|Source // Wikipedia|
Like many a kid in the 90s I had a good few games for my Game Boy to keep me entertained. One of those games was Battletoads & Double Dragon, and I was useless at it. I bring this up because outside of pop culture references it's the closest I've even been to playing Double Dragon.
Don't be alarmed, I know what a beat 'em up is. I've played a few of them (that one mode in that one Tekken game counts, right?) but haven't gotten around to Double Dragon, to my knowledge at least. Now's the time, and bar everyone looking a little bit tall and/or top heavy, it is pretty much exactly how I picture it in my head.
The reason it looks like it does in my head is probably because of all those pop culture nods to the title, as well as the many games that use the beat 'em formula on display here: keep moving to the right while beating the crap out of anything in your way. Simple.
Double Dragon's plot is minimal. A gang of thugs has kidnapped Marian, love interest to Billy Lee, who - despite being closed in a garage at the time - knows what has happened and embarks on a quest to... well, no, more flies into a rage and gives chase to the gang in order to rescue her.
Bad guys do bad thing. Good guys teach bad guy a lesson by doing what bad guys do but in a more morally acceptable way. It's OK to beat a man senseless so long as he is somehow related to someone who wronged you. Video games: the parents when your parents didn't care.
Beating folks up takes the form of punches and kicks for the most part, with jumping and grappling variants thereof. Periodically though, an enemy might bring a baseball bat to a fistfight, and because it makes sense to use weaponry when your whole existence seems to be to beat up thugs, you too can pick up and use weapons. It must be humiliating to be beaten by your own baseball bat. You'll have to ask the many thugs who try their luck with one against you.
Progress continues through a number of themed stages, flowing into one another via boss battles against tougher, beefier thugs. Stage hazards usually appear in the form of pits, and you'll have to navigate into and out of the screen in order to hit everything you need to. There isn't too much depth to the screen, but it's there and it's important - space away from an enemy is space where they aren't kicking you in the face, after all.
If it feels a bit overwhelming you can bring a friend along for some co-operative beating, with Billy's brother Jimmy joining the action. Be careful though, as friendly fire is always a possibility in the middle of a chaotic fight.
I played Double Dragon online. Many ports are available though some differ quite a lot from their arcade source. I played solo, without the fear of losing too hard thanks to infinite credits, but this section would prove to be the point of 'yup, that's enough'.
Whether it was slowdown within the emulation or just rotten luck, I was essentially mugged to the point where each time I was hit to the floor, I'd get up and not be able to even aim an attack in the right direction before being hit back to the floor again.
That does serve to highlight that underneath all the graphics, Double Dragon is a beat 'em up about beating 'em up. There's no real strategy, even though you can pull off double team moves, if you will, and use weapons wisely and what have you, but at the end of the day you could easily argue it's 'just' button mashing.
Even if you do resort to button mashing your way through, there is something satisfying about it. Beating a thug around the head in a way you'd not be able to in life and then beating the next twenty thugs in a similar fashion feels great. That formula still holds true for the Batman games these days, and even the Assassins Creed franchise, doesn't it? They offer a whole lot more, but their combat is similarly focused on making you look and feel great when you succeed.
Double Dragon is solely focused on that combat system and if you don't like that then don't give it a look. If you do, or if you want to let off some steam after a hectic day, then you can't go too wrong with any version of Double Dragon.
When I say ports differ, take the NES as an example: Single player, only two enemies on screen at once (both looking identical), a level-up system to unlock new moves... Sometimes we can't have everything.
Double Dragon, developed by Technōs Japan, first released in 1987.
Version played: Arcade, 1987, via emulation.
Version watched: Arcade, 1987 (World of Longplays)