For anyone that has played a game by Technos Japan their style is unmistakable. From the graphics and art style used to the sound programming you can instantly identify any game they’ve created just by using one of those criteria. Most American’s first exposure to their works would start with the Double Dragon series, the classic beat em up series that spawned dozens of imitators. But after all this time does this retro classic still hold up?
Double Dragon was released in arcades in 1987 by Taito. A follow-up of sorts to Technos’ prior game Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun (known to us as Renegade), it’s a simple tale of revenge. Twins Billy & Jimmy Lee fight their way through the Black Warriors gang to rescue Love interest Marian. The intro to the game is unintentionally funny as a group of about 6 or 7 dudes punch her in the stomach and take her away like a caveman. That’s enough to make anyone want to beat someone’s ass. It seems trite now but this was one of the first major beat em up games and would be the inspiration for a deluge of similar games, some good and some bad. Because of the game’s popularity it was ported to nearly every format imaginable, but the NES version is the one that differs the most.
Like a large amount of conversions to the format Double Dragon was changed for the NES to better suit the console. The basic framework of the game is the same but there are stark differences. 2-player coop is gone; instead you alternate turns when 1 player dies. You will never fight more than 2 enemies at once, with both of them being the same. Weapons disappear after the enemy you received it from dies as well. Lastly, instead of starting with all of your fighting moves, you gain them 1 at a time through an experience system of sorts. That last change is divisive: some hate that you start off gimped essentially and that some basic moves like a jump kick have to be earned. Others welcome it as you have something to look forward to as you progress and gives you a tangible feeling of becoming more powerful.
Playing it again the same criticisms I had back in the day stand out. The limited selection of enemies grows tiring fast. By the end of stage 2 you’ve seen every enemy in the game, and aside from weapons their tactics never change. Even the fact you only fight 2 opponents at once, both being clones of each other is annoying. Thankfully the game is short so these don’t grate on your nerves too long.
What will is the platform jumping that was increased for the home version. Plain and simple it just doesn’t work. This game wasn’t built for that and it shows. Gaps between jumps are far too wide at times leaving you to inch as close as possible before jumping. Lining up with platforms is also a hassle; combined with the imprecise jumping controls you’ll hate it. These parts all come toward the end of the game and will quickly sap your stock of lives, which is totally unfair.
My last complaint lies with the bosses. They have insane range and all of their attacks have priority over yours, meaning it doesn’t matter if you are hitting with a flurry of punches or kicks, if they swing at you your attacks will stop. Plus they do retarded amounts of damage, a trend that plagued nearly all beat em ups afterward. It’s a cheap ass tactic to artificially increase the difficulty and I hate it. Sadly this would be commonplace for all beat em ups.
If I were to recommend a version of Double Dragon to play I would say the arcade or master system version. That version is a straight port and is amazing for the time. While interesting, the NES version doesn’t stand the test of time and is too frustrating and generally not worth the hassle. Not all old video games age gracefully and Double Dragon is one of the unfortunate victims of time.
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