Review by TheSpelunker
This ain't yer momma's side-scroller.
Michael Jackson's videos and Double Dragon are perhaps the only remaining memories of a period from the 1980's when gangs of people in tight jeans were considered tough. An interesting website indicates the decline of the 'Roxanne' and 'Bruce' names from that time, but the games and videos of those days are still humorous. Double Dragon starts with an oddball gang of ruffians slugging a girl in the stomach. One of them hauls her off on his shoulder, and the rest, a motley crew of facial scars, sunglasses, and barrel chests, tail him. You and possibly another person play the two main characters, who must rescue the girl from her captors. You walk through backalleys, a factory, the woods, and some ruins, fighting people that appear in doorways and from the right or left sides of the screen. Along the way you sort out various fancy ways to punch, kick, throw, headbutt, and pull hair with only your controls of three buttons and a joystick. Although problematic it is a bit fun. The setting and characters may be the best thrill unless you have watched marathons of 'Beat It' recently and are burned out on them. Nevertheless, the controls and low-brow moves of some enemies may deter a replay.
The game uses an isometric view, which allows for movement on the vertical plane. You and the enemies must coordinate your positions on the plane to connect attacks, making the game a bit Westside Story-like, as sprites seem to be doing the shuffle to attack. You may scroll the screen to the right when you have cleared all of the enemies in your field of view. For future progression you could have to jump onto boxes, climb ladders, or walk up and avoid a pit. Stalking about the streets is the best part, like some sort of Hulk Hogan, but the number of times that you can fall into pits or rivers at simple, dangerous areas such as disabled bridges can be troublesome. You also suffer an animation when you fall in some areas, which looks as if it hurts, but sometimes you may not have an option.
The controls for all of this, the jumping and attacking, are simple but effective. You have three buttons, one for punch, kick, and jump. You can perform a jump kick and helicopter kick as hybrid moves, and if you are in a certain position, you can pull someone's hair and wallop them in the head a few times before they break loose; or you can scamper behind them (unlikely unless you are in two player mode) and execute a hold. You can manage crude combos of punches and kicks till the enemy eventually tumbles over; and finally you can throw an opponent flat out, or you can throw them as a combo from a hair-pulling move. Weapons are added for variety, and you may collect these from k.o.ed enemies. They can be garbage cans or rocks that you can send atumblin', whips or baseball bats, which have more permanence, or the temporary dynamite and knives--which, alas, don't have more 'temperance'. All in all, you have plenty of ways of whipping up on others, and the enemies have a fair amount of ways of whipping up on you. As I said in the introduction however, certain enemies, specifically the bosses at the end of areas, do not deal from a fair deck. For example, at one point two guys with enormous chests will give you the treatment, but they often don't let you stand between slamming you down, which is maddening. A final problem is that by pressing forward twice you will execute a headbutt--this is clunky as you will be pressing forward for movement, and if you stop and quickly try to move again you will headbutt. This can hit the second player, which is funny the first time, but then you will want to apologize to him for the lost health (especially if he is spending his own money).
The objective of the game is the saving of your girlfriend. Fittingly, you are not initially sure how to do this, but you do trust that the screen, ever and faithfully scrolling to the right, is leading you in the right direction and not to a cow field or the Atlantic Ocean. You may feel better if you have a friend with you, which Double Dragon allows. Two player mode is one of the better features of the game. Aside from being able to hit the other character if they make you angry or by accident (in which case they may headbutt you back) you also have a surprise waiting for you at the end of two player mode. Who will untie and win the girl after beating the boss with the machine gun? A showdown may commence. I definitely recommend the two player game over the one player game, especially for replay value. Double Dragon is not worth playing a second time in one player mode, as the enemies can be aggravating without some comic relief from reality occasionally. Even the tight jeans of the game and the women in pink shirts with big hair and the palette swaps between black and white guys peter out eventually.
Although anymore they seem somewhat lifeless, except when a musclebound guy cracks through a brick wall at the end of an area, the graphics of the game are crisp for their time. I like how enemies tumble backwards when you k.o. them. They stand sometimes, but you can throw them again; and the collision detection is flawless. You can bounce onto boxes and ladders with the jump button in the first area, and the second area has treadmills; whereas the third area has bridges, and the fourth area has spike traps and ledges. The sound is exceptional, with memorable and respected tunes for two of the four areas, and two good tunes that are a bit less memorable for the other areas. The introductory screen also has its own theme, which rounds off the soundtrack well. The superficial aspects are genuinely commendable.
As a child, Double Dragon took only one or two of my dollars before I casted it off as a rude arcade game. By the time I dug it up on MAME, I had a friend that I could play with, and it was much better. Still, with its only having four levels and some low-brow difficulty at times, it is more for the MAME player than the common Arcadian. I estimate a good six or seven dollar cost on someone's first play through the game, which is quite a bit--and at the end a second player can beat you in a one on one and take the girl at any rate--and wouldn't it be a coincidence if you two really fought because of that! You would probably need big hair, a bandanna, and tight wrangler jeans, however, with holes in the knees, to consider it. Likewise, you will not find a game this old in the arcades anymore, relegating it to MAME only. There it is worth a few hours out of your night, especially if you have a friend. Simply be wary of the cheap moves by some enemies and the deaths in pits and water for which avoidance is more difficult than it ought to be. If you like this game, you may even want to move on to the sequel, which is a bit better.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
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