Double Dragon – My First Love
From the moment my parents bought me Double Dragon, I knew I was onto a winner. The NES had initially come complete with Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt, I’d been given a few other games but I’d needed something more to quench my then new found appetite for gaming that this amazing console had given me. It came in the form of Double Dragon.
Even the box alone exudes an eighties vibe that if looked at now, easily allows us to tap into the action and martial arts infused media culture of the 80’s. Yes many NES boxes do that but this one in particular shows us the passion for martial arts films and games that just isn’t present to anywhere near the same degree in 2017.
We are what life makes us. I’ve ended up quite the metalhead which I put down to my love of classic video games. The soundtracks to these from back in the day were always immense and Double Dragon is quite possibly the ultimate example of an 80’s metal 8-bit soundtrack. As soon as you press the power button on the grey and black box of joy, the opening music comes to life. Back in the day I could quite happily just leave that on for a few minutes and enjoy it and you know what, I can still do it now!
The game looked impressive from minute one and once you’ve figured out that you press select to switch between the different game modes, (not up and down as you may imagine!) you’re thrust straight into a cool intro scene where a guy punches your girl, flings her over his shoulder and walks off with her and his crew. 2017 isn’t the place for such things but it’s nice to visit a bygone era of gaming and was something like that really so bad? I’ll save that discussion for another article!
So you start out with very basic moves fighting grunts who change in appearance and/or clothing in each level (they all have names detailed in the instruction book!). You then move onto purple-haired women with whips who come out of doors as well as black guys in overalls who will throw oil drums at you. Random ideas but at least they’re varied! At first it seems the moves are quite basic but with each strike you earn points which eventually earn you hearts. More hearts mean more moves which range from the highly useful jump kick to the high-damage back elbow. Using weapons gets you far less points and punching earns you more than kicking, yes it’s harder but worth it if you can hold onto your life bars!
By the end of the first level you can tell that a lot of effort was put into this game to make a it a great port from the arcade hit. The combat is much the same throughout the rest of the game with a host of intricately designed levels from manufacturing plants, to forests to caves to the final temple. The bad thing about the later levels starts about mission 3 during the bridge scene where they tried to add platform elements to a slow and clunky side-scroller, it just doesn’t work and I often found myself frustrated as I fell into the water at that bridge time and time again!
There is also a part in mission 3 where you come across probably the most popular character in the game, not Jimmy Lee, your brother and arch enemy, but Abobo! A giant, bald beast with huge muscles and even greater fighting moves…well not so great but he basically slaps you and takes a quarter of your life. The first Abobo comes just before you finish mission 1 but he can easily be knocked off a conveyor belt. The second encounter with this villain sees two of them crash through a wall and wreak havoc on your poor self. Jump kicks were usually my way of beating these guys but if you know the cheat from mission 2 to get full moves easily then a few well-time back elbows will see them off, but not without a fight! Be sure not to make the same mistakes I did in the past, if you choose not to go into the holes the Abobos created and keep going forward, you’ll have to replay the mission all over again.
Through the Abobo holes you pass through to an psychedelic colourful cave level with a trippy soundtrack and plenty of flashing imagery. Maybe some of you out there managed this easily but the stalactites almost always finished me back in the day, they still do now sometimes! They are very difficult to time correctly. This was on a console where you couldn’t just hit start and save, you’ve put in so much effort to get to this part only to be thwarted in the most cruel manner not by enemies but by falling chunks of rock. As well as that there is an abominable platform part where you have to jump along moving carts of some form, which only highlights the point I made earlier that this game should have excluded platform elements and concentrated solely on the fighting. Though it does add some variety and if you manage it then it’s pretty cool to know you have, achievements like that felt so much greater back in the day!
Also in this level is a moment where you have to take a leap of faith. Fall in the lava, lose a life. Jump the wrong way, lose half your health as it counts as a fall not a jump. You’ve also got to do this quickly or the oncoming rocks will kill you.
Later there’s a green Abobo or two who by this time if you didn’t do the cheat you’ll have full moves anyway and they are easily dealt with. Following that there’s a strange mission with many ladders and it’s just a case of finding the right door which takes you to the final ‘castle’ level as I liked to call it.
In this final hike they’ve swapped falling stalactites for bricks that fly out of the wall in a most random pattern. Imagine, you sit there as a 5 year old, you’ve attained the lofty heights of getting to the final level, you’ve got 2 full lives, this is it, you’re going to make it…only for some stupid brick walls to basically obliterate you and become one of the main reasons you have anger issues later on in life. This is an evil level and if you can get through it all you get a cool final boss, your brother, Jimmy Lee! But before you get to him the title music comes on and you fight a host of enemies that you’ve already faced throughout the game, a cliché of old school beat em ups but it fits in well, watch out for Abobos!
Probably the most ridiculously named villain is the final bad guy before Jimmy, ‘Machine Gun Willy!’ He has a cool weapon but don’t stand in awe of it or he’ll soon ruin all the hard work you’ve put into getting this far. Beat him and you face Jimmy who is basically a carbon copy of Billy with all the same moves and he is very fast. Get past Jimmy and you earn yourself a cute yet very brief cut scene of Billy getting a kiss off from the girlfriend he’s rescued and then end credits…we didn’t have achievements back then, this was it and God it felt good!
I never did manage to complete it as a kid, I came back to it many years later and did it. It was still super hard but I did it! You may see speed runs of everything now on YouTube but believe me this game was far from easy, so very fun though and with an excellent soundtrack for every level. It’s varied and it’s still easily playable today.
I have only one real gripe and it’s a gripe I’m sure so many people share is that there is no option for 2 player simultaneous combat. A side-scrolling beat em up game which you cannot play with a friend, absolutely crazy! It teases you with a 2 player option but all that means is one person has to wait for the other to die to get a turn. Got an older brother then get to the final mission without dying? Best get comfy! There is a 2 player versus option but it is pretty terrible. You pick one of 6 characters and duke it out but you can only play against the same character so Roper vs Roper, Will vs Will etc. It’s just such a bad add-on, the only saving grace being that you get to play as Abobo…even if it is just vs Abobo! The arcade version of the game had 2 player simultaneous combat and I think this version of the game would’ve been perfect had it also had that feature, oh Nintendo what went wrong?!
Looking back at this game it’s a pleasant return to a fond childhood memory. It’s still just as fun now and equally frustrating when things don’t go well but a reminder that the classics didn’t just hand us everything on a plate, we had to earn it.