The Main Review
Double Dragon is a 1987 beat ’em up video game developed by Technos Japan and published by Technos in Japan while it was published by Taito outside of Japan. It is said to be a spriritual successor to an earlier Technos game known as Renegade outside Japan with Double Dragon adding things such as 2 player and the ability to pick up enemies weapons once dropped. It was converted to many different consoles as well.
Can’t really say there’s much on the title screen on an arcade game but the music was nice and the logo was awesome (although the fact “Double Dragon” covers one of the dragons faces does bug me a little bit). If you leave it there’ll be a little bit of gameplay from the first level as well as a leaderboard. Oddly if you add a coin the music stops and it no longer changes screen although its obvious you’d go straight into the game after doing so.
Getting into gameplay it starts off which is what is essentially a small cutscene where the female character Marian is kidnapped which honestly is all old games needed to set up a story aka “Go beat up bad guys and save [insert here]”. Graphics are alright and its interesting to note that there is blood but its not that noticeable (bloody mouths when getting beaten up for example) and the backgrounds were also nicely put together with plenty of details. Music was also quite a good thing which fit the gameplay and it isn’t drowned out by the continuous action either.
As for controls it was really easy to get used to (even emulated) with a jump, kick and punch as well as different moves by doing combinations plus the fact you’d grab opponents a lot. This included cool things like using kick until you grab and then using punch to throw the opponent. There were 2 controls in particular that seemed a bit odd though, first was that when grabbed to punch out of their grip you had to use jump and the second was that your jump attack was always a flying kick and the attack buttons merely specified the direction.
If you were to play emulated where you effectively have infinite lives you might feel that the game is quite short with only 4 levels aka missions which seamlessly blend into each other but difficulty wise you’d need to try quite a few times if you wanted to win the game with a good score (since it resets to 0 every time you continue). Its mostly not fake difficulty though since enemies could simply do the same as you could which included things like throwing you down bottomless pits as well as simply wieding weapons.
Even some bosses weren’t safe from instant death, for example the 2nd boss is fought near a conveyor belt and by getting him to follow me on it and suiciding he walked down the hole as well winning me that level without actually touching them. The ‘final’ boss however seems to be a good example of a sudden difficulty spike considering he carries an insta-kill machine gun that obviously never gets dropped (because then it’d be easy for the player instead).
However you could say to truly play through the whole game you had to play 2 player, if both complete the game together you actually end up in a 1 on 1 fight between the 2 characters (with life refilled and a single life) with the winner being the one who gets with Marian.
Overall its a great game despite being quite difficult and potentially being quite short. I’d personally recommend playing emulated so you have infinite continues and can make it to the final boss without any frustrations, having a 2nd player is a nice idea as well.
How Do The Ports Compare?
The NES version (developed by Technos Japan) being seemingly the first of the ports had many limitations other than the obvious graphical ones (which are quite alright) and the audio (which I argue is pretty damn awesome). The most notable changes though (other than the complete lack of co-op) is the fact only 2 enemies could be on the screen at a time and both the same plus weapons disappear every screen. On top of that they decided to only give you the basic attacks at first forcing you to unlock them (and I thought I was just pressing the buttons wrong considering jump is A+B).
It does try to be different though, to make up for the lack of 2 player it not only has a 1 on 1 fighting mode featuring 6 characters (which was apparently planned for the original) but they also changed the story slightly. In the revised story Marian is already Billy’s boyfriend and in a surprise twist Jimmy (who is unplayable in the game for obvious reasons) turns out to be the secret boss of the gang instead of a rival for Marians affection. Still quite a fun game to play.
The Master System version (developed by Arc System Works) was created shortly after the NES port. Graphics wise it is closer to the Arcade version than the NES version and far more colorful than both but I felt that the audio wasn’t very good at all (although the game apparently was compatible with some sort of audio adapter perhaps not emulatable). It is also closer to the arcade gameplay wise keeping things like 2 player and 3 enemies on screen as well as stages being closer to the original. It does however still have limitations on weapons only allowing one on the screen at a time.
Interestingly the game actually gives you the ability to have unlimited lives, which usually negates on the final stage but can be kept by performing 10 backwards jump kicks at the start of said stage. Worth playing it if you own it.
For some odd reason Technos Japan also decided to produce a Game Boy version, while portability might of been a selling point back then it definitely did not pass the test of time essentially being a downgrade of a downgrade. Not only is the graphics in black and white and the audio not as good but this version doesn’t even have the fight against Jimmy and 2 player is limited to the 2 Lee brothers. The stages are also completely different with Abobo and Chin even being given new techniques. No reason to try it other than out of curiosity.
As well as the console versions in 1988 versions were also released by Activision for the Atari 2600. Looking back you kind of had to wonder why they’d want to make home PC versions, there wasn’t really much to recognise from the original other than far more repetitive versions of the music. I personally found attacking incredibly difficult considering the game only had a single fire button and couldn’t get very far at all. Definitely doesn’t hold up especially compared to the original. I can’t yet play the Atari 7800 version but I assume it has the same problems.
The Commodore 64 actually got 2 versions with the first converted by Binary design and while the music conversion was surprisingly interesting on the title screen there isn’t any in the game itself which is obviously a bad thing. The graphics were also a little disappointing, while its obvious they tried their best with the backgrounds the player character and some enemies are the same just palette swapped and theres a transparent line cutting the bodies in half above the waist. That wasn’t even including things like ladders that you can’t climb. On top of that the Commodore 64 also only had a single fire button which was insanely difficult although there were plenty of moves to use. It overall looked recognisable to Double Dragon but didn’t feel like it gameplay-wise. At least it had a 2 player mode.
The second version was made by Ocean although I played a more recent cracked version which ported the cartridge version to disc and added various fixes including music and sfx apparently although only one or the other could be chosen (I obviously chose music at the cost of no sound effects) and it didn’t have a 2 player mode. While the graphics were definitely an improvement over the previous C64 version it was awkward to see more effort put into the player sprite and while the music was recognisable it wasn’t that good. In fact while the controls seemed a bit more responsive despite being possibly the same it was still incredibly difficult and I found myself being beat up by normal enemies if I don’t keep running away. Overall its good compared to the other C64 port but still doesn’t hold a candle to the original.
The ZX spectrum version was also created by Binary Design and you had to wonder why it existed, I could remember how the audio was because of how distracting the graphics were with the characters seemingly being ghosts where you could see the background and floor through them. This also made fighting seem very awkward and I personally only beat a few enemies before I had already gotten sick of the game. Not the worst but still not worth trying.
Currently can’t play the Amiga port since while the games are easy to get the kickstart roms are still only sold via a site called Amiga Forever. I also didn’t do the Amstrad CPC version(s) as they are essentially ports of ports. I may do a seperate review at a later date of the Gameboy Advance remake which improves graphics and adds an extra 4 stages which are mixed in with the original ones.
I hope you liked this experimental post, as you guess it took a lot more effort than a simple review would. Not sure how often I’ll do posts like this but I’ll be doing normal reviews more often.