Game Review: Double Dragon
Double Dragon

Double Dragon Title Screen

  • Publisher Tradewest
  • Developer: Technos
  • Released: May 1988
  • Game Type: Arcade
  • Players: 1 or 2 [Sim/Alt]
  • Product Number: NES-WD-USA
  • Rarity: E (Very Common)
    Game Ratings:
    OVERALL: 7

    Box Scan
    Double Dragon Screen 1 Double Dragon Screen 2

    The name Double Dragon is well-known among old-scool arcade fans. The game, which was originally developed by Techos Japan, debuted in arcades in the mid-1980s and became a smash hit with its two-player cooperative action that revolutionalized the beat-em-up genre. It esthablished the guidelines for all the great brawling titles that followed like River City Ransom, Final Fight, Streets of Rage and many others. Naturally it wasn't long before the game made its way to various home consoles, and the NES got a version courtesy of Technos and Tradewest. Fans who eagerly anticpated the NES version were shocked that the NES title was somewhat like the arcade but was missing the two-player mode, the very thing that made Double Dragon stand out. But fans that got over their disappointment found that Double Dragon was an enjoyable brawler after all.

    In this game you take control of a martial artist named Billy Lee. His girlfriend Marion has just been abducted by a vicious gang known as the Shadow Warriors. Billy knows that to rescue her he must head into the Shadow Warriors' turf and battle the entire gang as well as their leader, the Shadow Boss. Billy sets off on his mission, but what he doesn't know is that the Shadow Boss is his own brother, Jimmy.

    There are four missions in this game, and unlike the arcade game, there's no simultaneous two-player option. Some of the levels are based on the arcade original, but others have new areas. In each level Billy must reach the end, punching and kicking the thugs that gets in his way, and you have a limited amount of time to work with. When you first begin the game Billy has a limited arsenal of moves, but as he defeats each foe, in addition to scoring points, he also builds up heart points. When your reach 1000 heart points, you recieve a heart and gain an advanced technique, such as an uppercut, jump kick, hair pull, an over-the-shoulder throw and others. Every 1000 points means another technique you can now use. Some of the enemies carry weapons, but you can knock them out of their hands and use them yourself. At the end of each level you have to square off with a big bad boss to proceed to the next level. When you reach the end of level four, you have to defeat Willy, the second-in-command, before you can face Billy's brother Jimmy in the final showdown. This game also features a tournament mode, where you pick one of six characters from the game and go one-on-one with your double, which is controlled by either the computer or another player.

    Graphics & Sounds:
    The graphics in this game are actually pretty good. Most of the stages do a commendable job of resembling their arcade counterparts with some good backgrounds and colors, plus some areas have nice animations such as the conveyor belt in Level 1 and the waterfalls and firepits in Level 3. The characters are a bit on the small side but look good and sport some decent animation, such as the facial espressions when they attack or get hit. In the Vs. Mode the characters are twice as big and look very good compared to the regular versions. There are some issues with sprite breakup which isn't too bothersome for the most part.

    This game also does a good job with the sound. The background music is very catchy, including the first level and the title theme, and most of it sounds like the arcade original as well. The sound effects that punchuate the action are decent but nothing special.

    The controls are pretty easy to use. Once button punches, the other kicks, and using a combination of the buttons and the D-pad unleashes your special moves. Some of the techniques take a bit of practice but aren't too hard to pull off. However jumping can be a problem especially in the later levels when you need to leap over pits and onto platforms. Sometimes if you stand too close to the edge of the pit you'll attempt to jump but instead plummet to your death.

    Challenge & Playability:
    The gameplay in Double Dragon is pretty fun, but some major flaws crop up in this version that keep it from being a champion. Most notably is the absence of that two-player cooperative play. The menu screen sports a two-player option but that just means two men taking turns instead of battling side-by-side, which is what made the arcade version famous in the first place. It takes away the strategy of having a friend back you up, which you could really use at certain spots. Also when you attack enemies, you'll notice that your punches and kicks don't stun them like they should. This means that as you're unloading punches on a foe, they can hammer you back costing you a lot of energy. There's also an issue with hit-detection, meaning some of you attacks might go through your opponent at times. In addition the heart system to earn extra moves was a nice idea that doesn't quite work out. You're pretty much crippled until you earn the moves, and trying to get those moves can be a hassle at times. making you wish the developres would have just let you have your entire arsenal at the beginning.

    Despite the long diatribe about the game's problems, Double Dragon is still a good title. The cart does pack plenty of solid beat-em-up action that will keep you entertained. While the game can be difficult with only three lives and no continues, with some practice it can be overcome. As for the exclusive Vs. Mode, it's a nice addition and can be fun with two players going at it. However it's too limited to really be special. You're stuck playing character vs. same character, and once you finish the match that's all, which ultimetly makes the Vs. Mode pointless. Having the ability to match different characters against each other would have been a lot more fascinating.

    So ultimately, the NES version of Double Dragon is a good arcade port that still ranks as a decent brawler for the system, but could have been better. The graphics and sounds are well done and it does do a solid job of carrying on the spirit of its arcade predecessor. Unfortunately the lack of two-player simultaneous action, the slighty-annoying earning of moves and the cheap hits may turn off beat-em-up fans, especially those that enjoyed the coin-op original. Nevertheless if you give the game a chance, you'll find Double Dragon is still worth a playthrough or two. Double Dragon discyples looking for real 2-player action should check out the Sega Master System version or better yet, the superior NES sequels instead.

    - Review posted on February 4, 2008