Double Dragon is the spiritual successor to the arcade game Renegade; you play as Billy Lee, a martial arts master, and formidable fighting machine. Billy’s girlfriend, Marian, is kidnapped by the Black Warriors, an evil organization in the Double Dragon series. You must make your way through the turf of the Black Warriors gang to save Billy’s girlfriend, Marian. Billy uses various martial art moves and weapons through four stages to save her.
Full thoughts and Review of Double Dragon NES
This game has many different ports available, but the one I played is on the Nintendo Switch Online of NES games. The arcade game was one of my favorite beat ’em ups to play. The graphics and music were good and still holds up for a game over thirty years old. The NES version was fun as well. Although, as a kid, I couldn’t get past the third level. As I got older, I could beat the game, but looking at how you had to win the game, was pretty cryptic and required skills and techniques that were awkward with the controls that the player had to use.
The NES game, a port of the arcade game, is different. Because of the technical limits of the NES, the game needed changes. Getting perfect arcade versions of any game on a home console was a near-impossible task when I was a kid. I understand this, and there are things that I like and didn’t like about these changes.
One of the changes made was only two enemies can be onscreen at a time. While this seems like a low count for a beat ’em up, it’s balanced out with a higher difficulty to knock out enemies. Understanding the NES had limits and was relatively new, this isn’t awful. Still, the two enemies you fight on screen are always two of the same enemies type. You either fight two Williams, two Lopars, or even two Abobos at once. I can’t see why the game designers couldn’t program one Williams and one Linda at the same time. This repetitive makes the game feel repetitive quickly with the lack of varying enemies on screen at one time. If it were two different characters, this wouldn’t be as bad.
The game uses a level-up system as a sort of upgrade method as you play the game. You start the game with being only able to punch and kick, and the more hits you land, you earn experience points when you defeat enemies. You can see your current level as hearts at the bottom of the screen. As you level up, you gain moves, like an Over-Shoulder Throw, Pin Attack, Elbow Punch, and Hair Pull Kick. The maximum level you can reach is seven. It’s an odd reward system to keep the player engaged and playing. There isn’t any reason that the moves need restrictions from the start, but you should access them all by around the third level.
The graphics are alright. Most character sprites are decent, and the fighting animations are acceptable for the game’s release in 1988. The music is incredible. Most of the music from the NES version is better in some aspects than the arcade version. I think that the NES version of the theme is much better than the arcade version. The music does a great job immersing the player into this world and gameplay. The control is reasonable as well. The arcade had a punch, kick, and jump button. An NES controller only has two main buttons next to each other; this is hard to accomplish a three-button control scheme. I’m ok with the design of press the A and B buttons to jump in the game as it lets you attack enemies with a jump kick.
The first two levels of Double Dragon feel like the arcade experience. Sure, you can’t carry over weapons from section to section, but I’m ok with that. What I wasn’t ok with was the third level. It infinitely loops until there is a game over or you figure out how to move on. I didn’t know until in a Nintendo Power Magazine that you need to go into the cave Abobo smashes out of that you have to enter. There isn’t any indication I found to go into the cave. For years, I would constantly go right in a never-ending loop. I guess the game was short, and the developers could do this to extend the game out. But it can make this game unexpectedly and not need especially when all beat ’em ups game move in one direction. Plus, after you figure this out, the game gets unnecessarily complicated. You have to jump from platform to platform carefully. To get to the end of the game with the jump controls was annoying because there isn’t any momentum of control in the air you had while doing this. The wasn’t the best choice, if it was, to adjust genres to a platformer style of gameplay.
There is no two-player co-op, which is a shame because beat ’em ups are usually more fun when you and a friend get together. You can play as two players in the main game, just not simultaneously. It plays like Super Mario Bros., where each player takes a turn playing. Once a player loses a life or the timer runs out, the second player will either start their game or continue where they left off. There is a one on one fighting mode in Double Dragon, and it plays similar to Street Fighter. But you can only choose Billy or one of the five enemies you fight in the game. You can’t select a different fighter from your own, and you fight your double in a handicapped match if you’re fighting the computer. When one player wins, the game doesn’t go back to the character select screen. Instead, the title screen and needs to select that game mode again if they want to play another round of one-on-one fighting.
The ending is odd. At the end of the game, your brother Jimmy is behind the Black Warrior Organization and Marian’s kidnapping. Not Machine Gun Wiley, who is the boss of the arcade game. It’s a strange move to make since Jimmy was the second player on the Arcade version but in future Double Dragon games. Even stranger that he was the leader. Was this to replace the 2P fight in the arcade, where if you both beat the final boss, you’d duke it out with the other player to see who gets Marian at the end? This plot point for the NES is never addressed either in the sequels or the arcade. If the game had an original storyline exclusive to the NES, this could be fine. It makes the NES version not feel canon in any shape or form.
Summarized thoughts and review of Double Dragon NES
While changes made from the arcade game to be playable in the NES version, I still found the game enjoyable, at least in the beginning. The last two levels add unnecessary difficulty and don’t indicate what to do to progress. The second game mode doesn’t offer much from being a handicapped one on one fighting game. A lack of two-player gameplay hurts the spirit of Double Dragon and beat ’em up gameplay. The music is still the best from the early NES days. The NES game is still worth playing and trying, but the arcade is a better gameplay experience.