The story of Double Dragon is simply that of a rescue mission. A group of street thugs led by a machine-gun toting goon makes the mistake of kidnapping the girlfriend of martial arts expert Spike, who happens to have an ass-kicking partner named Hammer. On the way to rescuing the damsel in distress, the two brawlers have to punch and kick their way through a legion of street toughs. Besides the common street fighters, the pair encounter whip-wielding women in tight leather and giant bruisers who mysteriously resemble Mr. T. The ending involved a face-off with the machine-gunner, who could instantly kill you with a burst of automatic fire. If both players survived the encounter, they had to duel to the death to see who won the heart of the heroine, which made for humorous endings and lots of smack talk. What made Double Dragon so revolutionary for its time was the use of a three-button system that gave players a multitude of fighting moves to unleash. Just pushing the buttons themselves would allow a player to simply punch or kick, but combining them with joystick pushes would unleash powerful attacks such as a butterfly kick, elbow smash or head butt. The gameplay showed clever depth as well, as punching or kicking an assailant once would allow players to run in and grab the enemy's hair. From this point they could either knee the helpless foe in the head repeatedly or flip them over the shoulder. This latter move proved excellent, especially when positioned near cliffs or spiked pits.
If all this gameplay wasn't enough to amaze people, the game got even more brutal with the addition of knives, baseball bats, crates and rocks. Disarming opponents and then using their own weapons against them was simply too cool for school.
In the United States, the game was put out by Taito, who licensed the rights from Technos Japan. Upon its release in the arcades, the line that was waiting to play was literally five to six people deep. Most people would keep continuing until the game was complete, making waiting in line to play even more of an ordeal. The impact the game had on arcades in the years to follow was enormous. There were literally Double Dragon clones coming out every couple of months.
There's an interesting cheat that exposes a flaw in the programming of Double Dragon's enemy AI. It's basically this - the enemies don't know how to defend the elbow smash attack. When players punch or kick, the enemies are programmed to back away and dodge. However, some Japanese programmer was asleep at the wheel when it came to teaching the enemies how to avoid getting nailed with an elbow to the jaw. All you have to do is attack with the elbow smash the entire game, and all enemies - no matter how tough or big they are - will go down without so much as landing a blow on the player! Playing utilizing this cheat gets you all the way to the end of the game on $.25, but it makes for a boring experience.
Home consoles such as the Nintendo Entertainment System tried to port Double Dragon for play at home. The graphics were highly inferior, as was the gameplay. Tradewest, who licensed the game for rights to produce the home version, made a fortune despite the notable decrease in graphics, sound and fun. One problem with the home version was the lack of two-player simultaneous play. Even worse, the limitations of the NES technology could only allow two enemies to attack the player at once. Even worse, the game would force the player to drop any weapons held before the next encounter. Perhaps the greatest sin of all was that the NES version didn't provide players with access to all the moves in the game, forcing them to "unlock" new moves by "leveling up."
That concludes this week's look back at classic arcade games! Be sure to check out the blog for next week's installment. In the meantime, get kung fu fighting with Double Dragon!