I’m going to start by simply stating that I don’t like beat ’em ups, but don’t worry, this won’t be a few thousand words on why I hate Double Dragon because I don’t hate Double Dragon.
I also don’t love it though.
I’m going to start with the NES version (since it’s the one people listed most often, though I will get to the Arcade, Game Boy, GBA, Master System, Atari 2600, and Genesis as well). It’s the version I first played (back when I was a kid) and first beat (at some point in the last decade). I hated it as a kid. I didn’t understand how to do any of the moves, not noticing that I’d only be doing them accidentally once my score had reached certain totals. I don’t remember having the manual and probably couldn’t read English yet anyway. As I got older, I started figuring things out, as this was another one of those games I’d try a couple times a year because of how much some people loved it. When you don’t have hundreds or thousands of games you can play because Steam, emulators, and even the Internet don’t exist yet, you end up replaying a lot of games you never liked.
The NES port of Double Dragon came out in 1988 in Japan and North America, and in 1990 in Europe, a time when there were so many better games were out. Still, as far as beat ’em ups go, it was certainly much better than Kung-Fu Master, though since I’m not a fan of the genre, I don’t know if it was by far the best game in the genre by this point. I’ve never played Capcom’s Trojan, but from what I’ve seen, it might be a better game. Regardless, River City Ransom came out a year later and basically perfected beat ’em ups forever (still a bad genre as a whole).
So, what did I like and dislike about the game? Well, the music is pretty good, with one track, Abobo’s Theme, being among my favourite tracks from any game. On the other hand, Abobo is one of the most annoying enemies I’ve ever encountered. Anyone who’s gotten to one of the platforming sections knows that the game might have the worst platforming in the history of video games. The RPG-like elements, having to accumulate a certain amount of points to unlock different moves, was a weird addition. I kind of like it now, but it didn’t feel terribly well executed and confused me as a kid. I know a lot of people hated it, but I love a little grinding. The graphics are average, at best, when compared to other NES games.
Overall, that’s what I’d call the entire game: average, at best. Still, the NES version is a port, so this must be one of those games that was much better in its original arcade version, right? Plus, the game got listed on a bunch of different platforms, so I played them all. Here’s what I thought of them:
The music suuuuuuuuuuuucks. The game is also slow. How is this possible? How can the arcade version suck more than the NES port? This goes against everything arcade fans have ever told me. Have they been lying all along? Do arcade games really suck as much as I think they do? From now on, I’m going to assume they do. And no, the ability to play a bad game with a friend (which wasn’t available in the NES port) is not a plus, though I will say the twist at the end (which is missing from the NES version) was cool.
I thought I knew nothing about the game, so I played it for 30 seconds and then I remembered. I remembered everything. Friends don’t let friends play Double Dragon on the Atari 2600. The people who listed this version of the game are monsters.
It has all of the NES port’s flaws (unless you count the experience system as a flaw…it doesn’t have that), but as a bonus it looks and sounds worse.
This might be the best looking port. It might also be the fastest. After playing so many versions that felt sluggish, I was caught off guard by how quickly everything moved. The graphics are great, too. The music isn’t as good as the NES version, but it isn’t bad. This is the only other version I would consider “playable” so far, and if you want to play with a friend, it might be the definitive edition.
Why does this sound worse than the NES port? It even looks worse, or maybe I’m just too used to the NES version. Still, it should immediately look much better considering it came out years later and on a much more powerful console. This is inexcusable.
Game Boy Advance
I was very surprised by this port. It might be the best one. The music is great, with some updated takes on the classic songs, and the game looks better than any other version, including the original arcade game. You can play two player as well.
There are many other ports, but no one listed them, so I haven’t played them. Among those I did play, the GBA port is probably the best. Though I might prefer the NES soundtrack, it’s likely due in large part to nostalgia. That being said, I’d still give the GBA version’s soundtrack the second spot. In every other respect, the GBA version outclasses the rest.
Now, being “the best version” does not mean that it’s any good. I’d never understood the appeal of this game 28 years ago and I still don’t understand it today. This game just isn’t a good game. The soundtrack, at least the NES version, is an absolute classic, but everything else about the game is painfully mediocre at best. The fighting is pretty bad, but it’s serviceable (except in the 2600 port). The kind of thing that’s alright for a couple levels maybe, but that’s it. The enemies are mostly boring and you have to fight endless waves of the same ones. I’ve mentioned the terrible platforming a few times, but it so bad it’s worth repeating, over and over. It is absolutely terrible.
And that’s it. My opinion of this game is still “great soundtrack, terrible game” regardless of the version. Sadly, no soundtrack is so good that it can make up for awful combat, so I can’t say that I understand why people listed this game. The only thing I’d consider pushing this game into the “special” territory is the two-player ending. (SPOILER WARNING FOR A 30 YEAR OLD GAME) Having the game reveal player-2 as the real final boss, thus making you have to fight against whoever had been essentially playing a 2-player coop game with you up to this point is a stroke of genius for an arcade game. It’s just too bad they put it in such a boring game.
Ultimately, you weirdos put it in the 44th spot, which is shockingly high to me, not because I don’t think it’s a good game, but because I didn’t think THAT many people loved it.