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Double Dragon (Sega Master System) artwork

Double Dragon (Sega Master System) review


"This game is really fun. I had a blast playing it. However, the ability to do cooperative play is what really sets the game apart, extending its life and making it extremely memorable. There are some noticeable flaws, such as the flicker, the repetition in the enemies, and the hit detection that do hinder the experience...but none of them really kill it, leaving Double Dragon thoroughly enjoyable and just plain awesome. "



Quick Info
Double Dragon is a Sega Master System (SMS) two-player beat em' up game developed by Arc System Works and published by Sega in 1988. The game is a port of the 1987 arcade hit, Double Dragon, which was part of (some may say began) a "Golden Age" of beat em' up games. The arcade version helped to define the genre and became both a standard to judge beat em' ups by as well as a landmark in the gaming industry in general. This SMS port is very faithful to the arcade version, keeping the same basic stage layouts and core gameplay elements with usable weapons, a diverse move-set, and two-player cooperative play. The two-player mode is one of the best highlights that the game offers in addition to its genre-defining design, decent graphics, and just plain enjoyable gameplay.

Double Dragon Screenshot


===> Visuals = (too much for the SMS) 7/10
At face value, the game looks absolutely astounding...however, constant flicker issues detract heavily from an otherwise beautiful experience.

> Graphics - 6/10
Double Dragon actually looks pretty awesome, being a colorful romp through the four levels of mayhem. It definitely outshines similar games of its time, however, a couple issues really diminish the overall quality of the graphics. The most prominent issue with the game is undoubtedly the flicker. At many points in the game, especially in two-player mode, the game's sprites flicker in and out of existence with more frequency than some paranormal raver at a strobe light extravaganza. Sometimes entire sprites can flicker, sometimes just large portions of them...it is not uncommon to go and kick a bad guy, just to have your leg disappear in the process! Either that or you will go to punch some no good punk in the head...and then have their face phase out of existence! The disruption that the flicker causes really takes away from the experience and can, at times, make it frustrating (try keeping track of the disappearing dynamite). The other main factor to detract from the otherwise impressive graphics is the palette swapping. There are about six different sprites for bad guys int he game with the designers varying them up by changing out the colors. While this isn't necessarily inexcusable, the fact that the colors are poorly swapped makes it a bane to the game. Expect to fight everything from normal looking thugs to pink-haired punks to green-skinned...aliens? Who knows. Overall, Double Dragon did a great job illustrating a colorful world for the gamer to "beat em' up" in...but the issues with flickering and the horrible choice in palette swapped colors leaves a noticeably bad mark on a beautiful game.

> Animation - 8/10
From flying kicks to flying objects to flying bodies, the animations in Double Dragon are spot on for the most part. You will enjoy watching Billy and Jimmy punch, high kick, elbow, and knee their way through bad guys...you will see the pain on your foes faces while each strike lands...or vice versa if the baddies beat you. There are a couple of animations that look somewhat suspect...Abobo's punch comes to mind here...but that actually looks so awkward that its humorous and nostalgic of some of the concessions 8-bit games had to make.

===> Sound = (classic 8-bit soundtrack) 8/10
Undoubtedly features one of the more well-known 8-bit soundtracks, however, the sound effects are more "meh" than anything.

> Music - 9/10
Ah, Double Dragon...the music is certainly one of the strong points in the game. From start to finish the nostalgic tracks will have you reliving the glory days of the 8-bit era. The first stage and last boss theme are especially fantastic. In fact, I had the first stage theme stuck in my head all day at work today...while I not have been punching blocky bad guys into oblivion, it still made for a nice theme while I ninja kicked the stuffing out of my job. The only theme in the game that probably could have used some work was the standard boss theme, which sounded more like an alarm during a platforming castle level then an exciting theme to an epic boss fight.

> Effects - 5/10
Most of the sound effects sound like somebody thumping on a microphone or walking on gravel rather than somebody putting the pain on some local street thugs. However, none of the sound effects are so bad as to be distracting and don't detract from the game either.

===> Storyline = (white knights unite) 8/10
The twins brothers, Billy (aka Spike) and Jimmy (aka Hammer) Lee are masters of the ancient martial arts of Kenpo and Kung Fu. They live in a city ravaged by war and corruption where ruthless gangs rule the streets, spreading terror and violence. The Black Warriors, the meanest of the gangs, are out to take the deadly duo down. To do so, they kidnap your sweetheart, Mary Ann. So, the game utilized the basic story of "save the girl" to setup the game. Nothing new here...however, in the opening scenes we see the Black Warriors punch Mary Ann in the gut...knocking her out. That one little scene succeeds in bringing out the chivalry in any gamer, putting the player on the same quest as the Spike and Hammer...beat the bad guys (get the girl)!

Double Dragon Screenshot


===> Gameplay = (genre-defining) 8/10
Double Dragon, featuring the ability to use weapons and its cooperative two-player mode, showed how important those two core gameplay elements were to of an emerging genre of video games, the beat em' up...however, some issues with the game mechanics sorely hinder a greater gameplay experience.

