Arcade Classics : Double Dragon
In 1987, beating the hell out of bad guys while moving from one end of the screen to the other was nothing new. However Double Dragon has the justifiable reputation of changing the genre of the side scrolling beat em up forever. Touted as the spiritual successor to Renegade, it was the exciting new feature of being able to battle the mean streets with a friend that shook up the arcade industry. Playing as either Billy or Jimmy, two players could, at last, move around the screen and co operatively attempt to complete the level and aid each other in the tough end of level Boss battles.
The game begins with the now iconic kidnapping of Marian by Big Boss Willy and his gang, it’s never quite clear whose girlfriend she is, but it’s motivation enough for the two Lee brothers to lift the garage door and into action. This opening scene, while simple, is in-game and a truly memorable, iconic, moment in gaming, scorching itself on the mind of anyone who witnesses it.
It’s four levels are packed with goons, requiring a few swift kicks and punches to the face in order to continue. The first level can be tackled fairly easily with it’s main challenge being the boss – Bolo, a gigantic strong man, with fists the size of most men’s upper torso’s and surprising quickness and agility, seemingly at odds with his huge size. The wide variety of enemies begin to get tougher, requiring more punishment to be dealt out in order to stop them. Racy whip-cracking prostitutes, a character called Jeff who had all the moves of Billy and Jimmy and finally the Machine gun toting final boss – Big Willy himself, whose weapon of choice would instantly deplete all your energy, if you took a hit from it.
To further enhance the difficultly of the game, many of the foes that you faced had access to a variety of weapons, these ranged from knives to baseball bats, sticks of dynamite and even crates and barrels could be used to issue serious damage to Billy and Jimmy. This meant that even the weaker opponents could deal out some pain for the player, if they got the drop on you, which kept you constantly on your toes, never able to relax with any enemy encounter.
Luckily, the two main characters could also wield these weapons with practised ease. Some were littered around the stage, others could be picked up once knocked out of an enemies hand and provided a satisfying way to punish enemies and to control larger numbers who would attack at once.
The success of the Renegade arcade cabinet influenced Double Dragon’s design significantly, it employed a three button setup that allowed the Lee brothers to pull off a variety of moves to upset the enemies plans. Flying kicks, elbows and a devastating head butt gave players a variety of options to save Marion and beat the game.
The bright, bold cartoon style visuals moved the atmosphere and tone away from the urban, gritty Renegade series and the excellent animation and moody soundtrack combined to make this one of the most popular games in many arcades.
As mention before, it’s unknown who exactly was dating Marian from the introduction sequence, but the developers Techno’s decided to tackle that plot hole by providing a surprising twist for the two player gameplay mode. In a masterpiece of narrative design, once the players had defeated Big Willy, the game then forces the two brothers to fight in order to determine who will win Marian’s affections. This added to the uniqueness of the title and earned it a place in many gamers hearts still to this day.