Revenge Is sweet!
In the spirit of the upcoming and much scrutinised Double Dragon: Neon, Sumonix takes a look at the sequel that popularised the brawling beat ’em up genre.
As a 10 year old kid there were few things cooler than martial arts. The 1984 film The Karate Kid had instilled the notion that any suburban schoolboy could learn the teachings of Mister Miyagi, defeat those evil rich kids from the Cobra Kai dojo and make out with the hot cheerleader. Unfortunately, for many of us, schoolyard scuffles and hallway browbeating never seemed to have such fairy tale outcomes. But where to dispose of all that primary school yard rage? With a beat ’em up game of course!
But where to dispose of all that primary school yard rage? With a beat ’em up game of course!
Side scrolling beat ’em up games had been around for a few years already in the arcades, one of the originals was the punch/kick gameplay and homogeneous backgrounds of Kung Fu Master. A couple of years later, Japanese developer Technos released Renegade which introduced new gameplay elements such as four-way directional control (gasp!), enemies that could take multiple hits and punch-kick-jump combos. The plot of beating up the minions and then beating up the boss was still par for the course, but hey, this was the 1980s.
As acclaimed as Renegade became over the years for kickstarting the beat ’em up genre, it wasn’t until Technos followed up with Double Dragon in 1987 that it gained true mainstream appeal. Now two players, one red, one blue, could play cooperatively and rescue the girl together and pick up those dropped melee weapons that everyone was dying to use. Unfortunately the early generation console ports were plagued with technical issues, for example the NES version couldn’t play two players simultaneously and no more than two enemies could appear on the screen at once. The Sega Master System had brighter colours and the co-op gameplay, but still maxed out at only three enemies on the screen, and it had to glaze over graphical detail on some of the bosses (most notably a bald head replacing first stage boss Abobo’s wicked mohawk).
But things were getting better. The third time was a charm for Technos, just a year later they had a new and improved sequel that would bring down the house in the arcades. Enter Double Dragon II: The Revenge. Aptly named, the plot was not about a rescue but about the two brothers seeking retribution against the Shadow Warriors for killing Marian, the girlfriend they fought so hard to rescue in the franchise’s previous installment.
New ass-whooping moves were introduced such as the high uppercut, which was great at countering incoming jump attacks, and the high kick, a devastating jumping knee-to-the-face move that would knock over a group of studded henchmen. There was even a jumping spin kick that preceded Ryu’s hurricane kick in Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. The co-op mode on the NES had two options, A or B, the former eliminating friendly fire and the latter causing frustration and broken friendships. I can’t remember how many times my big brother lured me into the game on mode B and then proceeded to beat the shit out of my character before throwing him off the edge of a building. But all sibling rivalry aside, finishing the game together was an astonishing victory.
The same post-apocalyptic urban setting of New York City was re-used (albeit with a few more colours and shades) and the cut scenes had been lengthened with more visuals, adding to the atmosphere of an epic quest of revenge.
DD2 was not the be all and end all of the beat ’em ups, but it did set the scene for future arcade (and later console) games like Final Fight, Streets of Rage and Golden Axe. But I can honestly say that out of all of those games, I played DD2 the most, not because it was a better game but because it was by far the best game for its time. Sometimes classic games are described as such not because of their superior design, but because of their timeliness.
What doesn’t necessarily make a game a classic is a tricked up remake 20 years later. DD2 was a great game in its heyday and I still respect it, but like my counterparts here at Sumonix, I seriously don’t think Neon will do the Double Dragon franchise – or video games in general – justice. The scrolling brawler game style is not dead, iOS developers have cashed in on iPhone wielding gaming hipsters to create some real gems (I dare you all to try Army of Darkness), but these games don’t belong on PCs or consoles anymore. 3D character modelling for a 2D game just seems lame, and lighting up the environment like a trashy 80s nightclub won’t sell me either.
Double Dragon II: The Revenge will go down in history as the quintessential beat ’em up and a predecessor for the 90s fighting game craze. Let’s hope it doesn’t have to turn too much its grave this summer.
Prefer moving pictures and sound? Then watch our video retro reflection here.