Double Dragon

If memory serves, my first time playing Double Dragon was on the Sinclair Spectrum ZX. I remember loving it and I’m sure this was another game that I played with my dad and my older brother. It has gone down in history as a classic game and I was certainly looking forward to revisiting it again.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Double Dragon is a beat-em up developed by Technōs Japan and released in the Arcade in 1987. It was published in Europe and North America by Trade West, coming to home consoles in 1988. Versions have been released on the NES, Master System, Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Atari ST, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, Game Boy, Mega Drive, Game Gear, ZX Spectrum and Atari Lynx to name a few. It appeared on the Wii Virtual Console in 2008, Nintendo 3DS in 2013 and Wii U in 2013. For this review, I played was the NES version.

You play as twin brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee (Hammer and Spike in the American versions), who must fight their way through the territory of the Black Warriors gang to rescue Billy’s girlfriend Marian. At your disposal are an array of punches, kicks, headbutts, throws and elbow strikes. Along the way, you can temporarily use weapons such as baseball bats, knives, whips and dynamite sticks. There are only four levels, but the game is quite challenging and, at present, I can only make it to level three (I swear I completed this game as a kid!).

(Screenshot taken by the author)

Unlike the arcade, the home console version’s two-player co-operative mode was replaced by alternating play, meaning each player plays the game on their own, which was a poor decision by the game designers. Initially, you are limited to just a few fighting moves but as your gain experience points, more fighting moves become available to you which I thought was a nice touch. Due to the lack of power, the NES could only generate two enemies on the screen at any one time.

The NES version also contains a MODE B for both one and two-players where you can select any character from the game to fight in one-on-one battles which adds some replay value.

The graphics are good, especially the background of level one, and are superior to many contemporary games such as Renegade. The characters are distinctive, but the protagonist looks like he’s barefoot. The controls are easy to learn but aren’t as responsive as they could be. You can’t turn around quickly whilst punching but you can whilst kicking. I’d recommend kicking rather than punching anyway. One annoying part of level three is where you need to jump across a stream but as soon as you land you are hit by an enemy and fall into the water, losing a life.

Oddly, this character looks like The Thing from Marvel’s Fantastic Four (Screenshot taken by the author)

Did I complete the game?

No, I’ve yet to complete the NES version.

What the critics said:

Entertainment Weekly Magazine: “…Double Dragon now has quality as well as content. There are more screens than the arcade, as well as vertical scrolling and the one on one match that is very reminiscent of Karate Champ (thrown in for free!)…This game is worth every penny! DIRECT HIT!”.[1]

Computer and Video Games: “Nintendo unfortunately locks the two-player mode option, but more than makes up for this deficiency with an extra one-on-one Street Fighter-style game included on the ROM. Overall 83%.[2]

Joystick: “Overall 75%”.[3]

Awards:

Best Graphics – Electronic Gaming Monthly “1989 Player’s Choice Awards”[4]

My verdict:

“Double Dragon is a classic title and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t played it. In fact, I’d wager that I have never met a gamer who hasn’t at least heard of it. The game looks good, and there is a nice amount of hand-to-hand attacks and weapons to use. When this game was released, I can imagine it being a great game! However, it loses marks for the lack of a two-player co-op mode and its short length. It is not a game that encourages regular revisits. Sadly, the game is not as good as I remember but then it is always difficult to revisit games.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Double Dragon? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @Nicklovestogame.


[1] Moon, J., ‘Review – Double Dragon’. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1989 Annual. (March 31 1989). :44. (https://retrocdn.net/images/6/64/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1989.pdf Accessed on 6th February 2020).

[2] Rignall, J., ‘Mean Machines – Double Dragon’. Computer and Video Games. (December 1988). : (https://ia800604.us.archive.org/view_archive.php?archive=/1/items/World_of_Spectrum_June_2017_Mirror/World%20of%20Spectrum%20June%202017%20Mirror.zip&file=World%20of%20Spectrum%20June%202017%20Mirror/sinclair/magazines/Computer-and-Video-Games/Issue086/Pages/CVG08600175.jpg Accessed on 4th July 2020).

[3] Huyghues-Lacour, A., ‘Double Dragon’. Joystick. (April 1991). 15:112 (https://archive.org/details/joystick015/page/n111/mode/2up Accessed 6th July 2020).

[4] The 1989 “Player’s Choice Awards” – Best Graphics: Double Dragon. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1989 Annual. (March 31 1989). :19. (https://retrocdn.net/images/6/64/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1989.pdf Accessed on 6th February 2020).

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