Game Review

Double Dragon Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Jon Wahlgren

Solo komodo

Double Dragon is notable for a whole host of reasons, among them that the NES version bears one of history's most misleading game titles by being a solo adventure with nary a dragon in sight. It also opens with an iconic, if anachronistic, bang — or, more specifically, a pow. A gangster brute socks a woman in the gut and carries her off to his secret hideout. The punch was heard 'round the gaming world, launching our hero into action, a genre into dizzying popularity and a decades-spanning franchise. Not to mention spawning a movie so horrible that it makes the erratic Super Mario Bros. film look like a stroke of genius in comparison.

While not the first beat-'em-up after everyone's quarters, Double Dragon sure did scoop up a lot of them in its day with its popular two-player co-op and repertoire of martial arts moves beyond simple punches and kicks. As can happen with incredible success, elements of Double Dragon's design became staples of the genre, which is why a new player may be excused for thinking that the game feels so familiar. Our hero Billy Lee rocks and socks his way to the right way through four missions, picking up the occasional knife or whip dropped by an enemy to push the odds in his favour.

The Double Dragon popularized in arcades isn't exactly the same as that found on the NES — a number of compromises and tweaks were made to squeeze the game onto a cart, and even some new additions for overall betterment. Stage layout has been tweaked in some areas, in some cases to put greater emphasis on jumping and climbing, which can present a dastardly exercise for the relatively lead-footed lead. In addition, a levelling system was introduced that unlocks new attacks and abilities as you go, increasing Billy Lee's repertoire and thus adding some much-appreciated variety that so many lesser games in the genre often forget to include.

On the downside, no more than two enemies will appear on the screen at once. The game keeps from feeling too empty by flowing in a steady stream of new foes right as a defeated one blinks off into the aether — and since getting hit often leaves you stunned and open for more wallop, taking on more than two foes at a time would be a far greater hassle. The relatively slow speed of movement makes each encounter one in need of attention — cruising by on autopilot won't get you very far.

Since it's a quarter-munching arcade game at heart, Double Dragon isn't the longest of games — its challenge can take some time to overcome for new players, but through dedication (or judicious use of Wii U Virtual Console save states) or latent experience the game can be clocked in under an hour. Because of this, the lack of simultaneous multiplayer in the main mode is painful — this is a game best played with a buddy to bop through (it's in the name!), and the alternating play presented here instead is a poor substitute. Mode B's versus battle against another player (or the computer, if you wish) is the only simultaneous smackdown available, although its simplicity leaves little opportunity for strategy. It serves as a minor distraction for a round or two but is hardly worth sticking around for.

For its era, Double Dragon looks quite nice. While sprites are nowhere near as detailed or chunky as the arcade original, the NES version's personality roars ever louder as Billy approaches throwing his final punch. Genre-standard city streets make way for construction sites, forests, caverns and ornate dojos, each more visually interesting than the last. The soundtrack too stands the test of time with a short but iconic track list.


Double Dragon is impressively durable 26 years later. While it very clearly shows growing pains for the genre with its slow speed, goofy platforming and loss of simultaneous co-operative play, being ahead of its time puts Double Dragon in a favorable place with modern audiences. Its retro charms combine with enough depth in gameplay to make this worth a revisit, even if only for its historic value as one of the genre's earliest successes.

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User Comments (31)



Gerbwmu said:

Loved this game......but I really wish it was the arcade version........I would love to see a new Double Dragon remake of the 1st 2



speedyboris said:

If I'm going to be perfectly honest, I don't think this game has aged all that well. The controls are clunky and fickle, it's nearly impossible to hit an enemy without getting hit yourself (especially later in the game), it has quite a few bugs, and like many old Nintendo games, it's pretty short.

Also, it always bugged me about these games that weapons can be taken away from you at random. You'll have a chain in hand, you defeat all the current enemies on screen, and then the chain disappears. What the hell.

Double Dragon 2 improved upon the formula in every conceivable way.



