As one of the first scrolling beat 'em ups ever made, the original Double Dragon became a smash hit when it was released way back in 1987, and like most arcade games at the time quickly received a port to the NES. A single year later, Double Dragon II was released in arcades and, as was to be expected, it was also swiftly brought to home consoles.
The plot of Double Dragon II is pretty much exactly the same as its predecessor. Once again, Billy Lee's girlfriend Marian has been the target of the Black Warriors gang, and of course Billy and Jimmy's response is to fight their way to the gang's hideout to take down their leader — the only difference is that since the Black Warriors are quite upset about their previous defeat, Marian gets a face full of lead instead of simply being kidnapped!
Once you gain control, you'll quickly discover that this is indeed the sequel to Double Dragon. The objective is still to traverse each stage, repeatedly getting locked on a screen with a few enemies that you must defeat before being allowed to progress, including some old favourites like Abobo. The stages don't just consist of linear paths, as you'll often have to do a little bit of platforming to reach your destination as well.
While the arcade version of Double Dragon II only featured four stages, just like the first game, this port actually includes nine, although this is a clear example of quantity over quality — most of them are quite short, and some of them even consist of a single screen. Annoyingly, you can't actually make it to the end of the game unless you play on the hardest difficulty setting — if you play on anything lower, you'll eventually get a message saying you should try again on a higher difficulty, before abruptly being kicked back to the title screen.
Double Dragon veterans will most likely be confused when starting out, as the controls have inexplicably been changed; they're now similar to those of Renegade, also from Technos, in that the A button will always make you attack towards the right and the B button will always make you attack towards the left, meaning that either button could be a forwards punch or a backwards kick depending on what direction you're facing. If you're used to the first game's controls this change is quite confusing and can take a bit to get used to.
The original game also had an experience system, where you learned additional moves as you performed others, which was quite interesting, but this unfortunately has been done away with, resulting in a much less varied arsenal of attacks. However, you probably won't need most of the moves you still have anyway - you'll most likely quickly notice that enemies always duck and do nothing when you jump, which can be heavily abused by landing right in front of them and performing an uppercut, over and over. This will waste every single enemy in the game in seconds, and as most bosses will otherwise hit you with unblockable and almost unavoidable attacks, doing this will almost be a requirement — you have to fight cheap moves with cheap moves!
Due to system limitations, it's only possible to have one type of enemy, and no more than two enemies, on the screen at any one time, meaning that any time you're fighting two enemies they'll be identical. This was already a problem in the previous NES port, so it's disappointing to see that it was not addressed for the sequel. Additionally, some enemies will carry weapons that you can pick up and use, but these are largely pointless — again due to limitations, said weapons will vanish as soon as a new group of enemies comes in, meaning you can only use them against the enemies that were carrying them; even holding them in your hands won't stop them from disappearing.
Despite these annoyances, this port does fix one major flaw from the first game. In the Lee brothers' first NES outing, despite what the game's title might have implied, it was actually impossible to simultaneously play through the main game with a friend, as you were forced to take turns. It was only in the versus mode that you could actually both play at the same time, but this was just a minigame where you had to try and kill each other. In Double Dragon II, however, you can actually get a fairly arcade-like experience, as you can now take on the Black Warriors together.
One other area where Double Dragon II arguably improves upon its forerunner is the difficulty, as it's not nearly as challenging even on the highest difficulty. While some bosses can be cheap, you have a rather large health bar which, coupled with easily abused moves, makes avenging Marian a fairly simple task, all things considered. The only parts that might be troublesome come in the form of platforming sections, because somebody at Technos must've really liked Mega Man games — while the first game already had you jumping over pits that punished missed jumps with death, this game ups the ante by adding disappearing and reappearing platforms, making things even harder to time. In other words, these are the perfect locations to use the 3DS Virtual Console's save state feature.
The game's graphics are mostly similar to the first NES title, although this time around the characters have been given slightly more realistic proportions — they're still cartoony, but a bit less so. In terms of music there's nothing as memorable as the first stage theme from the previous game, but there's still a number of catchy tunes to accompany the large amount of punching and kicking you'll be doing.
While Double Dragon II fixes the biggest flaw from the first NES game — namely the lack of simultaneous co-op — it fails to address some of the other major issues. The enemy limitations mean that pretty much every encounter ends up being the same, and the bosses still attack you with cheap moves that have to be countered with your own cheap moves. Billy and Jimmy's quest is slightly longer this time around, yes, but unless you're playing with a friend you might want to be cautious and look elsewhere for a solid beat 'em up experience.