps too much shading, making details difficult to parse) they're overly-animated to an almost amusing degree, and there's plenty of silly animations like Gung-Ho's running and F.F's ridiculous wake-up routine. Where the real charm lies is in the sound and text, though- bosses have special bits of dialogue (highlights include Stage 6's 'LONG TIME NO SEE... FOREVER!' and the final boss's call of "EVERYTHING HAS ITS RISE AND FALLS!'), the attract mode yells "SHUT UP ALREADY!" at you while the intro text reads "SOME DANGERS ARE LESS EVIDENT BUT NONE-THE-LESS DEADLY...", and most critically, the music sounds like nothing else at the time. Specifically, the music takes inspiration from the new jack swing style of music, but goes in hard with its drum and voice samples to create some really infectious tunes... Sadly, not enough music was made for the game so two tracks get repeated for the first six stages, which is a huge shame, as it will start to grate a little and they're wild songs so they don't deserve that. For whatever reason though, Stage 7 was given its own song, one that can only be described as a hot jam. For 1991, this is a game with presentation in spades. Except for the backgrounds.
Unsurprisingly, D. D. Crew was never given a home port, and it fell into obscurity quickly. Theoretically, a Mega Drive port could've been possible with a lot of animation cuts, joining Alien Storm, another System-18 hardware conversion. It didn't happen though, and not many Mega Drive owners would miss it, because a month after D. D. Crew was released in arcades a little game called Streets of Rage was out. A game that can run rings around D. D. Crew for being easy to get into any day of the week. That's not taking into account the fact that by the time a port would've been even made, Streets of Rage II would've been, if not out already, very much on its way. That does give D. D. Crew that odd mystique granted to arcade-only games, especially since there was a time when it was undumped... It even has a bit of a cult following in some corners of the arcade streaming scene on Twitch. I completely understand why, and honestly the game grew on me a lot over the course of playing it for this article. It is a divisive game for sure, and while reading this article you've either been nodding your head muttering "yes, yes, I'm into this" to yourself, or visibly recoiling in horror at what has been described to you. Take D. D. Crew on in the manner it wants you to play though, and you may be pleasantly surprised... Or you'll get what you expected in the first place. Regardless, for something quite unique in the genre, D. D. Crew is worth a look, and even if you can't get into it, you can appreciate the soundtrack and the goofy soundbites, right?
For being a strange beast in the wake of Final Fight, D. D. Crew is awarded...
In a sentence, D. D. Crew is...
A true Marmite game.
And now, it's that time, folks!
Time for a roundup of version differences- one (1) between the 2/3P and 4P versions, one (1) between the Japanese and World / US versions.
In all 2P and 3P versions, you get an extra life every 100 kills, which doesn't happen in the 4P versions.
Also, the LIFE, MAX and 1UP items are presented in English in all versions, but the DUD item was originally in Japanese!
... That's it.
D. D. Crew doesn't have a timer, but it has two unique 'time up' enemies... Including one you really have to try to see!
In every stage except Stages 2 and 7, if you wait around too long without fighting anyone, the boss of Stage 6- the guy from the intro who phones F.F - will run on-screen and fire a machine gun, killing every player instantly. Since he's defeated in Stage 6, he doesn't appear in Stage 7 which is just a series of boss fights with no downtime inbetween anyway. Even if you cheat with invincibility, no-one will ever appear to kill you in one hit.
Stage 2 is different, though, it's split into two arena sections that don't really work like the rest of the game, as you don't have to scroll the screen to advance, just defeat the enemies. As a result, there's a different time up mechanic that you basically will never see without cheats or intentionally trying to make it happen- avoid fighting enemies for long enough and two of the military enemies drop down, firing their guns and killing every player instantly. What's funny is they never use those guns otherwise, so this is the only way to see them fire at you! They must've had their training from Konami's Combat School.
As a bonus, we included a few shots in the review, but here's most of the text in the game, on its own, for your use and amusement.
First, the intro, animated for your pleasure:
Boss intros next:
And the ending text:
Oh, and if you want an explanation of the game's title, that's over here, roughly D.D. stands for Dondon, Japanese onomatopoeia.
... Except that a sticker for the game's cabinet offers a different explanation! D.D. stands for Dynamite Demolitions, apparently.
Again, the videos of LordBBH and Streetwize- plus the MARP replay by P21- were vital for making this article possible.
Keep the anarchic spirit of the D. D. Crew alive!
Now if we want to play some real Sega trash, we should load up Arabian Fight sometime...