Scrolling beat ‘em ups may be simple affairs that just have you moving along smacking groups of thugs in the face, but when they are done right they can be hugely entertaining. Before Streets Of Rage, before Final Fight the game that got people excited was Technos’ Double Dragon, which put you in control of Billy and Jimmy Lee and tasked you with defeating the Black Warriors in order to rescue the kidnapped Marian. Ported to many systems over the years, the NES and Game Boy versions have seen Virtual Console releases in recent times. Now Arcade Archives Double Dragon brings the original coin-op experience to Switch with unlimited credits as you set about punching and kicking, but mostly elbowing your way to victory.
There are a few enemy types in the game, but the standard goons largely perform the same, walking up and attempting to punch you before you can attack them. It’s not completely repetitive, however, as should you have two around you, one will grab you from behind to allow the other to attack. Weapons provide further variety and you’ll have to contend with swinging baseball bats, cracking whips and thrown dynamite/knives. These weapons can also be picked up by the heroes, sometimes leading to a race to grab them in order to gain an advantage. Similarly, the likes of oil drums and rocks can be picked up and thrown by either the Lee brothers or the Black Warriors that can be useful for attacks from distance.
Apart from weapons and objects, Billy and Jimmy have their fighting skills to draw on in their battle against the gang members. There’s a button to punch and one to kick and should you get close to the criminal types you can knee them in the face or throw them. A jump button is also present, enabling you to perform a jumping kick, but it is also used for two other moves. Pressing kick and jump when grounded will perform a spinning kick, or should you opt for punch and jump, your Lee brother will throw an elbow behind him to take out a would-be attacker. These combinations are helpfully mapped to Switch’s Z buttons allowing you to perform them with ease.
There’s never more than four enemies on screen, but often there is limited space in which to manoeuvre, making combat tricky as you go to attack one foe, while avoiding the others. Get stuck between two thugs and you can quickly find your energy depleted as they take turns to give you a kicking. More powerful members of the gang also show up as you progress, including one with similar moves to your own and hulking brute Abobo who will grab and throw you if you are not careful.
Having a second player join you in the fight eases the challenge, but it can still be difficult to get in an attack before the gang members, particularly if they have weapons. Weaving out of their way helps and you’ll quickly find the elbow becomes your most useful move. Get the timing right and you can catch them with it before they are within striking range. This isn’t always a solution, however, as should someone be approaching from the front, you’ll be knocked on your back shortly after catching their chum with an elbow. Also, as the move uses the punch button it can sometimes lead to you picking up a weapon you didn't intend to and consequently getting punched in the back of the head.
Combat is generally entertaining, but there is a big problem with slowdown, with performance dropping should three enemies appear on screen (and things slowing to a crawl should a fourth enter the fray). It's extremely off-putting when the game speeds back up again as foes are dispatched; it's disorientating and can lead to mistakes being made. As the game progresses four enemies being on screen is a more frequent occurrence, leading to an increase in slow-motion fights as you get nearer the end, lessening your enjoyment.
Your rescue mission begins in the streets, but takes in the sights of a factory, a woodland area and cliffs before entering the final base. These locations also featured in the NES and Game Boy ports, but the more powerful arcade hardware naturally leads to more detail and colour. Those ports also split into distinct levels (a typical approach within the genre), but here each area flows in to the next. Time bonuses are awarded and health topped up after each section, but the factory is accessed from the streets which leads out into the woodland area that then takes you to the cliffs. Only when the Black Warrior base is reached is there a cut to inside, before the final battle begins. The way the locations are stitched together works well, but taken as a whole it’s actually a short trip to rescue Marian, with sections ending soon after they’ve begun.
The NES and Game Boy versions also featured moments of ladder climbing and platforming sections, but there’s little of that here. A few ladders do make an appearance, but you don’t need to climb them, they just serve as a means of clambering on to a platform to escape a tricky situation. In theory. In practice, they can be an irritant that you stick to when you’d just hoped to walk away from an attacker. There’s a gap in a wooden bridge to hop over and the jump button is required to reach higher levels towards the end of the factory section, but otherwise jumping is not called upon to navigate the path to Marian.
Audio-wise there’s a good range of simple sound effects as moves connect and groans from defeated characters and Abobo's growling add to the experience. The music has an adventure sound, but occasionally goes with slower tracks. There’s the occasional beep and whine, but they are hummable pieces that work well. Less enjoyable was the heavily distorted audio that occurred on a couple of occasions during our time with the game, but in both instances simply entering then exiting the settings menu fixed the issue.
While in the settings menu you may want to adjust the game to your liking, changing number of lives and difficulty. As with all HAMSTER retro releases you can add scanlines to the image, but the options here are a bit different to what’s usually provided. The option to add a horizontal video line is gone and there are 10 thickness settings for the scanlines as well as giving you a choice of soft or sharp lines. Exciting stuff!
The game gets tougher as you progress with the powerful enemies appearing more often. Once inside the base, you need to work your way through a section of blocks pushing out from the wall and jabbing spears which can quickly deplete your stock of lives. The final boss can also be tough due to the fact he’s armed with a gun and much of your battle involves avoiding his insta-death bullets. Of course, as an Arcade Archives release extra credits can be added at the touch of a button, so if you are simply looking to beat the game, that’s something that can be done with ease.
The challenge comes from seeing how well you can do on a single credit. The score resets upon continuing so you’ll need to be somewhat competent if you hope to score 50,000 on Double Dragon. For this you can play HAMSTER’s single credit Hi Score mode or the regular arcade mode – the latter featuring adjustable difficulty; increase for a higher point scoring opportunity. Trying to beat the game on a single credit is enjoyable, but trying to improve your score to move up the online leaderboards adds to its replay value. A third online leaderboard is provided in the five-minute caravan mode and this provides a different challenge as you find yourself taking more risks in your fight against the Black Warriors, hoping to dispatch as many of them as possible before the timer runs out.
Double Dragon gives you a number of ways to dispatch enemies, a few different attacks to deal with thanks to the use of weapons and the fighting generally works well. There are a few issues with the game, however, with the biggest two being its short length and its distracting slowdown. If you are just looking to clear the game, then there's little long term value here, although it is fun to go through again with a friend, battling the bad guys before your final showdown. Arcade Archives Double Dragon is not an essential download, but there's still enjoyment to be had from this old school title.