It’s interesting to look back on the NES library and compare the games that were different from their arcade counterpart. Bionic Commando was a terrible game in the arcade but one of the best NES games of all time. Strider was a nice Metroid style adventure that complemented the action focused coin op. Double Dragon was a decent port that changed the core gameplay and not necessarily for the better. For Double Dragon II Technos got it right and created one of the best beat em ups for the system.
It loses the brutal intro in which Marion Is gunned down but the NES port follows the same story. After losing their girlfriend the Lee brothers are out for revenge. This version of the game contains between level cutscenes introducing each new area which is pretty cool. Like many of its Nintendo counterparts Double Dragon II shares the same name as the arcade game but is a different game entirely. In my opinion it is actually even better although it’s not without its frustrations.
This version adopts the arcade’s weird controls in its own unique way. The left and right attack buttons are now simply punch and kick. Except here kick functions as a backwards attack. The buttons are also switched depending on the direction you are facing which is annoying as hell. The setup works although it is less than ideal and takes some amount of adjustment.
Although it does not have the same number of special moves as in the original combat has been spruced up somewhat. In addition to your standard punch and kick combos you have a few options when grappling enemies. You can deliver a series of knees to the face, toss them over your shoulder, execute an elbow drop, or high kick them in the face. The fun comes in stringing these moves together in one sequence to quickly dispatch the later enemies in one shot. One of the coolest attacks is the cyclone spin kick. At the apex of your jump Billy and Jimmy perform a hurricane kick that can send all enemies flying. It’s difficult to pull off but can be spammed endlessly with skill.
Two of the new moves in particular are devastating. The flying knee and the uppercut are the strongest attacks in your arsenal. They are so strong that two hits from both are enough to kill Abobo or almost any other boss. They are also the hardest to execute consistently. Both moves can only be used in the split second after rising from being knocked down or from jumping. The timing is extremely tight but worth mastering as it makes the game significantly easier. Even after all these years the knee still seems to happen randomly for me.
Where the original was short at four levels Double Dragon II is twice as long. While the majority of the game is new it does share some stages with the arcade. Those have been made longer for a more fulfilling experience. There’s a great deal of variety in set pieces and some cool gimmicks to make the action faster. Stage three takes place inside a helicopter. Every ten seconds or so the door opens and whoever is close will get ejected and die. Stage four features a spiked ceiling that limits your moves but can also ravage enemies. The later levels feature disappearing floors, if you can knock enemies away they’ll die instantly.
Actually getting to the end of the game is a task in itself. Double Dragon II is extremely difficult for a number of reasons. To fight the true final boss you must beat the game on Supreme Master, the highest difficulty. Practice ends after three levels and Warrior stops short of the final encounter. I was not thrilled to find that out back in the day either. If you can master the timing of the uppercut and flying knee the game is less rough but has its moments. You only have three lives and no continues unless you exploit a trick. In 2-player B killing the second player earns you an extra life, for a total of seven. That’s decent but you’ll still probably fail multiple times because of the forced platforming.
The back half of the game features numerous bits of platforming that barely function. With the sluggish controls and slow movement it is entirely possible to lose all of your lives in less than five minutes. Stages six and seven in particular are egregiously bad. There are disappearing platforms, conveyor belts, and instant death pits that are simply unfair. The game can’t decide if it wants to be a brawler or Castlevania. While I’ve railed on the difficulty it is manageable, just less than ideal. It should be noted that the Japanese is better balanced. You can continue without a code and play through it on any setting. We got hosed. I will say that as hard as the game can be the ending is worth it.
If the game dialed back the forced platforming bits and had limited continues it would truly have been great. If River City Ransom did not exist this would be the best brawler on the system. It will make you extremely mad but its core gameplay will keep you coming back. Double Dragon II is the second best game in the series and a great way to spend an afternoon.