Double Dragon

aDouble Dragon USA 188x266 Double Dragon NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotDeveloper: Technos

 June 1988
US Cartridge ID: NES-WD-USA

Players:  2/Simultaneous & Alternating
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up
Supported Peripherals: Controller

ROM Size: 2 megabit
Mapper: MMC1 (128k PRG, 128k CHR)

Requires Flash10

Building off of the successful innovations of Technos Japan’s previous beat ’em up, Renegade (1986, Arcade/1988, NES), Double Dragon  for the NES is a port of the first in a successful trilogy arcade games. Twin brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee, well skilled martial artists, learned how to survive growing up on the streets. When Marian, Billy’s girlfriend, is brutally assaulted and kidnapped, he vows track down the one responsible for her Double Dragon USA 004 256x2241 Double Dragon NES Nintendo Review Screenshotabduction – the leader of the Black Warriors, the Shadow Boss. Unbeknownst to Billy, the jealous Jimmy is really the Shadow Boss, desiring Marian’s affections for himself.

Fighting through four different missions that take place across the city slums, an industrial area, a forest, and the lair of the Black Warriors, Billy takes on the entire gang in his efforts to save Marian. Each of these stages have been considerably altered from their original arcade renditions, with different enemies and new platforming sections. In addition to the versatile “2.5D” perspective used throughout the majority of the game (similar to that of Renegade, adding a sense of depth to the otherwise flat stages), some areas are played through the traditional  side view featured in most 2D action-games, featuring a heavy focus on precision jumping.

Double Dragon features a far deeper fighting system than most of its contemporaries, building on the combo system first established in Renegade. In a unique addition to the NES version, Billy learns new moves as he earns more experience and gains levels, Double Dragon USA 039 256x224 Double Dragon NES Nintendo Review Screenshotsimilar in theory to role-playing games. Starting with simple kick and punch attacks, Billy can eventually learn to do flying kicks, head butts, elbow smashes, roundhouse kicks, and even to grab an enemy by the hair so that they can be kneed in the face and ultimately thrown. He can also pick up weapons dropped by his fallen enemies, including whips, bats, and cardboard boxes. Thankfully, despite the fact that the NES control pad only has two buttons, the excellent control setup makes pulling off any of these moves a cinch. Because each move used on an enemy garners a different amount of experience, there is a lot of experimentation and strategy involved in deciding which moves  can maximize potential experience while still efficiently wiping out the opposition.

Though the graphics had to be scaled down from the arcade game in this conversion, the NES Double Dragon still looks fantastic for a game released in 1988. The enemies sprites, though simplified, smaller versions of their arcade counterparts, are still completely recognizable. Because there are only ever two enemies on screen at a time with your character (and these two will always be clones of one another), all of the slowdown from the original is gone, significantly improving the flow of gameplay. The music, especially the title theme and first level themes, are some of the most recognizable in 8-bit gaming, and Double Dragon USA 164 256x224 Double Dragon NES Nintendo Review Screenshotprovide an excellent accompaniment to the action.

While Double Dragon is a challenging game, having only two enemies to deal with at once tends to detract from the overall difficulty, as it is now virtually impossible for Billy to get hopelessly surrounded. Balancing this deficiency is the unfortunate lack of two-player cooperative play, providing alternating turns for players in its place. While the NES hardware obviously lacked the horsepower behind the coin-op version and thus required concessions to be made, excising the cooperative play option really hurts the overall replayability of the title. Two players can still play against one another simultaneously in the superfluous versus fighting mode.

Though flawed, Double Dragon for the NES is a good version of an excellent game that continues the innovative path first carved by Technos’ previous game, Renegade, making for an unforgettable adventure that cemented the foundations of a gaming genre with style.

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