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Double Dragon Review

Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 1988 Also On: None

One of the most long-lasting video game genres is the “beat ’em up,” so
called because you essentially beat the crap out of everyone that isn’t you
or your partner, if two can play at once. Of these, one of the earliest and
most long-lasting was Double Dragon, which spawned numerous sequels and
variations. It also spawned a terrible cartoon and live-action movie, but I
won’t get into that. Anyway, it dominated the arcades back in the day and
was sure to be ported to home video game systems within a few years. One was
inevitably released for the NES and another for the Master System. Both have
their good points, and the SMS version isn’t perfect, but it is without a
doubt the best port of this title ever.

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Graphically, the programmers did everything they could to pretty much milk
the Master System dry in order to make this game look close to the arcade.
They did a great job with it overall. All of the original levels and nearly
all of the design elements remain. The characters in the home version are
shorter and almost fit the “super deformed” style found in anime and some
earlier video games, but otherwise they look just like the arcade. A great
range of colors and generally smooth animations. There is a bit of graphical
flicker at times but otherwise it’s well done. The backgrounds have a lot of
detail and every character has been given a clear depiction. The flicker and
this odd screen shift mistake that occurs on two levels are the only
noticeable problems the programmers should have worked out.

Double Dragon has some impressive sound for a Master System title. They’ve
recreated the theme nicely for each level, matching the arcade as much as
could have been done. The music is driving and keeps the action flowing
nicely and creates fitting atmospheres. Sound effects capture the feeling of
going on a fist rampage while keeping the sound of the arcade. A few effects
sound a bit harsh in the sense that they’re almost a bit too unnatural. I
know, nothing sounds like this in real life fight to begin with, but a few
just seem slightly too unreal. A few minor details like the sound of Jeff’s
gun, which is nonexistent, could have been improved on but overall it’s a
great job.

The gameplay here set the stage for many titles that followed. Although
Double Dragon wasn’t the first beat’em up, it did a lot more with the genre
than anything before it. Basically, your girlfriend has been kidnapped by
the Black Warriors in a post-apocalyptic setting. Lots of influence from
old kung-fu movies can be found in the plot, characters and action. To save
Mary Ann, you have to take out every Black Warrior that comes your way and
then eventually Jeff, their machinegun-toting leader. Most of the gameplay
involves smashing the crap out of everyone, but there is some skill and
strategy required.

You have four levels in all, just like the arcade, arranged in pretty much
the same way. Where the NES version did something different with the levels
and added some things, the SMS version sticks with the arcade as closely as
possible. You have a wide array of attacks to use, such as elbow smash,
uppercut, shoulder throw and so forth. Luckily, you don’t have to build up
experience to use these attacks like in the NES version. You can also pick
up a few weapons to throw, strike with, or toss to explode. You start out
with a bit of life, three lives and infinite continues, until you get to the
final level, where you only have three lives and no continues. There’s
nothing to learning how to play Double Dragon, you just jump right in button
mashing at first, but then the enemies get a little trickier in the way they
attack and take more hits, so strategy is required. You learn how to move
better, when to use attacks and so forth. The difficulty level is pretty
even. For the first level it’s generally easy, for the second a bit more
difficult, for the third getting pretty intense and for the final pretty
dang hard. Nice progression there.

I must say it’s a lot of fun to sit down and just punch around with this
game, and thankfully, unlike Nintendo, Sega made sure to keep the two-player
feature present. Without it it would have been garbage, like the other
version pretty much is in some respects. The only two-player feature in
that version is the odd versus tournament they added. For the NES they tried
to get around this by adding new features like this, but nothing can beat
the classic two-player slam fest of the arcade version. Luckily, for SMS
fans, you still have that here and this really increases the gameplay score.
At some points the game gets a little tedious due to the repetition of
enemies, the lack of a few from the arcade, and the same bosses over and
over until the end. However, it does manage to keep your attention with
lush settings and plenty of action, so it pretty much evens out. The final
boss is very difficult, so it should take some time to beat this game for
even the most experienced player. You’ll find that the jump kick tends to
be unstoppable for the most part and a lot easier to implement without
making mistakes and getting hit in the process. However, this takes the fun
out of the game. Anyway, nice level variety and good action, just a bit
more variety for the enemies and it would have been excellent.

Double Dragon set the beat ’em up standard back in its day, and led to
numerous knock-offs and sequels. Some of the most popular video games in
history owe their creation to this. Such titles like Teenage Mutant Ninja
Turtles, X-Men and Ninja Combat. This is where it all began to get dirty.
When they developed this title, it was the first, as far as I know, to
begin using a two-player feature, longer levels and more maneuvers to
perform other than three. The first beat’em up ever, Renegade, lacked these
things and Double Dragon was thus recognized as the core title to break
ground for the genre. By today’s standards it seems tame and perhaps weak
to some players, but the history remains, this game set the bar in the 80s.

I’ve come back to Double Dragon several times over the past few years I’ve
owned it. It’s a lot of fun and great to sit down with a friend with to
pass some time. The ending is pretty bland unless you get something out of
8-Bit ass-grabbing, so it’s not worth going through it just for that, but it
is fun to sit down now and then and pop it in to forget things whilst
beating the crap out of others. The game length is set just right too, as
you find with a number of Master System titles. It will take a little over
an hour to beat it if you’re good enough, and perhaps maybe two if you’re
not. Not too long and definitely not too short.

Out of all the early SMS games we saw on the NTSC market, this is certainly
one of the best. As video game history is concerned, this version is
typically considered the best port of the arcade, period. Sega did a nice
job with presentation and making it as close to the original as possible
with only a few flaws. They’re hardly a problem in the long run, and Double
Dragon is simply a required title in any Master System fan’s library. In
addition, there is a fairly rare NTSC blue-label release in the US that
tends to get collectors excited, so if you’re looking for collectibles and
playability, there you go.

Graphics: 7.5
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 7.5
Creativity: 9
Replay Value/Game Length: 8
Final: 8
Written by Stan Review Guide