Double Dragon is one of the best and most popular beat ‘em up game series ever, acclaimed as high as Final Fight, Streets of Rage, and River City Ransom. It’s a very influential series, and this is one of the first games to introduce a nice co-op fighting mode. Many clones came along, such as Bad Dudes, but they really, really suck. Not only is this a great member of the genre’s series, I think it’s the best in the series.
The game takes place in the year 19xx, which is really sweet to me for some reason. As implied, the date doesn’t matter. But let’s just assume it’s the ’80s, since a lot of the goons have an ’80s punk/Judas Priest look to them. Although, it takes place after “the nuclear war”, and since the original game was made in 1989 and the Cold War was still going on, let’s assume it’s 1990. No war, sure, but maybe I’m looking too much in to it.
While on the topic of time, let’s mention that this game is truly a sequel to Double Dragon, the arcade game. Double Dragon for the NES is kind of a crappy port. The levels were redesigned some, but the co-op mode was dropped for a silly versus mode where you can play as Lee and other enemies in the game. Furthermore, Jimmy Lee, Billy’s brother, is the end boss of DDI, which makes no sense because in DDII and in DDI arcade, Billy is Player 2.
The move system is pretty unique, and it isn’t seen much these days. Rather than having designated punch and kick buttons, a two-way fighting system was adopted that’s unique to this sequel. If you’re facing right, the “right button,” A, is for punching, and B is for a back kick (the direction you’re not facing). If facing left, the left button, B, is for punching, and A is for back kick. Definitely took a little while to get used to, but it’s pretty cool. There are some neat grapples to pull off, which involve you grabbing your stunned opponent. You can either toss them over your back, which is nice, or basically punt their head, which is very sick.
It’s a pretty basic moveset so far, but watch out! This game has probably THE coolest move of all of beat-’em-ups, NES games, and perhaps the gaming industry as a whole: This is the Flying Knee Kick. This is the end-all move in DDII. The FKK is massively powerful. Not only is it the most powerful move in the game, it fires the enemy about 80% across the width of the screen. This is friggin’ sweet, considering DDII features a lot of bottomless pits and spike pits, offering instant kills.
Nothing overly spectacular for background music, but the sound effects are pretty good. Basic pows and biffs. Still, the victory music for level completion has a really nice electric guitar solo, and then some drumming that sounds like a machine gun. Really brings you back to the 1980s, so this gets an overall high approval from me.
DDII is one of the first beat-’em-up games, but it has solid, fun gameplay. There’s a really nice co-operative mode where the Lee brothers team up to dish out justice. There are no team attacks as in Double Dragon 3, but it’s still fun. You can usually do a “You take the left, I take the right” division of labor to get the job done.
The levels are pretty varied and have unique backgrounds in each stage, kinda like fighting through the eight bosses of a Mega Man game. Speaking of Mega Man, there are some really annoying acrobatics exercises in this game, involving climbing and jumping on vanishing platforms. Once you master these, they are not a big deal. However, I think it silly that you can blow through three lives really quickly in a way that doesn’t even involve fighting enemies. This is a beat-’em-up, not a platformer. This is the only one in the genre that I know of that does this, though, and since it paved the way for all the others, I guess it’s acceptable.
Another letdown is the lack of boxes and barrels to throw, à la DDI. This is a nice touch to the game that was left out for a greater variety of melee weapons to use in the sequel. Although, you can throw lead pipes and knives, so all is not lost. (Seems like this game was made after a rousing round of Clue).
Enemies in this game are pretty nice. They have a very ’80s feel to them. Tight-leathered bimbos, spiky armored dudes, random karate dudes, guys that look like Link, some guy that looks like an orange Arnold Schwarzenegger, and of course, Abobo. Abobo is the Hulk Hogan of Double Dragon: He keeps coming back with a facelift.
The game has three difficulty modes, which is a nice feature; but beyond making the enemies harder, they also limit which levels you can go to. Practice gets you through three, Warrior through eight, and Supreme Master though nine. It’s quite a voyage to get all the way through.
My favorite level has to be Level Three, which takes place inside the helicopter that you *GRASP* (see silly comic strip intro to Level Three). You’re in the cargo bay, and waves of enemies come from the left room. A door on the right opens every 10 seconds or so, which has a sweet vacuum effect that you can use to knock guys into and out of the helicopter—even our good friend Mr. Abobo.
Not only did this game pave the way for many a great game, but as a standalone game, Double Dragon II really is quite fun. Quite challenging, fun, and addictive. Great cooperative play is available, even by today’s standards. Fantastic bottomless pits to knock guys into are never in short supply. Good graphics and sound for its time, and there’s also good replay value because of the difficulty modes as well as the co-op mode; I know I spent many fun hours with my brother tearing up the streets of NYC.