> Game Mechanics - 5/10
There are a couple of key components of the game's mechanics that do not work out very well. The horrible hit detection is probably the most notable negative with the mechanics. The player or the enemies will frequently punch through each other, sometimes weapons (like the whip) that graphically hit an enemy, will not score an actual hit. Also, the kicks in this game are, at first glance, somewhat useless by having a shorter reach than the punches...why is somebody's legs going to have less reach than their arm? We aren't playing gorillas, we are playing Billy and Jimmy Lee! Another annoying issue with the mechanics is the fact that your hits will not stun the enemy for long enough to get a full combo off. If you plan on going toe-to-toe with a bad guy, plan on getting your punch or kicking combos getting interrupted by a quick shot right in the middle of your beat-down mayhem. This leaves the player to have to run in for a quick cheap shot then scoot away if they want to avoid trading blows...kind of defeating the beat em' up concept. However, it isn't all bad...the controls are solid with the basics being pretty simple. The Directional Pad (D-pad) moves, Button 1 kicks, and Button 2 punches (or swings your weapon). Pressing different combinations of these buttons can also allow you to do jumping reverse kicks, flying kicks, and back elbows. The control scheme is both responsive and allows you to have a diverse array of moves to beat the baddies down. Overall, the game mechanics detract from the overall gameplay experience, however, they aren't so bad as to break the game.

> Design - 9/10
Double Dragon is a very faithful port of the arcade game, keeping everything that made the it so groundbreaking. Undoubtedly, the most important thing to keep was the two-player cooperative mode. This is what makes Double Dragon DOUBLE dragon and not SINGLE dragon. The simple ability to experience multiplayer exponentially boosts many aspects of the game from the enjoyability to the replay value. Additionally, the fact that the game gave enemies life bars, that it takes more than one hit to defeat them, is worth noting. At the time it was made, the beat em' up genre still typically only had one hit kill enemies. Extending the player's ability to beat em' up in a game designed to let the player deliver a beat down, is certainly a plus. Another key part of the Double Dragon experience is the ability to use various weapons or parts of your environment to aid you in beating up the bad guys. You can whip it good with a whip, hit home runs with your baseball bat, or be the bomb with a stick of dynamite. The ability to pick up an arsenal coupled with the noticeably large moveset you are given, adds a bit of mixture to a game that throws a very limited number of different enemies at you...which leads into perhaps the only real bad point in the game's design which is the seeming lack of variety in the enemies. There are only 6 different enemy models (including the last boss) to fight against...while it isn't so repetitive as to detract from the experience, the lack of diversity is apparent. Overall, however, the game builds off of a solid base design for a beat em' up and adds truly great aspects like weapons and cooperative play to produce one of the keystone games of the genre.

> Difficulty - Just the Right Amount of Challenge
The game is challenging for anybody just picking it up for the first time...learning the moveset, the hit boxes for the attacks, and the basic fighting patterns of the bad guys takes a bit of time to pick up. Fortunately, however, the player gets infinite continues up until the last level! This lets the player experience the full game almost immediately, but still leaves the daunting task of the last level fully up to player ability. The challenge also helps to make up for a somewhat short game, being only four levels, and lasting (depending on player ability) 20-30 minutes.

> Fun Factor - 10/10
Getting to beat up bad guys is fun. Seriously. Running around and rescuing a girl from woman-beaters by beating them is something that is extremely satisfying, and always will be. Regardless of how old you are or how old the game is, Double Dragon will always deliver a surprisingly good time. Yet, what really sets this game head-and-shoulders above many other games is that you get to beat em' up with your friend! Cooperatively play allows this game to deliver a level of enjoyment that is next to impossible for a simple single player romp. Two is always better than one, and you get way more than double your pleasure by doubling up on Double Dragon.

> Replay Value - Moderately High
The game's ridiculously high fun factor and multiplayer capability help to create an experience that many players will return to time and time again.

Double Dragon Screenshot


===> Reviewer Opinion = (classic 8-bit action at its best) 8/10
This game is really fun. I had a blast playing it. The simple concept of the "beat em' up" was executed really well here, giving you opportunity to use anything from punches to flying kicks to weapons to dispense with wave after wave of faceless bad guys. The simple scene before the game starts, showing the villains knock an innocent girl unconscious and then kidnap her was really effective in setting up the story in the simplest, but most effective, way possible. However, the ability to do cooperative play is what really sets the game apart, extending its life and making it extremely memorable. There are some noticeable flaws, such as the flicker, the repetition in the enemies, and the hit detection that do hinder the experience...but none of them really kill it, leaving Double Dragon thoroughly enjoyable and just plain awesome.

===> Overall Impression = (bad guy beat-down bliss) 8/10
Double Dragon is a game that laid down the foundations for the beat em' up genre. The SMS port of the classic arcade game remained very faithful, keeping the two key innovative elements, two-player cooperative madness and the ability to pick up and use weapons and objects in the game. With that said, the game is certainly one of the "must plays" for the system...however, issues that have arisen in the port do hinder the enjoyability. The flicker and hit detection issues really become noticeable and, for some, ruin the great experience. Yet, for anybody that has a buddy to play with, Double Dragon will remain one of those titles that deliver time and time again on a fun-filled time regardless of any gameplay issues.

Rating: 8/10

ThoughtFool1's avatar
Community review by ThoughtFool1 (November 13, 2013)

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