Released into arcades in June 1987 – Double Dragon became a big hit for publisher/developer Technōs. It was the first arcade game I ever completed and today, the game still sparks off fond memories growing up as a gamer in the 80s.
Right here – I’m going to take a look at the entire Double Dragon franchise over the last 30 years as well as some of the more infamous ports and spin-offs the series has offered us for three decades.
Telling the story of brothers, Billy and Jimmy Lee. Double Dragon was a simple beat em’ up with a simple plot. Bad guys called The Black Warrior Gang turn up, punch Billy’s girlfriend -Marian in the stomach and kidnap her. Playing as Billy or Jimmy… or both with a friend – you had to fight your way through four stages of various enemies and bosses. You’d even find numerous weapons to use in your fight to save the girl. The final stage is the gang’s hideout where you eventually come up against the gang’s leader, Willy. Take out Willy, save Marian and you are a winner… except if you played 2-player where an unexpected twist has brother fight against brother.
Double Dragon was a smash hit and was soon ported to pretty much every game’s machine in the late 80s and early 90s. The NES, Master System, Game Boy, Atari Lynx Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC all had their own versions of the game. There was even a port on an unlicensed cartridge for the Mega Drive released in 1992. But the cream of the crop, top of the heap was the Atari 2600 port – it was… interesting.
The success of Double Dragon meant a sequel was inevitable, but who would know the franchise would still be alive 30 years later?
Double Dragon II: The Revenge
The sequel, Double Dragon II: The Revenge was released in 1988 and to be quite frank – it was more of the same with a few bells and whistles. This time around The Black Warriors Gang and their leader, Willy don’t kidnap Marian. Willy outright murders her in cold blood. So of course Billy and Jimmy set out for revenge. Double Dragon II: The Revenge really is little more than just a graphical upgrade. The gameplay itself remained the same, save for a few minor tweaks and improvements. The game even re-uses a lot of the same enemies from the previous game.
Once again, the game was ported to pretty much every popular games machine at the time but sadly, no Atari 2600 port.
Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone
1990 saw Billy and Jimmy Lee return and this time – they are joined by Sonny (whoever that is). Yup, this sequel brings with it several new ideas to the Double Dragon franchise. Not only is it simultaneous three player but the graphics have been given a complete overhaul and several new moves have been introduced. The plot this time involves the Lee brothers and Sonny (still no idea who he is) having to travel the globe in search of the titular Rosetta Stones. Starting in the United States before heading to China, Japan, Italy and finally – Egypt.
The game also featured a very unwelcome addition. You know how modern games have those dreaded ‘micro transactions’ – those things developers include to milk every last penny out of the player? Well Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone had this feature long before they became the norm today. This game featured item shops on the levels where you could buy new weapons, items, power-ups and even new characters… only you had to use real money to buy these and each item would be the same cost as a single credit. So if you wanted to make any progress in the game, you’d have to spend some serious real cash. This feature was removed from the later Japnese version due to negative feedback.
And yes, there were ports to the numerous gaming machines at the time too. Plus there was an alternate game called Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones released for the NES in 1991. This was not a port of the arcade game, but instead a whole new game made just for the NES and yes – this is where the whole ‘Bimmy’ thing started too.
Super Double Dragon
This one was an exclusive for the SNES and fourth game in the franchise… though not actually Double Dragon IV – that explanation is coming up later…
The plot of this one is – well, there is no plot. Lead programmer; Muneki Ebinuma revealed in 2004 that this game was never finished before it was released. Super Double Dragon was supposed to feature cut-scenes telling a story. The story involved Billy and Jimmy investigating a criminal organisation known as the Shadow Warriors. The gang has been kidnapping various martial artists. Billy and Jimmy were tasked with fighting their way through seven stages as they rescue the missing martial artists before facing the gang’s main boss – Duke who was to have been revealed as being a childhood friend of the Lee brothers… but the story a lot of the game mechanics were never included in the final product due to time constraints.
Super Double Dragon is a very impressive beat em’ up in many ways. The fighting mechanics are pretty awesome as not only can you punch and kick, but you now have a block button and if you block just as you’re being attacked, you’ll grab your enemy in an arm/leg lock and continue to beat the crap out of them too. The weapons have been improved and updated over previous games too and some of the scenery is interactive. But you can also tell that the game is unfinished and lacking in so many areas – plus its painfully slow and sluggish. Its a shame because you can tell there is a great game here. The Japanese version (Return of Double Dragon) differs slightly and is ‘better’ than the Western version and I’d recommend playing that one instead if you can find it.
Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls
By the mid 90s – any and everyone was trying to cash in on the massive success of Capcom’s Street Fighter II. There were suddenly one on one, tournament fighting games everywhere and Double Dragon wanted in on the action too. Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls was released in 1994 and based on the animated Double Dragon TV series that aired around the same time. It was pretty standard stuff, Street Fighter II only not as good.
Yup, its just called Double Dragon and no its not a remake of the original. This 1995 released game is yet another Street Fighter II wanna-be. Inspired by the movie version of the game (so a game turned into a movie which is then turned into a game) as it takes plot elements, characters and locales used in the movie. This was also the last Double Dragon game made by original developers – Technōs before they went bust.
Released for the arcades, Neo Geo CD and Play Station. This Double Dragon ended up being a disappointment as it just didn’t measure up to the sea of similar (and better) fighting games around at the time. Plus, Double Dragon fans were thirsty for a proper Double Dragon game – not another Street Fighter II clone.
Double Dragon Advance
The franchise lay dormant from 1995 until 2003 when Double Dragon Advance was released for the Game Boy Advance. This one was a remake of the original arcade game, only given a graphical overhaul as well as update the move set to include fighting mechanics taken from some of the series’ sequels over the years. The plot is the same as it was in the original with you taking on the gang that kidnapped Marian. Four new stages have also been added to the original ones as well as several new enemies to punch and kick. This was the kind of game fans of the series had yearned after for several years and Double Dragon Advance is a pretty damn good Double Dragon game – well worthy of the name.
Double Dragon Neon
A modern retelling/reboot of Double Dragon released in 2012. This game is very tongue in cheek as it really plays up to its 80s setting and uses self-parody as its main source of humour. Yet it still manages to retain that classic 80s arcade feel and this one is definitely a must for any old school Double Dragon fan. Not an easy game to get on with at first – but once you unlock a few upgrades and get used to the fighting mechanics, this game is a pure blast full of retro goodness and gameplay.
Double Dragon II: Wander of the Dragons
A remake of the original arcade game Double Dragon II: The Revenge – Double Dragon II: Wander of the Dragons is awful. I made the mistake of thinking this was a sequel to Double Dragon Neon… its not. This game is a clunky, unresponsive, and just an absolute mess. Its ugly to look at and even uglier to play. Not worth your time at all and is an insult to the Double Dragon name.
Double Dragon IV
Okay – so now things are going to get confusing. This game released in 2017 is the official fourth game in the Double Dragon franchise. Released twenty seven years AFTER Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone and twenty three years AFTER Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls. But it gets worse as Double Dragon IV is not even a sequel to Double Dragon 3 (either version) but in fact a direct sequel to the NES port of Double Dragon II instead. Confused yet?
As you can see for the screen shot, Double Dragon IV goes for a retro style and look based on the NES versions of the original games. The plot is pretty simple – The Black Warriors Gang from the original two games team up with an all new gang called The Renegades to finish off Billy and Jimmy Lee once and for all. In typical Double Dragon fashion, you punch and kick enemies in the face and take out bosses spread over several different stages. A distinctly average Double Dragon game that leans too much on nostalgia and not enough on gameplay.
1987 – 2017
So there you have it – three decades of face punching action from Double Dragon.
But before I end this retrospective, there are a few other Double Dragon games and spin-offs I want to give quick mention to.
1989s U.S. Championship V’Ball (aka; Super Spike V’Ball) for the NES featured both Billy and Jimmy Lee as playable characters. Arcade game WWF Superstars from 1989 had Billy appear in a cameo role. Battletoads & Double Dragon which was released in 1993 was a crossover game featuring characters from both titular franchises. 2002s Rage of the Dragons released for the Neo Geo is a one on one fighter that features Billy and Jimmy Lee as playable characters. And in 2013, Double Dragon Trilogy was released for iOS, Android and Steam – a collection of the first three arcade games with a few minor tweaks added.
Well that’s me done then. Thanks to Billy and Jimmy Lee for the gaming memories. – I’m off to play some Double Dragon Neon.