Game Review

Double Dragon Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Robert Hughes

Dragon us down

From the moment protagonist Billy Lee’s sweetheart is sucker-punched in the opening sequence, Double Dragon establishes itself as an action-packed, thrilling battle through hordes of enemy combatants in an attempt to reclaim the captured damsel. As soon as gameplay begins, however, this façade is quickly stripped away to reveal an NES port that is a repetitive, limited brawler.

Originally released in arcades in 1987, Double Dragon is often heralded as the first successful entry into the beat-em-up genre – spawning sequels and imitators alike, Technos’ smash hit seemed like an easy fit onto home consoles, with eager audiences keen to continue their co-operative brawling in the comfort of their own living rooms. Sadly, this was not meant to be.

Technical limitations leave the NES version of Double Dragon sorely lacking in almost all respects. The pared down graphical and audio offerings are a reasonable concession given the original hardware, but the omission of Double Dragon’s co-operative 2 player mode serves to remove one of the game’s most redeeming qualities. Double Dragon on NES replaces the simultaneous multiplayer mode of its arcade counterpart with alternating single-player, both players playing as Billy, effectively reducing what was once the game’s greatest asset to a glorified replacement of handing over a controller. As some twisted semblance of restitution, the NES port features a tacked-on vs. mode not included in the original arcade release, but this is tedious and will fail to entertain for longer than a couple of matches. This can be played utilising the 3DS’ Download Play option even when only one player has purchased the game, but finding a willing participant may prove challenging when the mode is so limited and dull.

This grave omission aside, Double Dragon is simply not very entertaining. Side-scrolling beat-em-ups had often struggled with how best to refrain from becoming repetitive, and Double Dragon is perhaps one of the worst offenders. Due once again to technical limitations (an overarching theme, you’ll notice), only two enemies can be displayed on screen at any one time, and each must be the same type of enemy. As such, gameplay is comprised entirely of defeating one (or, perhaps two, if Double Dragon is feeling particularly exciting) generic enemy before being ushered forward to do the same again. Rinse, repeat.

Weapons can intermittently be found but these always full under the classification of either striking or throwing weapons, each feeling indistinct and failing to change the gameplay in any meaningful manner. Some light platforming is required, but this is clumsy and the controls are sluggish – Billy Lee is most assuredly not a rival to Mario.

Environments show a nice use of colour and are interesting to look at, although due to the slow-paced nature of the game quickly become tired and overly-familiar. Enemy sprites are basic and lack expression, with the pulsing colourful blobs serving only as mobile punching-bags rather than interesting characters. The music, however, is fantastic – some of the NES’ best tunes, sitting comfortably in the Mega Man school of upbeat, catchy chiptunes; the soundtrack is one of the few aspects of Double Dragon that does not begin to grate with time.

Credit must be given where it is due; Double Dragon defined the beat-em-up genre and inspired many games of a similar format, but the simple fact remains that from a contemporary perspective the game simply is not very fun to play. The formula was refined and improved exponentially in the years that followed — including Technos’ own games such as the fantastic River City Ransom — leaving the original Double Dragon feeling more akin to a prototype than a full game, especially when hamstrung by the NES’ limitations. The game is difficult if only due to a lack of lives available to the player, but as such is frustrating rather than challenging. It's also fairly short, even by the standards of the genre, taking less than an hour to complete in a single run; an hour of tedious, repetitive, button-mashing.


Those with serious nostalgia for this will find some modicum of enjoyment from Double Dragon, but all other players should take heed before purchasing and await the inevitable release of superior beat-em-ups on Virtual Console. Kick this one to the curb.

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User Comments (42)



Tasuki said:

I always preferred Double Dragon II and River City Ransom over this game during the NES era.



Mario90125 said:

I have to admit, this port is horrible. Shoddy controls, too difficult, and cheap deaths.



paburrows said:

I totally disagree with this review, this game is awesome. I actually like it better then River City Ransom.



sdcazares1980 said:

Despite its technical limitations, it is still a great game. I wish the arcade version was released, but I don't see that happening soon. It still plays like the arcade beat'em up that it actually was.

In fact, in some cases (not all, but some), I think this version is better because you don't have to constantly elbow punch every enemy like you did in the arcade. You have a better incentive to do other moves like kick, jump kick (when platforming and countering the knife throws), elbow attack (especially on the Abobos), and pin attack (when your generic enemies are down).

There is also a technical glitch on Mission 2 in which you can rack up your hearts much more quickly, and that makes it even better.

I'd give it a 7 out of 10.



Stu13 said:

My cousin and I had logged hundreds of hours on Double Dragon II before I ever got my hands on the original. Needless to say, it was a huge letdown.



DefHalan said:

I am really enjoying this game. I haven't needed Co-op yet and I don't have another Double Dragon to compare it to but this game is still a lot of fun.



GreatCrippler said:

Just the second time in a couple of weeks I have noticed it. I use this sight to help me determine what I would like to spend my money on. Makes it difficult when the review staff don't even see eye to eye.



WaveGhoul said:

One of the best beat em ups ever made. The last stage with those protruding Wall Block/pillars with random patterns are devastating. You work so hard to make it to the end only to lose all of your lives in a span of 30 seconds. It deserves a solid 7 imo.



