Double Dragon II: the Revenge [NES] (Technos Japan, 1989)
In recent weeks, my emulator/ROM collection has expanded well into the Fifth Generation of video game consoles. I've been playing a lot of Mr. Driller and thinking hard about what my next article topic should be. The first notion I had, strengthened by countless squeaky little Kewpie-like voices in my head, was to write an article about Mr. Driller. After summoning up the self-restraint (and self-respect) not to let that happen, I hit the books. I'd just done Double Dragon as a recent video, and thought an article about its sequel might be a good follow-up. As it turns out, the franchise family tree has a little split here. Allow me to elaborate...
You see, Double Dragon II: the Revenge is two different games. Both games have the same general plot: The Shadow Warriors have upped the ante this time by not kidnapping, but straight-up murdering Marian in cold blood. This neatly explains the “revenge” part, because unless you are Dr. Frankenstein or a very talented practitioner of Vodun, there is no point in rescuing a corpse. The arcade sequel, released in 1988, is essentially an improved version of the original in terms of gameplay. The 1989 NES sequel, which I would like to firmly establish as the main subject of this article, is... well, pretty mechanically different from the first one. Directed by Hiroyuki Sekimoto (who also co-directed River City Ransom), the NES's Double Dragon II is its own distinct game when compared to both the original title and its arcade “sister.”
The upside is that, unlike the first NES Double Dragon, you don't have to “earn” your special moves, plus you get more of them. Right from the beginning, you can not only do a spinning kick, but also a pretty devastating flying uppercut and a brutal jumping knee. The pain in the ass about these two moves is the timing; you have to execute them while on one knee just after landing from a jump or fall, but the resulting hospital bills for the bad guys are worth the effort.
That's where my praise for the mechanical aspects of the game stop cold. This next part is really counter-intuitive and annoying. Normally, you're used to a beat-em-up where you just control the direction of your attacks by, well, FACING A CERTAIN WAY, right? Maybe having one button or combo of buttons belt out a special backward strike to cover your ass in times of trouble? Well, luckily for you, Double Dragon II works completely differently. The B button attacks to your left, and the A button attacks to your right. Since your front attacks are punches and your rear ones are kicks that make your feet look like sassy lady shoes, this means that exercising deliberate control over how you attack someone requires coordination between two sets of choices... one of which also governs your movement. As a small relief, you still do your jumpy-moves in whatever direction you're facing. Double Dragon II is far from all-bad once you get used to this control scheme, however, and once you do, it can even become oddly comfortable. It's just... unnatural at first. Another cool part is that 2-player action isn't limited to beating the shit out of each other with two giant palette-swapped versions of the same character; two players can attack the Shadow Warriors cooperatively. While this may up your chances of victory, watch your friendly fire. Carelessness is how friends kick each other right in the stupid face.
All the same basic enemies are here from the prequel, with slight outfit makeovers and some slightly upgraded moves. Williams and Rowper look right at home on the slightly darker 19XX streets; Linda has a tight mohawk and a nastier chain-whip; even Abobo updated his look by growing some Danny Trejo-style hair! There are also new surprises, especially in the form of boss characters. Most notably, the ninja-type characters you fight just outside the helicopter are absolutely miserable assholes who hammer you mercilessly before leaping away from your feeble attacks. You fight inside that helicopter, as well as on a moving demolition machine. Thematically, Double Dragon II is pretty exciting. The difficulty level isn't unfair, but the game isn't shy about dog-piling you or throwing lethal traps your way to keep things interesting. On the highest difficulty, you can even bring Marian back to life, which I'm unsure whether I should be happy or horrified about.
The "Shadow Boss" picks a real nasty place to stage your showdown; I reiterate, fuck those disco ninjas.
The graphics are pretty good for NES stuff, and the game is definitely a distinct theme change from the prequel. The cut scenes between levels are a great touch, and it's too bad more games in the genre at the time didn't illustrate story that way. The sound and music are okay... the soundtrack is gently derivative of the prequel's, but only careful listening betrays it. It's a bit darker and cooler in tone, to fit the setting.
Double Dragon II: the Revenge for NES gets 6/10. It's a solid beat-em-up with a lot of creativity put into aspects of its design, but that hare-brained control scheme hurts it pretty badly.