Review by ClamChowdaPowa
"The first true Beat-'Em-Up just may be the definitive one."
Men are pretty easygoing, but there are some things that we just won't stand for: Don't mess with our cars, don't insult our mothers, and most importantly, don't EVER mess with our girls. That's the biggie. Look it up if you don't believe me. Double Dragon, the first fully realized Beat-'Em-Up, uses the fact that men don't want other men touching their ladies to great effect, and it presents it in the simplest way possible, right at the very beginning: A thug slugs your girlfriend in the stomach, throws her over his shoulder, and carries her off to his hideout. That's it, and that's all you need to know. No long drawn-out cutscenes, no subplots, no former wrestlers-turned-mayors, just a quick intro and then you're off. And it works more effectively that way. Who WOULDN'T be PO'd? Every guy can identify, and thus, you're instantly drawn into the world of Double Dragon, a game that was released to arcades in 1987, and has aged like fine wine, albeit a fairly violent fine wine.
Story (8/10) - There's a bit more to it than what I noted above, although the official story isn't related in-game. The Black Warriors are running rampant in New York City, with martial artist brothers Billy Lee (player one) and Jimmy Lee (player two) the sole resistance. They run a Dojo in the city, teaching citizens to defend themselves. Oh, and Billy Lee has a girlfriend named Marian, who is apparently quite the hottie. Naturally, The Black Warriors don't like any of this, and voila! One kidnapped girlfriend later, you've got your story. Is it original? Nope. Is it effective? You betcha! A damsel in distress was by no means a new concept in arcades at the time, but the plot does exactly what it's supposed to: Pump you up, get you motivated, and give you a reason you throw quarters into the machine. So simple, yet so brilliant.
Gameplay (8/10) - Just awesome. Many Beat-'Em-Ups would later take on one simple form: One button punches, one jumps. Double Dragon uses three buttons: punch, kick, jump, and from those three buttons, you can execute an impressive number of moves. Punch, kick, head-butt, elbow smash, jump kick, flying back kick (if that's what it's called), and my personal favorite, the knee to the face, and all in a 1987 fighter! Veterans of the series will miss the hurricane kick, implemented in the sequel, and fans of the NES version will miss the straight-outta-Renegade ability to sit on an enemy and punch him the face, but there's still more than enough here to satisfy. Never mind the fact that you have plenty of weapons to use in your quest: Bats, whips, knives, boxes, barrels, boulders, dynamite, all can be picked up (or even better, knocked from the hand of an enemy) and used to bring the pain.
Another gameplay element of later Beat-'Em-Ups (from here on out abbreviated as BEUs, I'm getting tired of typing it out) was the overabundance of strictly linear levels that would, more often than not, stretch on and on, all the while the game is throwing a TON of enemies at you. I'm looking at you Final Fight. That kind of simplicity is fine, but it gets monotonous, especially when there's 6 or 7 or 8 long levels. Double Dragon's gameplay isn't exactly complex, but it is more involved, and in the end is more realistic without sacrificing the fun. And, while there's plenty of enemies coming at you, it never gets to the point of swarming, and you certainly can't take out 8, 9, 10 of them at once with one set of punch button presses (something I always thought was kind of ridiculous, you see it more in early-90's BEUs than late-80's ones). You may see some overlap, but it's not too bad. As for the levels, they're full of holes, ladders, bridges, conveyor belts, etc. to add flavor, and none of the levels are all that long. In fact, there's only four stages total here: The city streets, a factory, a forest that leads into the mountains, and the enemy hideout. No, it's not a long game, but it IS the perfect the length for an arcade game. Theoretically possible to beat with only a few quarters, and all without wearing on your patience. If this were a home game, it would be different, but for a coin-op? Perfect,
So, after all that, why only an 8 our of 10 for gameplay? Well, it's not really the fault of the game, but rather the hardware, but it's unfortunately something you WILL notice: Rampant slowdown. The more sprites on-screen, the more the game's going to lag. Since simultaneous two-player action is one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) aspects of the game, you're going to get some slowdown. It doesn't kill the game, not at all, but it can be annoying, especially when there's a good number of enemies on-screen.
Oh, and in two player mode, at the end, if you both make it to Marian, you'll fight over her. Brother Vs. Brother like. Sexist? That's up to you. Ridiculously cool way to end the game? Definitely.
Graphics (9/10) - Pretty impressive for 1987. Everything looks fairly realistic for it's time, and effectively conveys the gritty streets & factory, the dense forest, the foreboding temple hideout. It may not look like much today, but compared to most other coin-ops at the time, this is good stuff. There's only a few enemies, but pallet swapping keeps them fresh, visually. Oh, and Abobo, the hulking man-beast, he's here in all his glory, ready to break you to pieces, and he looks better here than he ever did at home. At least not until the Sega Genesis version came along.
Sound (10/10) - Oh yes, one of the all-time great video game soundtracks. There's just no way to put it into words, but the entire soundtrack is perfect. You know how the first level of Contra has the music that just gets you amped to kick some butt? Well, DD's entire score is like that. The title screen's music is the perfect street fighting enticement, level 1's the perfect street fighting accompaniment (indeed, level 1 features what just may be my all-time favorite music from any game ever). The quality doesn't dip later, either. Everything fits perfectly with what you're seeing on a screen. The music in Double Dragon is perfect.
Sound effect wise, you get the punches, the bat cracks, the explosions, and the grunts and yelps. Excellent.
Replay (9/10) - Highly replayable. BEUs, if done right, can be played repeatedly without boredom ever rearing it's head. Since there's usually no involved storyline, all you need to know is your objective, and you can set about beating down punks. Fighting crime vigilante-style just doesn't get old. DD has this down perfectly, and since it's not especially long, you can play through it a few times in one sitting.
In the end, Double Dragon stands as perhaps the definitive Beat-'Em-Up. Only some occasional slowdown mars what would otherwise be an absolutely perfect street fighting experience. Even then, it's hard not to love the game. There's a magic here that just wasn't seen in similar games, and only became harder to find as more and more BEUs showed up on the scene. It's not just in the gameplay, or even the soundtrack. It's the way you progress from level to level instantly, rather than fading into one another, giving a real sense of progress. It's the way Abobo makes his grand entrance by smashing through a wall. It's the way Marian kisses you after rescuing her. And not once does it ever diverge from pure street fighting action. That is, no monsters, no aliens, no supernatural elements, no transforming, none of that junk. In fact, the closest DD ever comes to that nonsense is an Abobo painted green, and hey, that could just be body paint. Later BEUs got bigger, longer, flashier, but they never really did what DD did any better.
Double Dragon is a bonafide classic.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/10/09, Updated 11/12/09
Game Release: Double Dragon (US, 12/31/87)
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