This year marks some pretty significant milestones for some long running video game franchises: Kirby’s 20th, Final Fantasy’s 25th, Donkey Kong’s 30th. Being a retro gamer from the Golden Age of Console Gaming, I can say I feel privileged to have actually been a part of these games’ legacies. If not for me and many others like me, these games wouldn’t have gotten as far as they have, and I accept sole responsibility for their success. You’re welcome.
But not every game celebrating a milestone this year has been as successful. Sometimes, a major milestone is an opportunity to make a major comeback. So, for their 25th anniversary, the amazing folks over at WayForward Technologies, the kings of modern 2D gaming, have decided to use their exemplary skills to resurrect one of the 80’s and NES’s finest achievements: Double Dragon!
I know! I couldn’t believe it, either!
Double Dragon Neon is a downloadable title for PSN and XBLA, and it’s a reboot of the franchise. I haven’t had a chance to play it yet, but I can only imagine WayForward did everything they could to give this franchise the second chance it deserves. I’m sure the game is so kick ass that everyone will forever remember its release date of September 11th… oh.
Anyway, I’d like to do a little celebrating of my own, but, since I know nothing about making video games, I decided I’d remember the franchise’s roots and play the original Double Dragon on the NES instead. Because that sounds like it’s much more fun than creating something. Also, lazier. To psych myself up, I put some Duane & BrandO in my Walkman, put on a sleeveless vest to show off my dragon tattoo, and took to the streets! I’m officially ready to kick some ass! Bring on the Shadow Boss!
Game: Double Dragon
Developer: Technos Japan
Release Year: 1988
Ahhhh, man! Just look at that cover! Billy and Jimmy Lee are so bad ass! They actually astrally project themselves flexing in the sky as they beat the shit out of some dudes! How can you possibly go wrong with box art like that! Answer: You can’t. This game is freaking amazing!
Double Dragon on the NES defined masculinity in the late 80’s. You and your brother have to beat up an entire gang in order to save your girlfriend? With karate!? Hell, yeah! This game knew how to speak to its prepubescent audience. I’m pretty sure Double Dragon was directly related to about 75% of all child-related injuries when it first came out. I know I wasn’t the only kid on the playground who, after playing this game, saw a bunch of bullies picking on someone and thought, “I’m going to go kick all five of their asses!”
The Double Dragon Self-Defense Course! Results may vary.
In all my time playing video games, I really can’t think of a game that has a better introduction than Double Dragon. It just sets everything up so perfectly. When you first start the game, you’re shown the title screen. Nothing spectacular, but you’re also greeted with one of the best gaming tunes of all time! After soaking that in, you press start to see one of the most iconic scenes in all of gaming:
An entire generation’s balls dropped watching this scene.
“What!? You’re not allowed to hit girls!” my 5- or 6-year-old self thought. From then on, I knew exactly who the bad guys were: Antagonists and plot solidified in one scene. That’s all we needed as kids. So, my current self decided to tap into those old feelings, and it was time to kick some ass! Eagerly, I smashed the start button to get to the ass-kicking part. Mission One begins, and you’re again blessed with another amazing NES tune. Seriously, the music for Mission One is so freaking awesome. You really need to give it a listen all the way through. That shit’s heavy! It’s this music, the title screen music, and the epic intro that give Double Dragon such a great and lasting first impression. By the time you see your first two jabronis to pummel, you’re already frothing at the mouth, looking for a fight.
Your pompadours are good, but they lack discipline!
The controls are simple: B punches, A kicks, and B+A jumps/dropkicks. This game is so manly that every button or action is an attack! Unfortunately, the game has lame-ass hearts in the bottom left corner representing your level. The more hearts you have, the more moves you can do. And there’s a surprising variety of beating at your disposal: uppercuts, wheel kicks, headbutts, the unreasonably powerful elbows, and the incredible knee-to-the-face combo!
I made this gif and watched if for like twenty minutes.
Everything in this game just exudes badassery. If at any point you miss the opportunity to look, be, or do something of a bad ass nature, the game will punish you for it. For example, in the Double Dragon universe, you are NOT allowed to simply step down from a higher distance to a lower one. The game views this as a missed opportunity to look awesome, and you will instead look like an idiot for your lapse of judgement:
You bring much dishonor to your family!
On the other hand, if you do seize the moment like the kung-fu pimp you are, the game rewards you, and you end up looking like a boss:
Didn’t even drop his bat, ladies.
This doesn’t just apply to the Lees. Even henchmen have to be bad ass at all times to survive in this universe:
Excellent Dismount! And he stuck the landing with a flourish!
And who could ever forget about Abobo! The first time you fight him and kick him down that pit is just… it’s just wonderful.
Everything in this game is iconic.
Remember how I just said “the first time you fight him”? Yeah, you’ll be fighting Abobo a lot in this game, and he comes in many variations, each one more annoying than the last. In addition to the Iconic Abobo seen above, there’s Green Abobo, Twin Abobos, and the “Fuck You” Abobo. “Fuck You” Abobo punches through a solid-stone cave wall only to stare sorrowfully as you climb out of his reach.
It’s as sad as it is hilarious.
Speaking of Abobos, I don’t know a single person who played this game back in the day and didn’t shit themselves when TWO Abobos busted through solid rock to fight you. I remember talking with other kids on the playground about how impossible it was to beat them. I honestly didn’t pass that part until I watched Jimmy in The Wizard do it by letting the Abobos flank him (a faux pas in Beat ‘Em Ups), and then dropkicking them methodically until they died.
Is there nothing this movie can’t teach us?
As much as I’ve gushed about this game, it isn’t perfect. The game is full of glitches, like the one at the end of the first level where you can inexplicably walk up the wall. And then there’s the Invisible Willy Trick, which is a glitch and definitely not a sexual maneuver to my knowledge. There’s also the second boss that can be beaten by simply going back down the ladder you climbed to get to him. But none of the glitches are game breaking; in fact, they’re all awesome! Double Dragon is so good, even its glitches are sweet!
The platforming sections are super awkward. It feels weird to dropkick every time you need to jump. But the worst part about the game is it’s not two-player. I know the NES had its limitations, so I can’t fault them for making it a solo experience, but I hate that they had Jimmy being the boss of the game. I know they had to do something because the game was called Double Dragon and they had to have the second dragon, but it really messed with the game’s plot, which was… um… save girl with karate? Awesome! Whatever!
This is going to be awkward if we have a sequel…
I can’t love this game hard enough; it means so much to me. I remember sitting in front of my TV playing and replaying this game even though I couldn’t get pass those Abobos. I’m so glad I was around to play this game when it was first released because I can fully appreciate how amazing it really is. I feel gamers raised in this gaming generation won’t appreciate it the way I do, and that’s a real shame. It’s a little dated, but I always pop this game in and have a blast with it every few months or so. You should replay it, too. Needless to say, I’m definitely downloading Double Dragon Neon first chance I get, and I think you should do that as well.
Thanks for your Playing! Stay bad ass, Internet!