KeeperBvK said:

This wasn't a good game when it hit the Wii and it hasn't miraculously become one on WiiU. It was neat back in the day, but nowadays it's pretty much among the worst beat em ups that could possibly hit VC.



Yomerodes said:

Lionel Hutz: This is the most blatant case of false advertising since my suit against the movie The Neverending Story.



JuanitoShet said:

Used to LOVE playing this with my dad when I was a toddler, back when we owned an NES. I wish I knew what happened to it.



KeeperBvK said:

@Kawaii_Neko I'm not angry. Sorry if I come across as angry.
I'm just voicing my opinion, in this case trying to convey there's a another side to this game's coin. I can't see why anybody would still give this a 7 nowadays, especially when other, better games with less direct competition get rated lower. The NES version of the original DD is AT BEST just on par, nothing more.



shonenjump86 said:

To me, the worst beat em up game on VC is Riot Zone. No beat em up game can be worst than that. Lol

Well, since I already have this on Wii VC and I have the Gameboy game on 3DS, I'm gonna pass on this one.



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. Nintendo made things better!



SparkOfSpirit said:

This is a decent version, but Double Dragon Advance is far better.

Either way, I'm awaiting Double Dragon II far more. Now there's an overlooked gem.



Ryno said:

If only they figured out how to add the 2nd player... Oh well I still enjoy it.



unrandomsam said:

@Gerbwmu I just bought the entire arcade trilogy for Android for 2 quid. Supports any old usb pad and you can remap the controls. (King of Fighters 97 by Dotemu as well has the same support for physical controls). Bluetooth multiplayer if you want it.



remlapgamer said:

Arcade version would be much better-why can't anyone make that happen?-it was on the sega mega drive



timp29 said:

I would probably give this a 5 or 6 for its clunky slow controls. It is sadly outshone by its sequel which bears no resemblance to its arcade heritage.

If you want an 80s arcade side scrolling beat em up port, final fight or turtles in time are better but I think they were actually released on SNES.



WaveBoy said:

Classic. One of my favorite Beat em ups before the genre itself grew stale during the mid point of the 16-bit generation.

TMNT II: The Arcade Game, Double Dragon and Streets of Rage 1 were the 3 most exciting brawlers imo. The Simpsons and X-men were pretty darn popular back in the arcades as well, but they haven't aged as well.



WaveBoy said:


I hear it's pretty easy....They should of just called it Double DII: The easy revenge....Ribbit. Hops & hides under rock for being so bloody terrible



ThreadShadow said:

@SparkofSpirit I've never played Double Dragon Advance, but I hear great things about it, so I'll agree with you!

@unrandomsam You're talking about Double Dragon 2 on PC Engine. I own it and have never played it. I don't own a Turbo Duo/PC Engine Duo/CD. Never will unfortunately. I heard it is one of the best versions of DD2 out there, so I'll agree with you too. But for the complete, high quality, trilogy the only place is the NES.

I was so hoping the Turbo Duo version would show up on the Wii VC. There is a chance yet it may appear on the Wii U VC.



3MonthBeef said:

I have to say this was from a time when the entire premise of a story and your mission were conveyed in the first 10 - 30 secs. I miss that. Now everything has to have a big story with even bigger cutscenes and less focus on gameplay.

A catchy tune playing to fisticuffs is all I need.



ThreadShadow said:

@3MonthBeef Sorry for the misunderstanding. I meant "Nintendo" as in the 8-Bit system itself. Developers had to work with the NES limitations and so instead of direct ports of shallow but shiny arcade games, they usually ended up giving us higher quality games in order to fit those limitations. Surprising but true. And putting their work on a Nintendo system seemed to inspire some companies to imitate Nintendo's work ethic, and produce a better product.



fr0z3n6h057 said:

Nintendo made NES games insanely hard to beat because they wanted to make gameplay longer.It was fun trying to beat these games for hours,ahh i miss old NES

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