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Double Dragon (Game Boy) artwork

Double Dragon (Game Boy) review

"How many punches to the gut does it take to get to the center of a decent Double Dragon 1 game?"

Coming back to the NES port of Double Dragon last year was probably one of the more heartbreaking moments I've had revisiting games. As has been said in the review, I had such strong memories of the title, despite not having played much of it to begin with, so when I struggled to beat the game due to all the irritating flaws, my appreciation for it, unfortunately, plummeted. So, in my neverending, unintentional quest to destroy my childhood, one review at a time, I've decided to revisit another game that's given me good memories: the Game Boy's Double Dragon. Unlike the NES conversion, I spent a good chunk of time with this one, beating it multiple times, but lost my original cart years back to someone who was "borrowing" it. Since then, I wondered if my nostalgia for the GB port was more for the need to replay it than that of actual fondness.

Interestingly, instead of trying to replicate the arcade original, the GB version pretty much follows the NES cartridge's blueprint, and does a very good job at that. The simplistic, cute portrayals of the characters make a faithful transition, such as Billy Lee's tired facial expression, Williams' extravagant side part hair and make-up, Roper's impersonation of Bret Hart, and the lovable, crazed-looking, hulked-out Abobo. For some strange reason, though, the only person to have a sprite change is Linda, forsaking the usual dominatrix outfit for a tank top and short skirt. A lot of the background art also attempts to replicate its console counterpart, like the classic opening stage in the streets that eventually spill into a factory, or the unusual tree placement and design of the forest stage. And while the music doesn't have the same energetic energy as the NES game, they're still the same tunes, but with a more sublimed tone.

Now, while the GB title makes an effort to copy a lot of its big brother's look and feel, it also deviates in ways that make the two versions dramatically different from each other. The most noticeable aspect is the absence of the level-up system where you gain points to unlock attack moves, which is done by beating up enemies. It was an intriguing idea for a beat'em up, but there were holes in its armor that ultimately made it unnecessary, so reverting to having all your moves from the start was a good thing in my eyes. And I dunno if it was the hardware's limitations or the dev team's inexperience with the portable system, but the structure of the game has been toned down in many ways. For example, a lot of segments from the NES title have either been removed, condensed, or reworked: the second stage basically involves climbing up two buildings, the drawn-out forest stage has been reduced for less repetition, and the final stage is missing the moving platforms section.

Hilariously, the subdued nature of the GB version works in its favor, since the irritating issues of the NES interpretation are mostly eliminated. Noteworthy is the surprising lack of unfair ways the game tries to kill Billy Lee, especially instances where dangerous objects appear at random intervals; stalactites now only fall in a predictable pattern in stage three's cave area and the infamous wall section that pushes its side out at a hectic rate is now only a brief threat with one short wall. Cheap moments still manage to creep their way in this port, unfortunately, like in stage two where you need to platform jump onto a conveyor belt that moves in the direction of the pit. Stage three also has a single-plane segment where the ground is collapsing, and the only way out is to defeat Abobo head on. Did I mention it's single-plane? Against Abobo? Mmm... They are annoying, but they're so few and far between that it comes off as a blessing when compared to the NES' execution.

It's really weird to fathom it, but at the time of release, Double Dragon for the GB might've easily been one of the best ports of the game, due to a lack of gimmicks and lame ways to get killed. I now understand why I liked the game back then, because, while it didn't do anything mindblowing, it shone through thanks to its willingness to present a very respectable, straightforward rendition of a classic beat'em up. Really makes you wonder how the NES game would have turned out had it not been for all the problems. I should stress that the GB port isn't great when you compare it to genuinely solid beat'em ups in general, as the lack of enemies on screen (two max) really puts a wrench in the game's challenge. However, Double Dragon for the Game Boy is a testament that you can still make a decent port on a system with hardware limitations. It also makes the NES game look even more embarrassing in comparison, since, well, that game sucks.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (April 05, 2014)

Dancin' in the moonlight. Everybody's feelin' warm and bright. It's such a fine and natural sight. Everybody's dancin' in the moonlight.

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