Double Dragon has become one of the most popular arcades titles of all time. Its premise is simple: grab a friend and punch and kick your way through the gang-riddled streets to save you girlfriend. The NES version was certainly a fun game, as we gave it a passing review and it remains a top seller a year and a half after its release. However, the way it was stripped down – both graphically and eliminating the 2-player cooperative mode left fans of the arcade version let down. Enter Double Dragon II: The Revenge, a game that kicks off the 1990s with a bang and guarantees to be one of the most talked about games of the year.
Once again, you play as Billy and Jimmy Lee fighting the menacing crime syndicate, The Black Shadow Warriors. In so many action titles, such as Bayou Billy, you find yourself rescuing a kidnapped girlfriend or princess. Double Dragon II takes on a much darker theme, as this gang murders your girlfriend Marian. Your mission is to take revenge and eliminate this criminal enterprise. Similar to Ninja Gaiden, although much shorter, the story is told through animated scenes in between each of the nine stages. Although this game is published by Acclaim – a company gaining notoriety for bringing a lot of sub-par games like Rambo & Airwolf to the Nintendo, the production value here is top notch. That’s no doubt thanks to the actual developers: Technos Japan, who are slowly making a name for themselves in the U.S. with games like Super Dodge Ball and River City Ransom (another brawler releasing this month on the NES).
As you might expect, you may choose to play single player or cooperatively with a buddy. There is also a strange mode where the two of you have the ability to damage each other and steal each other’s lives. There are three modes of difficulty, however, I discovered quickly that if you want to play through all of the nine stages and get the best ending, you’ll need to choose the ‘Supreme Master’ setting.
Like the original and other beat’em up games, this is an easy one to pick up and play. Each stage you’ll encounter a small group of enemies that you’ll need to beat to death in order to progress through. At the end of most of the areas, there will be a boss battle. You start the game with three lives and eight health points, which decrease as you take damage from foes. The real danger in this game is the hazards. If you fall or get thrown from certain areas, or land in spikes or water, you’ll instantly lose a life. There are many sections of the game where it takes you through platforming areas, having you jump from moving ramps or vanishing platforms. Most of the your Game Overs will occur here, and it takes a lot of practice to master these zones, in particular the very challenging Trap Room found on stage 7.
The combat here has been perfected and the controls are some of the smoothest on the NES. There so many ways to attack your enemy. Simply punching and kicking them work early on, but you’ll want to master the more complicated maneuvers, as the bad guys get tougher and gang up on you as you progress. You can grab your opponents by their collars and toss them, kick them, or drive your elbow into them. The spin kick, power knee, and hyper uppercut are crucial to fighting the bosses, and all of these are extremely satisfying to pull off correctly.
Unlike the first game, you don’t need points to learn how to do these moves; they are there from the start. You can also dispatch these thugs in some really unique ways, such as tossing them from rooftops and cliffs, kicking them out of the helicopter, and my personal favorite – drowning them by throwing them into the lake in Stage 5 – complete with a hilarious splashing noise. Of course there are several weapons that are dropped by your opponents, such as grenades, knives, whips, and iron bars. There work wonders, however, they’ll disappear after you defeat that group of enemies so be sure to make full use of them while you can. This may seem frustrating, but it would have potentially made the game too easy if you could carry the weapon with you to the end boss.
All of the areas you punch and kick your way through have a lot of character and variety. You start in the inner city (just like the first game), but you will eventually travel to an island base, meander through a forest, discover a mansion, and more. Every stage is quite different and extremely memorable. For instance, stage 3 takes place inside a helicopter. You must fight and at the same time avoid being sucked out the door to your death.
Stage 6 takes place in a mansion where you’ll need to jump from vanishing platforms to reach the end goal. Stage 8 seems to be the enemies’ headquarters and is my favorite featuring glass floors and ceilings. Most stages will introduce new enemies, and bosses that you defeat will show up in later levels as common enemies. The enemy designs, particularity in the bosses, are fantastic as most of these are much larger than the common ones. Bosses will either have brute strength or speed as their power, although a few have strange, supernatural like abilities.
Every stage features a completely different song. Nearly all are spectacular, and match the area’s theme. Stage 8’s Double Illusion theme is probably in my Top 5 video game tunes of all time, rivaling the DuckTales Moon Theme. The combat sound effects are also done very well, as it sounds like you are actually fighting, and the POW sound is great when you execute the power knee or the hyper uppercut. The quick jingle that sounds when completing a stage emphasizes your victory, while the eerie Game Over music is designed to haunt you.
Double Dragon II rivals Contra as my favorite pure action title on the Nintendo. This is a very challenging fighter that mixes platforming and combat so it should take you some time to master, especially on the highest difficulty setting. The graphics and music are spectacular. The dark theme and story mixed with cinematics in between make it all the more rewarding to progress onto the next stage. The controls and combat feel great and so much more polished than the original Double Dragon. What are you waiting for? Time to get your revenge!
Double Dragon II: The Revenge Review
- Graphics - 9.5/109.5/10
- Sound - 10/1010/10
- Gameplay - 10/1010/10
- Lasting Appeal - 9.5/109.5/10
Final Thoughts: OUTSTANDING
Unless you abhor violence, this title belongs in every household. This is outstanding either in 2-player mode or by yourself. Double Dragon II has really raised the bar for action games. I hope to see more games incorporate a more adult story like this one did. Technos has come a long ways since the now primitive Renegade and I look forward to more quality titles like this from them.
Aaron got his NES in 1991 and has loved and collected video games ever since. In addition to gaming, he enjoys Stephen King novels, Twins Baseball, and his cats.