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Double Dragon (NES) artwork

Double Dragon (NES) review

"For a game I haven't played that much during childhood, Double Dragon for the NES is a title whose details I can still remember vividly to this day without a problem."

For a game I haven't played that much during childhood, Double Dragon for the NES is a title whose details I can still remember vividly to this day without a problem. The soundtrack has always been at the forefront of these memories, like the title screen tune that's in your face the second the power's turned on, stage three's Kung Fu style (or Native American-influenced?) tempo that plays in the forest, and the Tetris-esque melody in stage four. But the first stage has the most unforgettable music in the cartridge, displaying a very lively, energetic vibe that gets you in the mood for the rest of this literal, ass-kicking journey to save your love interest. I thought it was an amazing tune back then, and it still stands the test of time with its blazin' guitar solo. Guitar solo? Hey, it may just be a set of beeps and bloops, but whoever composed it did a fantastic job convincing players it's much more.

Another area that's remained with me are the visualizations of the characters, and while they don't come close to matching their arcade counterparts, still ooze a charismatic 8-bit aura. Billy Lee, your protagonist, gets the job done with his instantly recognizable get-up, donning a blue jacket and jeans, tanned skin, unintentional side part hair, and that hilarious, irritated facial expression, almost as if fighting these punks is more of a hassle than a life or death struggle. The rogues gallery are also quite the quirky bunch, with one guy sporting a pompadour and eye-liner, a whip-wielding dominatrix who looks like she came from the gym with her spandex outfit, and a shirtless martial artist with vicious, lengthy kicks. Then there's Abobo, a towering monster of a human being, coming from Kool-Aid Man's University of Wall Crashers, staring you down with his crazed eyes, and causing tremendous damage with slaps. The "OW!" expression characters make are priceless, too, reminding me of the goofy reactions Charlie Brown and company make when frustrated.

Considering Technos' lack of experience developing for the NES (following Renegade, this was their second), they did a commendable effort in battling the limitations of porting an arcade title while also constructing a unique version to boot. One immediately noticeable change is the fact you have to obtain all your special moves by leveling up, which is done by fighting, a stark contrast to having everything at your disposal from the get-go. This actually forces a semblance of strategy in the early stages, especially since fighting certain enemies, like Abobo, are tougher to beat if you haven't leveled to the point of gaining the jump kick. It's just a shame the mechanics aren't fleshed-out, because after a few playthroughs, you figure out ways to exploit the system, leveling up a bunch in the first stage alone. How so? Kick someone twice, walk away for a few seconds, and repeat until the time limit draws to a close. While not fully realized, it's still cool Technos thought about console gamers and explored ways to extend replay value.

Sadly, this is actually the least offensive issue in terms of changes and where I take off my nostalgia goggles.

Returning to Double Dragon after a long absence, for all the things I remember about the game, there's also something shocking I realized: I never beat the NES version. This dawned on me when I reached stage three, and was befuddled when I entered a cave and it suddenly turned from a multi-plane beat'em up to a single-plane platformer. This could have been brilliant if done right, but this is one area of change the devs really fumbled, due to disadvantages that get you killed more often than not. The cave, in particular, is suspect to flimsy hit detection when you're jumping from horizontally-moving platforms or over lava pits. Even when you supposedly get the hang of things, all it takes is a slight pixel movement to the left or right to fall. The army of falling stalactites (icicle thingys) at the start of the cave are such an amazing pain, as well, since, if you get hit by one, another will easily hit Billy while he's getting up. And another. And another.

There's also one other annoying problem with these single-plane segments... they're single-plane! This makes fighting thugs especially frustrating, because, if you've played any 2D beat'em up in your life, you know the best tactic is to approach foes from upper or lower planes instead of straight ahead. Guess who you encounter in the caves? A gauntlet of goons holding dynamite, two martial artists with long reach, and two green Abobos. This is nothing compared to a later segment, outside a hideout, where an infinite number of jump-kicking enemies pop out of doors! Worse, you're not fighting on platforms with much leg room, so a well-placed attack will knock you into the river. After all that, they still expect you to jump on a series of tiny, moving platforms, and this time they're moving vertically.

The troublesome single-plane locations, along with the extremely brutal low life count of three, with no chance for additional lives, non-existent cheat codes, nor a continue system, makes the second half of Double Dragon really nerve-wracking. There's zero margin for error, and with all the unpredictable things that can and will happen, reaching the very end is more an exercise in mental exhaustion than a fun challenge; you'll grow tired of the hit detection, cheap ways to die like stage four's horrid brick wall section whose patterns are impossible to decipher, and how, when you lose a life, all enemies that have been killed in that area respawn. Technos meant well in converting a coin-op into a game with a console mentality, but they still built it around quarter crunching fundamentals. Attempting a straight port might have made it somewhat generic, but at least you won't be pulling your hair out when stage three is reached.

*puts on nostalgia goggles*

But, man... at least the soundtrack is still great.


pickhut's avatar
Featured community review by pickhut (January 20, 2013)

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