I really miss Technos. As the creators of the modern beat em up with Renegade the legions of titles that followed all owe a debt to their work. I was not a fan of Renegade but could see that it was special and really unique back in the day. But it was Double Dragon that really made me fall in love with the genre. Curiously I played the NES version first which colored my perception of it. Tradewest’s version of the game took certain liberties with the source material that are both interesting and hurt it overall. It’s almost an entirely different game. But is it good?
The first major change is the lack of two-player coop which completely blows. The genre is at its best when two buddies team up to tackle hordes of enemies and with that in mind I can see why it was removed. This edition of Double Dragon scales back on enemy encounters considerably; you will never face more than two at once and always of the same type. That’s a far cry from the six to eight in the arcade and it has a profound effect on the difficulty but I’ll get to that later.
The second is your move set. Rather than having all of your attacks available from the start this version of the game adapts an RPG like structure. Your points function as experience and at certain milestones you’ll receive a heart, granting access to new moves. I guess this was done to add a sense of progression but it is totally unnecessary. There is some strategy if you want to call it that to maximizing how fast you level up; punches and kicks give have different point values and vary in effectiveness. But I can just about guarantee unless you are absolutely terrible at games everyone will progress at the same pace. Gating your attacks like this serves no purpose other than to make the beginning stages of the game a slog.
That being said it does feel rewarding to test out your new attacks. At two hearts you receive the roundhouse kick and uppercut. Three hearts and you can jump kick. The fourth heart lets you grab enemies and throw them or deliver a few knees to the face. The fifth heart allows you to pound opponents while they are down. The elbow is a game breaking attack which is why it is one of the last. The elbow is used automatically when pressing punch on anyone creeping up from behind. Even Abobo easily falls to an elbow smash or two. The jumping roundhouse kick is last and is disappointing considering you’ll probably earn it on the last level. It’s hard to connect and worthless in my opinion.
For the most part the levels follow the arcade up to a point. The themes are the same but about midway through each level the layout changes and not for the better. This is exacerbated by how sparsely populated the levels are. Reducing the enemy count has a severe impact and the fact that you never face more than one enemy type at a time makes it very bland. By the end of stage two you’ve seen just about every enemy and know their behavior making this a lot simpler. Since there are only four levels the easy difficulty will allow you to go through the content quickly if not for one thing.
The terrible platforming that was in the arcade version has been increased, notably in mission three and it barely works. The controls were not set up for those kinds of actions and despite their brevity these sections of the game are jarring and frustrating. Chances are you will probably lose a few lives in the attempt which is incredibly lame.
Although coop is gone multiplayer still exists in the form of Mode B. Here the game allows you to choose from six characters in a rudimentary fighting game. Granted both players have to be the same character but its actually amazing that the roster is taken from the main game and they come with all of their moves. Which is isn’t saying much but still. Its janky and limited but pretty impressive all things considered.
Considering its early release in the system’s life this version of Double Dragon is respectable. However I would still recommend the Master System game over this as it is a straight port and pretty amazing for the time. While solid there are far too many available ways to play the original arcade game at this point. This version isn’t unique enough to warrant seeking out in light of that.