"How wildly our imaginations distort the truth! How apt they are to bend and twist our so-so memories of games into more favourable aspects so that we may think dearly of these adventures from our past, and finally, triumphantly, gloriously, return to them. More often than not, we shouldn’t. With games like Double Dragon 2, we should leave it at, ''wasn’t that a blast?'' Because with revisitation comes the dark face of reality unadorned by the kindly mixture of time, and time away. "
How wildly our imaginations distort the truth! How apt they are to bend and twist our so-so memories of games into more favourable aspects so that we may think dearly of these adventures from our past, and finally, triumphantly, gloriously, return to them. More often than not, we shouldn’t. With games like Double Dragon 2, we should leave it at, ''wasn’t that a blast?'' Because with revisitation comes the dark face of reality unadorned by the kindly mixture of time, and time away.
For me, the arcade sequel to one of the most celebrated beat-em ups ever, Double Dragon, was one of the worst case scenarios for this rose-coloured retrospection. The original game pitted you and a friend (that’s Billy and Jimmy Lee) against the shadowy forces of evil who kidnapped Marion, a dear female friend to both brothers. Of course, the inevitable twist ensued at the very end, as you and your cock-blocking relative would vie for Marion’s attention in a fight to the death. (This should never happen to tough guys - wasn’t it Snoop Dogg who said ''Gs up, hoes down''? How poorly the lesson was learned by our two warriors!)
In any case, the journey was what made the game; certainly the success of partly top down, partly side-scrolling viewpoint of the fisticuffs helped champion a wave of similar fighting contests (we owe our Final Fights and Streets of Rages to Double Dragon). But beyond the arguably revolutionary layout, Double Dragon also featured bright, bold, colourful backdrops, and a cast of characters even more colourful. The gargantuan, bald-headed Abobo instantly became a fan favourite, as did the pink-haired punk rocker girl whose ass kickers were squeezed into tight leather 'screw me' boots, the whip she brandished telling of her 'screw you' attitude.
Double Dragon 2 gives us even more Abobos, with some interesting colour-swapping thrown in for good measure, as well as the rest of the gang from the first game. Thankfully, brand new enemies such as the cart-wheeling brothers, the shirtless Elvis, the fat laughing wrestlers, and the short stick wielding karatekas, have all been added to the menagerie for our second adventure.
And it’s just that: a second adventure. Nothing more - no deep ties to the first game’s plot or anything of that nature. It’s simply a second journey to a dark enemy stronghold as an excuse to annihilate countless thugs along the way, all in the name of lust. The story won’t show any development, as it seems Marion is the cause for the call to arms once more. But the story didn’t make Double Dragon a hit. The phenomenon was always about the people and places. With scenarios pitting a slap-happy, immense man in cheap red jogging pants and equally cheap sunglasses, against diminutive open denim-vested you, with a conveyor belt nearby and a sheer drop all around - the people and places are dead on in Double Dragon 2.
Being a fighting game, the moves also have something heavy to say on Double Dragon 2'sreport card. Here’s where our sequel lost many fans of the original. Rather than utilize punch, kick and jump buttons, the follow up uses a left attack button, a right attack button, and a jump button. Learning my left from my right early on in life, this never managed to put me off personally, but a lot of bellyaching was heard from Double Dragon purists. But the set up surely could not displease detractors enough for them to overlook the brilliant attack that was added to the dragons’ already deadly repertoire.
Billy and Jimmy Lee could always elbow, head butt, hold foes immobile in full nelsons (one would apply the hold, the other would administer the beating), and jump kick in either direction - all in addition to the basic punch and kick combinations that could be effected by simply bashing the buttons. But never before could they… hurricane kick. What? Yes, you read right. You must have known that Ryu and Ken had to learn it from somewhere! New to Double Dragon 2, the heroic warriors could launch themselves into the air, and if their cack-handed human player managed to hit the attack button at just the right moment, the gloriously powerful kick would begin its revolution, flinging enemies bodily across the screen in all directions with an inimitably satisfying whooshing. The coolness of this move cannot be downplayed; I play this sequel over the original for this reason alone.
To summarize the Double Dragon 2 experience, think of it as more of the same. There is little of the inventiveness that a true sequel needs to have to make its own mark. It’s like a remix - and as such, whether one thinks it’s better than what it has expounded upon is dependent on one’s sensibilities. Purists will balk, saying their game sounded, looked, and played better without the new sounds, sights, and moves - saying the newer game simply messed with a good thing, rather than trying to improve upon it. In a manner of speaking this is the boldest truth.
Still, that sentiment isn’t absolute; Double Dragon 2 can also manage to sound much better (witness the sweet, sunny opening tune), look better (there are no foes in the original game who are cooler than the new fat wrestlers, somersaulting stick men, and dread-locked Abobos), and play better (a toss up, because both games are highly repetitive and limited due to their simplicity, a sad thing sometimes, aging. Really, the hurricane kick pushes the second game over the edge). I take this latter view. This isn’t a good sequel. But it’s a remix that is capable of making one all but forget about the source. And that's certainly a good thing.
However, the more pressing issue raises its head when we realize that being better than Double Dragon isn't enough to make Double Dragon 2 a great game. Because it's a remix, it's new paint on an old picture, and the original itself is flawed and repetitive. I really didn't remember just how repetitive and inevitably tedious things really got. When I revisited it, I played it in a party environment, and I played the two-player mode with a friend, as I was intent in playing out the best possible scenario. With a shudder, I imagine how the boredom would have assailed me if I were playing it alone. The lesson I learned is that some games should be left to our malfunctioning memory banks. Double Dragon 2 is good, and in my opinion, better than Double Dragon. It's got heaps of personality, shown off by way of memorable new tunes, scenes and foes. But before I replayed it, I thought it was one of my very favourite games. I conveniently forgot how boring it could get.
The nice thing is that with time, we can forget these replay truths all over again, and hoist flawed games of our youth back onto the pedestal that nostalgia made for them. Truly, Double Dragon 2 isn't the beautiful action game I had pegged it for. But when you think of the good bits, it's nice to think so.
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 16, 2003)
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