Double Dragon on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) - More Great Video Games
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The original Double Dragon game on Nintendo was a one of a kind gem. It was one of the first games that I got along with my new Nintendo Entertainment System during the Christmas of 1989, one year after the game had come out. I had never heard of it or played it, but the box art looked seriously cool. The dudes on the front had bats, knives, whips, and were doing all sorts of karate moves. During the 80s, ninjas and karate were the coolest things on the planet. So, naturally, this game was also the coolest thing on the planet. Anything that mixed martial arts and Nintendo had to own, right? Okay, well, the Karate Kid video game did suck – but more on that another time.
Each level had unique design, and very memorable music. Even though there were only four levels in the game, the game was definitely long enough to present a challenge. I rarely made it past level 3 as a child. On coming back to the game, I’ve found that level 3 really isn’t all that hard. Double Dragon doesn’t get hard until the double Abobo part of level 3, where it becomes kind of a crap shoot. If you have it down and memorized, it’s easier. More on the downsides to the game later, though. This is one of those games that makes you smile when you remember it.
When I first fired up the game, I instantly fell in love with it. Most kids did, I imagine. It was so cool that you could throw barrels at some of the first enemies, and you could steal weapons and whip people! Who didn’t laugh out loud the first time they realized that they could knock the first enemy boss, Abobo, down some sort of mechanical garbage chute?
Lions and Tigers and Glitches, Oh My
Level two had some very kickass music. It was also the level where the final boss had a strange glitch. You could go back down the building on the ladders and win the level. Everyone was very puzzled about how such an obvious cheat could remain in the game.
Well, as it turns out, Technos (the guys who made the game) had ported the game from the original arcade version. The original arcade version looked very different from the NES version, and had a lot of complicated computer equipment designed into it in order to facilitate the game properly during the early 80s. I never had played the arcade version back then, and I still haven’t. Anyway, when Technos ported the game to the NES, they had a lot of trouble working with the programming techniques used on the console. That is why there are so many strange glitches in the original game, like that wall that you can walk straight up near the end of the first level. I think every kid discovered that weird little trick.
Levels three was a pretty long and drawn out stage. I don’t remember beating it very often as a child. Level 4 was just a slugfest. That was a hard as nails level for any kid. At the beginning, there are random bricks that seem to always kill you, and they definitely don’t have a pattern. I think you can just walk through them the first time, but who knew that as a kid? You were accustomed to examining the pattern in these games. That was so cheap on the part of Technos. It made the last part of the game a huge gamble to get through. Winning the game was like winning at bingo. Sometimes you won, but usually you lost. Dang!
The arcade version had a cooperative mode, which allowed two players to kick a bunch of computer ass in the regular game. That was missing from the original Nintendo Double Dragon game, but I didn’t know that as a child. Instead, we got that weird Mode B two player mirror match. That thing was worthless. It was a poor man’s version of Street Fighter. It would have been more fun if the players had always been on the same plane, but the freedom of movement in all directions meant that it was hard to even hit the other player, let alone knock him down.
The final battle of the game pits you against two of every enemy, and the original final boss has a machine gun! That’s so cheap! The machine gun guy was the last boss in the arcade version. In the NES version of Double Dragon, you had to fight your brother, Jimmy.
Nintendo Double Dragon Gameplay
Is This Game Really That Awesome?
Today, people look back on this game with a lot of affection. Some people would go as far as to say this is one of the greatest games ever made for Nintendo. I would say that people are definitely looking on this game with heartfelt nostalgia rather than a realistic appraisal. Sure, we were all blown away with this game when we first played it. If you were a young kid and couldn’t go to the arcade yet (or very often), then this was your first foray into the “beat ‘em up” genre of gaming. It was cool.
A lot of people today say, “Wow, that was so weird for them to make you fight your brother in the Nintendo version,” but it actually had a precedent in the original video game. If you played co-op mode in the original and beat the game, Billy and Jimmy had to fight each other for Marion’s affections. So, the arcade version actually did have this fight included. It’s the same deal.
Seriously though, compare this game to some more awesome beat ‘em up games that came afterward. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II The Arcade Game came out on NES the year after, in 1989. That game blew away Double Dragon in comparison. Look at Final Fight or even Golden Axe on the Sega Genesis, which basically came out on their respective platforms the next year. Those games are light years ahead of primitive old Double Dragon!
So, am I picking on the NES Double Dragon a bit? Not really. The graphics were so simple. Look at Double Dragon 3’s graphics. That game had some sweet graphics! I’m sure that Technos just rushed the release of the original DD because they knew they had gold on their hands. Yeah, and they did. Various glitches have already been mentioned.
Double Dragon Had Some Flaws
One thing that irks me about the original DD is how short the first two missions are. I mean, the first mission is just so darn short. It’s like… walk across the alley a few feet and punch some guy down a garbage chute. Short. The second mission is short too – climb across some strange hole in the street, and go up some unfinished building to punch some guy in a turban. That’s pretty short, too. Then you get to stage three, which goes on forever. Talk about strange level design. It just doesn’t feel very consistent. 1 - Short. 2 - Kinda short. 3 - Woa, long as heck. But yeah, those are such minor things to nitpick about.
Another obvious thing that irks people about Double Dragon on Nintendo is that the enemies sometimes only fight you one at a time. There will be two enemies on screen, but one just stops and waits for you to fight the other one. This doesn’t always happen. I think this might be a glitch in the design. I read somewhere that the original game has trouble with more than one CPU enemy’s actions being computed. Once in a while both attack you, so I know this isn't a hard coded rule in the original. This is unfortunate, because I think this trend of “one attacks, one waits” continued on with many other future beat ‘em up games. It’s unrealistic, and it’s stupid. Either have two enemies on the screen that attack, or just have one attack the player at a time. It looks dumb.
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A Game To Love - Despite It All
Despite the love, combine the strange transitions, simplistic graphics, glitches, and a few other things, and it’s a wonder that this game was as popular as it was. Like I’ve mentioned, it was one of the first of its kind that you could play on a home console. That’s really why we love it so much. The crap factor didn't matter to us back then.
At the end of the day, this was a real winner of a game for its time. Technos was smart to rush it out, because people might have laughed at it if it had been released a year or two later with less glitches and more refined graphics. A great game, but a game stuck in a specific time slot that defines its glory. Today, it’s worth playing for nostalgia reasons, but there are better beat ‘em ups out there.
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