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Double Dragon II: The Revenge (NES) artwork

Double Dragon II: The Revenge (NES) review

"Double Dragon II is the quintessential example of what a video game sequel should be."

What a difference a year makes! While the first Double Dragon for NES was a less than ideal port of the arcade original, Double Dragon II (released a year later) is on a completely different level. That’s in no small part due to the fact that Technos created a game that is only loosely based on the arcade release, and instead designed a custom version of Double Dragon II just for the home console. The result is a game that features all of the hallmarks of the Double Dragon series while playing to the strengths of the NES hardware.

Normally, I wouldn’t bother with the story synopsis for a beat ‘em up game, but like Mighty Final Fight, Double Dragon II features a plot that is just funny enough to deserve to be highlighted. Nuclear war has decimated the city where the Lee brothers live. The Black Shadow Warriors from the first game use this chaos to take over. Their first order of business? Destroy the Lees’ dojo, because apparently the brothers were training combatants of such unimaginable power that the Shadow Warriors needed to eliminate them. Billy and Jimmy take this in stride, until the Black Shadow guns down Marion. Now it’s personal.

From the very start, it’s clear that Double Dragon II is a massive improvement over the first NES game. The character sprites are huge, and every bit of the game looks far more detailed and vivid than before. Even with this huge graphical upgrade, Double Dragon II can show more characters on the screen, and this also allows for a two player cooperative mode, something that was woefully lacking form the first game. It’s an impressive achievement, especially considering how fluidly the characters move, and how many attack animations they possess. Somehow, this is all handled with minimal slowdown or screen flicker.

The experience-based skill system of the first game has been removed, but in its place, Billy and Jimmy Lee have a host of new moves that are available to them from the beginning. The controls are tricky to get the hang of at first, because the punch and kick will swap buttons depending on which direction the Lees are facing. Punching is always “forward” and kicking is always “backward.” I can see what Technos was going for: punching an enemy in the front and pausing to kick at someone from behind gives the action a bit of a martial arts movie feel. However, even many levels into the game I would still find myself attacking in the wrong direction. It’s an annoyance that can be overcome, but I would have preferred that the buttons were consistent throughout the game.

The new power moves also take a lot of practice to properly implement. Billy and Jimmy can now execute a hyper uppercut, rocket knee, and of course the iconic cyclone kick. The timing on these moves is extremely tricky, as they are all based off of the finicky jumping for which Double Dragon is known. While I could unleash the hyper uppercut nearly every time I attempted it, the knee and the cyclone were not as reliable. The beauty of these moves is that—if the connect—they do massive damage. There’s a very satisfying feeling to sending a big enemy like Abobo flying with a well-timed rocket knee. I just wish I could do it consistently.

Double Dragon II also keeps introducing new elements to players with every level, which is refreshing to see from a brawler. Even by mission 5, new enemies are popping up to challenge Billy and Jimmy. The Shadow Warriors are much tougher this time around, as well, and have a lot more moves to throw at the Lee brothers. As with Billy and Jimmy, the enemies’ attack animations are fluid and add an extra bit of flair to the game.

Less exciting is the emphasis on platforming that once again crops up towards the end of the game. Jumping in Double Dragon is never very precise, and yet Technos continues to throw in really tricky sections that require perfect platforming. These sections are highly frustrating, and with no continues to be had, it’s common to have to play through the opening levels as perfectly as possible just to arrive near the end with extra lives to spare. I played the game solo for this review, but I remember endless aggravation at getting through these areas with a second player, so look forward to that if you’re bringing a buddy along.

Double Dragon II is the quintessential example of what a video game sequel should be. It improves on the original in nearly every way, and continually adds new gameplay elements to the mix. The platforming sections remain problematic, and the controls take some getting used to, but once these things have been mastered, Double Dragon II stands as one of the best beat ‘em up games ever released for a home console.

AlphaNerd's avatar
Freelance review by Julian Titus (June 20, 2013)

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