In the case of this retrospective, the focus will be on the original arcade version due to the plethora of ports released in the years following.
During the mid-80’s, video games began to ripen with several developers experimenting and understanding the essentials in delivering a successful title. From Sega’s Outrun, Taito’s Darius, and Konami’s Salamander, these had been risky games, yet returning with financial and critical success. Additionally, inspiring others to improve and expand upon these titles. Namely, there was one small company establishing this within the Beat em’ up genre, Technos Japan, a company formed by members of Data East (Burger Time, Crude Buster, and Magical Drop series).
After the completion of Renegade (Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun in Japan), demand for a follow-up began. Rather than create a direct sequel, series producer Yoshihisa Kishimoto inspired by his love for the films Mad Max, Enter the Dragon, and the anime/manga series Hokuto No Ken (Fist of the North Star) decided to produce a co-op beat em’ up with a more cinematic approach, Double Dragon.
Double Dragon, developed by Technos Japan and published by Taito was released on Arcades in Summer of 1987. The game follows 2 brothers, Billy and Jimmy Lee on a quest to save Billy’s girlfriend Marian from the Black Warriors. The Lee Brothers traverse through 4 levels fighting their way among the toughest of the Black Warriors members, including Williams, Linda, Willy, and Abobo. Personally, the enemies seem inspired by The Warriors though it might be myself thinking this comparison. Likewise, there’s an Easter egg from another game appearing in the first level, the car used in Road Blaster, another title Kishmoto worked on. However, there is a twist in the end of the
game when playing with a friend…
Graphically, there is a fantastic display of colors used to display the detailed sprites. Notably, the backgrounds throughout the game. Particularly, no two backgrounds are the same in comparison to other games. I applaud the efforts Tecnhos placed inside the game. The rich colorful graphics are a testament to why Double Dragon stands above the rest.
However, I met the gameplay with mixed results. Notably, serving as a technological and spiritual successor to Renegade (Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun), Double Dragon inherited the former’s button layout, 4-way joystick and simplicity. Furthermore, there are hidden attacks initiated when combining the jump button with either kick or punch button. Additionally, the Lee Brothers move at a quick pace, giving players a rapid advantage in deciding attack moves. Nonetheless, the AI is cruel and merciless. Equally, there is a significant amount of slowdown present throughout the game resulting from the multiple 8-bit microprocessors inside the hardware.
Despite the mixed gameplay, the unfavorable portion of the game stems from the music. To begin with, I agree that the music is memorable, yet during the playthrough I felt as though there was something off about the composition and unbearable for my ears at moments. Yet, there is an arranged soundtrack, which in my opinion is a superior arrangement, with its 80s production, which I grew loving after listening to the tracks repeatedly.
Overall, Double Dragon launched the Golden Age of Beat em’ ups influencing such classics such as Streets of Rage, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Final Fight. Improving on Renegade, Double Dragon’s enduring legacy is the game’s ability to cooperatively play together.
Additionally, various sequels and spin-offs were released varying with quality from the great Double Dragon II and the ill-fated Double Dragon V.
Recently, a sequel, Double Dragon IV (Based of the NES chronology), which I found personally to be an insult to the Double Dragon fanbase despite several original members including Kishmoto working on the title. The game serves as a disgraceful example of companies cashing in on people’s nostalgia.
But in the end, even with the multiple issues I may have with the franchise, there is no denying its legacy as a classic. All in all, Double Dragon resides as the one of the greatest beat em’ ups created.