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Retro Gaming – Double Dragon (Arcade, 1987)

Double Dragon, originally released in 1987 and developed by Technos Japan, is an iconic representative of its genre: the side-scrolling beat ‘em up action game. 

Double Dragon, originally released in 1987 and developed by Technos Japan, is an iconic representative of its genre: the side-scrolling beat ‘em up action game. A classic by any standard, the game has spawned sequels, tie-ins, and reboots. It has been ported to various console systems as time has gone on, but it was originally a groundbreaking arcade game.

Everything about this game and its aesthetic is very 1980s; from the storyline to the graphics, it is a pixilated chunk of 80s tropes boiled down into a true video gaming gem. The story revolves around Billy and Jimmy Lee, two doo-wop looking martial arts novices whose mutual love interest (Marian) has been kidnapped by the Shadow Warriors. One or two players assume the role of the heroes as they battle through city streets, factories, forests, and finally the secret base of the bad guys. Double Dragon held improvements over earlier beat ‘em ups, one of which was the multiplayer option. Also notable is the ability to pick up enemies’ weapons after they drop them, as well as a limited ability to string moves into combos and do things like grab enemies from behind.

There is a staggering variety of enemies for a 1980s chipset, Billy and Jimmy’s foes ranging from street toughs to Bruce Lee lookalikes to the massive bald strongman Abobo (who has become an Internet cult figure in his own right; do a Google search on him sometime). The enemies not only assault you using their fists; rocks, knives, whips, and various other weapons come into play, and can be taken and used after enemies have dropped them. The player is often surrounded by enemies, making single player mode incredibly challenging.  In addition, should 2 players reach the end of the normal game, they then must fight to see who wins Marian’s affections.

The graphics and sound are quite good, especially in the original arcade version. While the NES and other ports stay mostly true to the original. Much of the artistic aspect of the original game is watered down by necessity. The game features a pretty decent soundtrack, with driving beats and funky break downs. Video game music enthusiasts will (mostly) agree. I particularly like the title screen music.

The game spawned two sequels, the first in 1988 and the second in 1990 (notorious for its difficulty). The 90s also saw a multi-system release of a Battletoads crossover. Modern gamers can play an amazing reboot/remake of the original game, Double Dragon Neon, which can be found on xBox Arcade, PSN, and even Steam. It is reasonably faithful to the original while taking full advantage of the new technology in use.

Double Dragon wasn’t the first game of its kind, nor even arguably the absolute best, but it certainly broke ground in making the side-scrolling beat ‘em up a staple in video gaming.


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