Kirk said:

I never thought it was particularly good to play even back in the day.



unrandomsam said:

I have recent bought for Android the Arcade Trilogy (Supports physical controls perfectly). Plug in a pad and otg cable and it just works. It also cost £2 not £4.50.



sleepinglion said:

Good review. My nostalgia love brings me back to this one... it was the first title I played with my NES Advantage.
I love the arcade version and REALLY wish Nintendo would release it for VC. The GBA version was well done and I actually liked the recent reboot.



micronean said:

We're missing context here. Double Dragon was one of the earliest beat-em-ups to come to the NES, and one of the earliest "hit" arcade games to be ported. At that time, ports were ALWAYS crippled versions of the originals. Double Dragon was actually one of the better ones--and you could say this was the first "good one", which opened the way for the better arcade ports (the contras, turtles, etc.)

It's not the best beat-em-up on the NES--no one said it was. There were certainly other better ones, like DD 2, Battletoads, or Ninja Turtles. Double Dragon is more of a period piece, a prototype, of the kind of games the NES would have from 1987 onward; the real golden period of the NES (Which, in my opinion officially took off with the release of SMB2).



retro_player_22 said:

A decent port but nothing special, after playing Super Double Dragon on Super NES, I really can't come back to this one. The lack of co-op multiplay and such are big deal to me.



paburrows said:

@sdcazares1980 Yeah I agree, this was a great game, I had the Double Dragon for the Gameboy Advance which they took levels from the first two arcade versions it was pretty great, (and really hard to find) I hope that if we ever get Advance games on the 3DS that we get that.



BlackStar9000 said:

@sdcazares1980 hell you dont even have to fight the boss at the end of Mission 2, just climb back down the ladders for a cheap win, lol, also, I can max my level on mission 1, just gotta keep from knocking down the last girl at the end and space out your attacks once she grabs her stomach, then before time runs out kill her or die and repeat



Bryon15 said:

Double dragon 2 was infinitely better than this. I don't understand why they keep releasing the first one and not the second one. This is why people hack their systems to run emulators.



KeeperBvK said:

@nesvc A better review or a better score?

I think both the review AND the score are spot-on. Good to finally see this not getting another undeserved 7. Compared to other beat em ups on NES and SNES, this just doesn't hold a candle. It's ok, but nothing more.



ogo79 said:

dd 1 arcade, dd 2 arcade, dd 2 nes, dd advance for gba, thats the real/best games for dd



Moviefan2k4 said:

Even though its equal parts fun and frustrating, I still love the original "Double Dragon" on the NES. The second game was arguably better, while the third sucked due to its massive difficulty level. "Double Dragon Advance" was a cool update for the GBA several years ago, while "Super Double Dragon" on the SNES is great. Avoid "Double Dragon V" though, unless you're a fan of the 1990s carton series.



cmk8 said:

I loved this game in the arcades, spending up to fiver a time at 10p a go on it.
I remember being so disappointed by both this and the gameboy versions.



SeVok said:

Darn, wish I had read the review first. Bought this to play with my son in coop, come on Double Dragon is all about coop, pff.



ThreadShadow said:

Despite the lack of co-op this is hands down the best version of Double Dragon. In fact you'll find the best version of the whole trilogy on the NES.
Barring Double Dragon Advance, of course.

I read recently that Double Dragon NEON is coming to Steam. Please everyone "Twitter" and "Facebook" Majesco to release the game on Wii U eShop too! Every Double Dragon deserves to be controlled with a Nintendo control pad!



ToxieDogg said:

I was really, really disappointed by this game when it first came out...it had too many changes from the arcade version, and not many of them for the better either. The 'platformy' levels feel disjointed and horrible with you having to jump over pits using flying kicks....urgh. Nowadays, I can at least appreciate that they were trying to give the home version a bit more substance than the arcade version (which was fun but quickly got repetitve) but I still don't think it's any better than 'average'. It's a real shame that licensing issues prevent Konami releasing NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 on the VC, now that really was an awesome scrolling beat 'em up.



Obito_Sigma said:

Should I buy this? What would a really good beat-em-up game to play on the 3DS VC? River City Ransom, Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, or the soon to be released Final Fight games? Which one is a must-have? Also, are they really that good? I haven't played a "good" beat-em-up game in my life before.



khululy said:

@Obito_Tennyson Well all those you mentioned are good classic beat-em ups.
If you really want to see the true gems in the genre get your hands on either some arcade collection disks or a good arcade emulator such a mame and endulge yourself in Cps1 and Cps2 board Capcom games such as Dungeons and Dragons and Aliens vs. Predator or some of the old konami classics such as Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles 1 & 2 and X-men.
SNK has a few nice ones but they are more known for 1 on 1 fighters.

As for Double Dragon, this was one of the first games I played when I was about 5 so loads of nostalgia there. I still own it on the NES but hving it on the go always make me smile despite it being a somewhat stiff and clunky game with limited multiplayer. I mean it's way less fun as TMNT II: the arcade game. ( too bad about licences, cuz I would love to see that one hit the virtual console in nes or original arcade version)



MeloMan said:

Double Dragon 1 for NES was a joke... I don't know WHO has the rights to the arcade Double Dragon, but someone needs to make that happen. THAT is a classic.

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