The original Double Dragon was an arcade hit that has yet to be forgotten. Its NES counterpart, however, isn't as memorable. Don't get me wrong; it's still a bit memorable for being a console port of a legendary arcade beat 'em up, but it was nowhere near the level of sheer awesomeness that the original game encapsulated. The game was followed up by Double Dragon II: The Revenge. This title was also a success, delivering yet another stellar experience. Of course, the success of Double Dragon II meant that the game would eventually be ported to the NES. It was, and while it was vastly different from its arcade counterpart, it was still one hell of a ride.
Double Dragon II for the NES offers a revamped control scheme from the original. Rather than standard punch and kick attacks, one button is used for forward attacks and the other performs back attacks. Ah, those were the good ol' days when we relied on two buttons to play through entire games. But Double Dragon II does some cool things with that two button system. If an enemy's approaching from behind, you don't have to turn around to defend yourself; you can just do a back kick and drop that fool, allowing you to take on any threats approaching you head-on. It's a good combat system, and one that provides a nice change of pace from the original game.
Double Dragon on the NES was largely hindered due to its lack of a two-player co-op mode. It's still fun, but that cool vibe of knowing you've got a buddy watching your back isn't there, and the game suffers for it. That's not the case in Double Dragon II. Though the levels may be completely different from the arcade version of the game, the hectic two-player co-op is still intact, delivering what gamers loved about the Double Dragon series back in the '80s.
Double Dragon II is a technically unique title in that it features a coprocessor chip. What this does to the game is allow it to pump out some pretty impressive NES visuals. While the color palette is still pretty limited (Is that even a bad thing for awesome NES games?), there appears to be a higher pixel count compared to the original Double Dragon. Simply put, this is a nice-looking retro beat 'em up. Hell, the game even features cutscenes. Okay, so these cutscenes are basically just overly dramatic stills, but hey, that's better than nothing! As for the game's music, all you need to know is that it's great and catchy as hell.
Despite its interesting nuances, Double Dragon II is still hindered by a few aging elements. For starters, this game can only support two enemies onscreen at any given time just like its predecessor. Additionally, weird sprite flicker is still an issue. Even with these setbacks, Double Dragon II does some really awesome things. Want to see the real ending of the game? Don't expect to cruise on the lowest difficult setting, because that privilege is only available to gamers who brave the highest difficulty setting. Additionally, there's a friendly fire mode available for co-op gamers who like a sadistic challenge. And the weapons system is still intact, so you can pick up pipes, knives, and even explosives to take out your aggressors.
Double Dragon II on the NES is a very different animal from its arcade counterpart in ways aside from the gameplay and aesthetics. The ending in this version of the game is nowhere near as depressing. In the original Double Dragon II, the protagonists' love interest, Marian, is shot to death at the beginning of the game, and at the end, we see a disheartening photo of Billy, Jimmy, and Marian. And then a tear comes out of Marian's eye. A tear. Out of the photograph. This is depressing stuff! Hell, the music that plays during that scene is absolutely saddening! That's not the case in Double Dragon II for the NES, and honestly, I don't know if that's a bad thing or a good thing.
If you're a fan of beat 'em ups, Double Dragon II may be one of your fondly remembered favorites. Whether you played it at arcades or on the NES, the game was great. That's why it's so good to see that even after all these years, it's still great. Sure, it might not be as tragic as the arcade original (I'm still trying to figure out if that's a good or bad), but it's still an iconic beat 'em up that's worth playing, even today.
The verdict: The NES port of Double Dragon II stands tall as one of the console's most memorable beat 'em ups, and it far surpasses its predecessor thanks to its inclusion of a two-player co-op component.
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