Double Dragon II: The Revenge
Review by xenodolf
"The Lee brothers are back, and this time.. they're fighting together!"
As with the original game, Double Dragon II is significantly different from the arcade version it is based upon. This time, however, instead of being altered because of technology limitations - the home console port seems to have tried to steer away from some of the negative attitude toward the arcade version that felt more like a remix of the first game than a bonafide sequel.
In the original NES Double Dragon, protagonist Billy Lee learns that his jealous twin brother Jimmy was pulling the strings of the gangs that kidnapped his girlfriend, Marion. Billy and Jimmy duke it out and upon being defeated by his brother, Jimmy accepts that he was never be the recipient of Marion's affection and allows the couple to love one another in peace while attempting to patch back together his relationship with Billy. A year passes - and the scattered punks, thugs, and cretins Billy defeated pool their numbers (along with a bunch of fresh talent) into a new, more militarized gang that is headed up by a wealthy and mysterious warrior who fights with a style immersed in illusions. Instead of going the cliche route of kidnapping Marion, this new crime lord sends out one of his goons to mow her down in a hail of bullets. Both Billy and Jimmy are overcome with rage and go forth in a rampage, using their legendary martial artist techniques to dispatch another army of bloodthirsty misfits and the illusive man who controls them. This plot, aside from Marion's death, is entirely different from the arcade version - which is basically a rematch between the brothers and the machine-gun toting Willy. The NES version also has a snippet of plot chronicling the events of the game between each level, usually explaining why the Lee boys fighting in the following stage. What I dislike about the story, though, is that it loses a lot of the grit and bleakness that the original game and the arcade version of the sequel bear. The ending is more like something you'd expect a children's movie to rear up than a manly brawler set after the event of the apocalypse.
The original Double Dragon had nice visuals for a game released during that time and on that hardware. The sequel follows suit, featuring an array of well rendered environments and solid animation that showcases player and enemy sprites in various stages of pain and fluid frames of attacks. Most of the enemies seem to be reworked versions of the baddies from the first game, like the iconic muscle-head Bolo / Abobo who branched off into two different new enemies that look like Danny Trejo and Arnold Schwarzenegger. This game features more interesting looking levels than the first one, like a battle on the rooftops of high-rises, inside a helicopter cargo hold that often opens up and creates an instant-death vacuum breach, on a massive bulldozer, and a brawl upon collapsing sets of bridges suspended above a spiked floor.
The sound effects centered around combat are still as powerful as they were in the first game, but the soundtrack isn't as memorable or really that appropriate for a beat 'em up in my opinion. The music isn't bad, per se, but it for be a lot more fitting for a light-hearted action-platformer than a brawler that has a woman dying in the opening credits.
If you're familiar with Renegade on the NES already, then you will feel right at home here with the direction-oriented role the A and B buttons have during combat. Most people, myself included, are more accustomed to the traditional route of combat mechanics and will find themselves often kicking in the opposite direction of an enemy you were intending to punch in the face. Unlike the first NES Double Dragon, you can use your entire arsenal of moves from the very start - although the learning curve to mastering the deadly hurricane kick and hyper-knee is pretty steep. I was annoyed that while many of the enemies drop flails, knives, or pipes - they often vanish right in your hands when the current wave of bad guys are defeated, instead of letting you keep them until at least the end of the level. My main gripe with the controls is that they are geared toward fighting, and not the platforming you encounter in the later levels, often leading to cheap deaths when you're doing otherwise great during a play-through.
I'll tell you straight up - when you are brawling in Double Dragon II, there is no rival on the NES that can compete with the depth of the combat and the entertainment it brings, especially in two player co-op which makes its triumphant series debut here. The sleek arsenal of martial artist techniques is still here, now with such devastating additions as the hyper-knee (which while difficult to pull off 100% of the time, can render an enemy unconscious often in a single blow). The weapon pick-ups seem more plentiful this time around, but you only have a fleeting few seconds to use them before they fade away upon their previous owners' deaths. Such engaging set-pieces from the first NES Double Dragon, like the conveyor-belts, have been upgrades - such as fighting next to an automated door in a helicopter that will suck anyone who ventures too close to it to their doom. The two player co-op works out quite well, maybe even the best of that featured on the NES. You can play two different variants of that: one with "friendly fire" and the other without. While having the ability to damage your partner may seem like a turn-off in regards to team-work, you'll see that it allows the often-better player to rob lives away from his buddy if he sees fit that he deserves the chance to last longer in the campaign. About the only thing game-play wise I didn't enjoy more compared to the earlier game are the increasingly platforming-oriented level design about midway through the game. Since you only have a handful of lives before heading back to the title screen, falling to your death because your jump on a moving floor was a bit off soured my mood to the point I often reset the game. I know that platforming was the most popular genre in gaming during that era (much like FPS are today), but that doesn't mean every game needs to have its heroes hopping over pits instead of doing what they're otherwise supposed to be doing.
Replay value 6/10
What gamers were missing the first time around - two player co-op - is present in Double Dragon II and having it makes that much of a difference. The versus mode featured in the original NES game is sadly absent most like to memory constraints, and even though it was just a bone Technos threw us for the lack of two player co-op... I still rather liked it. While the first couple of levels in this game are fantastic to play through, the ones right before the final showdown aren't as fresh feeling and stimulating - so most of the time you replay the game you'll basically hover around the first 40% of the campaign.
If I could weed out the annoying platforming portions and the couple of stages that were bland by comparison to the rest - I would declare Double Dragon II: The Revenge to be the best beat 'em up on the NES. In its current form, though, it is "just" a great game and many gamers who grew up with Nintendo's toaster-esque console can attest to that. I'm a bit surprised the Wii hasn't thrown this up on the Virtual Console since the original game is already there, but you can still find carts of DD2 rather easily if your NES hasn't degraded into a blinking schizophrenic.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/15/10
Game Release: Double Dragon II: The Revenge (US, January 1990)
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