The original arcade version of Double Dragon will forever be heralded as one of the most iconic beat 'em ups of all time. It offered a remarkable experience that was fun when played alone or with a buddy. The game was eventually ported to the NES, and as one would expect, it managed to sell out almost immediately across retailers. Unfortunately, the limitations of Nintendo's cherished first home console meant that certain elements had to be changed or removed. The result: a Double Dragon port that didn't offer simultaneous co-op or more than two enemies onscreen at a time, as well as a slightly buggy product. But was it fun? Oh, yes. That said, is it still fun today?
The first thing worth pointing out is how simple Double Dragon for the NES really is. Some aspects of that simplicity are definitely welcome. The graphics, for example, carry this unadulterated charm that's just plain nice to look at. No, this version of Double Dragon could never win any awards for being a technical powerhouse, but the game almost has this vaguely abstract look to it. Character sprites are basic, but pleasingly so. And the environments are full of an artistry that's easy to appreciate. Tall buildings, fat trees, and purple skies adorn the backgrounds in Double Dragon, providing an almost surrealist setting for this classic beat 'em up.
But the NES version of Double Dragon doesn't just look simplistic; it also plays fairly simplistic. This is an '80s beat 'em up after all, so you can't expect too many elaborate nuances. You've got standard punch and kick attacks at your disposal, making for some very repetitive battles. But there are a few elements that make the game pretty unique. For starters, various baddies carry around weapons such as baseball bats and knives that you can take from them to really inflict damage. Tossing a knife at an enemy and seeing pixelated blood splattering? Priceless.
The weapons in Double Dragon are definitely cool, but it's the leveling element that really adds a nice touch to this otherwise truncated version of the arcade original. Defeating enemies racks up experience points, and once you accrue enough, you'll earn a new ability. You'll go from having basic punch and kick attacks to bringing the hurt with grapples that transition into knees to the face, jumping kicks that can take down any enemies, and other fierce attacks. This leveling system adds a nice spin on the original Double Dragon formula, and it really makes the game stand out.
One of the major changes that NES owners discovered upon playing the console version of Double Dragon was the altered stage design. These levels are really different from their arcade counterparts, and some even feature completely new areas to play through. But really, is that even remotely a bad thing? The fact remains that the levels in Double Dragon are pretty cool regardless of the fact that they're not entirely faithful to the arcade game. Hell, there was even a new boss thrown into one of the game's levels for good measure!
As cool as a lot of these features were and still are, Double Dragon can get pretty repetitive. It's a fun game, no doubt, but if you're not particularly fond of beat 'em ups, then you've really got no business even showing interest in something like Double Dragon, because it really is a beat 'em up in the purest sense of the term. If you are into these types of games, this one's pretty cool, even if it is missing that awesome co-op mode.
Revisiting Double Dragon on the NES is a strange experience. On the one hand, it's not a great game. Truth be told, though, it never was. What it is, however, is a fun game that's worth going back to every now and then, partially because it's a history lesson of a great genre's fledgling beginnings, but also because it's actually entertaining, even if it's nowhere near perfect.
The verdict: Double Dragon on the NES isn't anything like its arcade counterpart, and there are several flaws in the game such as the lack of a proper co-op mode and some weird flicker at times. That said, the game is still plenty fun, and because of that entertainment value, it most certainly holds up, warts and all.
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