Two martial arts warriors emerge from the shadows, dragons emblazoned on their respective blue and red attires. Their arduous and fraught filled struggle through four levels is finally at an end. Anthony Lee and Brad Lee (adopted) have saved the damsel in distress but one final battle awaits! It’s time they settle the score. What is the superior version of the influential beat-em-up classic double dragon, original arcade or Nes version? Let us prepare for battle! FIGHT
Double Dragon – Review
Arcade VS. NES
By: Eringobrad & UltraGoldant with special apearance by Peter Graphic!
BRAD– The story of Double Dragon is a simple one like most video games of its time, the age old cliche of a female in distress. Billy Lee’s main squeeze is kidnapped by a martial arts gang and only he and his twin brother Jimmy have the fighting ability to save her. Except in the Nes version where Jimmy Lee is his rival all along and is the true final boss.
ANT-I will never forget the first time I played Double Dragon. It was at a Barbershop I used to go to as a kid growing up in McKeesport, PA. I was waiting to get my haircut, so I had some time to kill. I used that time to introduce myself to one of the most iconic beat em up games ever. This game is the reason why I love the genre now! Seeing Billy’s girlfriend get punched in the stomach and carried off motivates you to pump as many quarters as possible in order to save her. Billy and Jimmy join together in an epic battle to save her. While the game would be ported to multiple consoles including the very popular NES version (Trust me, I’ve played them all), none compare to the original arcade classic. Join us in this debate!
Ant and Brad size each other up slowly circling one another. They both enter their fighting stances!
BRAD– Double Dragon may not be the first beat-em-up but it sure is recognized as the most influential. A plethora of side-scrolling fighters were spawned as a result of this game including Streets Of Rage and Final Fight. The object is simple, punch and kick your way through four levels. The Nes version of Double Dragon deviates from its arcade counterpart in a few ways however. The limitations of the 8bit hardware at the time and the relative inexperience of the developer would not allow the two player co-op of the arcade version come to fruition. To compensate for this shortcoming a couple unique features were implemented. Two player battle mode and an experience system to unlock a more advanced moveset make for a richer experience than the more straightforward arcade version.
ANT-Dropping into arcades in 1987, Double Dragon was worked on by the good people at Technos. This was their attempt to improve on their previous effort Renegade. The game introduced cooperative gameplay and the ability to use a weapon. As stated by Brad above, it helped spawn so many more classic titles in the genre. Even with the newest beat-em-up titles out there continue to have the tropes of cooperative gameplay as well as use of weapons. I can say this, the NES version is definitely praiseworthy for its uniqueness and ability to work with the limitations to make it a great game,a beat-em-up without 2 player co-op is like cornflakes without the milk! No one wants to wait around to play a 2 player game! It is definitely more fun to mash buttons with a friend playing with you!
Fun Fact: Did you know Billy and Jimmy Lee’s original names were Hammer and Spike?
Ant and Brad suddenly jump kick each other with nary a moment’s notice, knocking each other flat out. Somewhat dazed, they quickly return to their feet!
BRAD- The controls, as with any Nes title, are rather simplified with the use of only an A and B button. All this really means though is the jump button on the original arcade cabinet is converted to a button combo of A plus B. Aside from the back attack move i believe the moveset is mostly intact. Naturally this game being on the Nes some more platforming was integrated to appeal to the Mario crowd. In my opinion it breaks up the fighting just enough without becoming overbearing.
ANT-*pumps more quarters into the arcade machine* I love the controls! I love the basics of one button to punch, one button to kick, and one button to jump! There also different button combinations that allowed elbows and throws! Who wants to just have A and B on a console? Hitting jump and then kick allows you to do a jump kick without having to earn the ability like on the NES port! Of course the arcade version also has the joystick that allows you to move in all directions on the screen. This is very straightforward, and while I enjoy the platforming that the NES provides, I am just here to kick ass and take names!
Ant and Brad each manage a few quick strikes but they’re still only warming up. The fight is about to get serious!
BRAD- This is where it gets dicey. How can an 8bit home console compete with the capabilities of a full fledged arcade cabinet? Truth is under most circumstances it can’t! This case is no exception. I do feel the big detailed sprites of the arcade original are nicely translated in the Nes port and some may even find those sprites to be more iconic even!
ANT-Brad hit the nail right on the head here. Double Dragon hit arcades in 1987. Back then, the arcades were the place to be for the best visuals. Console gaming wasn’t even close! Folks gladly spent money to get the best graphics at the arcade, Chuck E. Cheese, their local pizza shop, department stores, etc. Double Dragon had some of the best graphics for a beat-em-up title of its time. The sprites look awesome and are very detailed for that time period, and that made for very memorable characters! The Console did the best with what it had, just wasn’t going to be enough in this department. I give the NES port props for adding the character Chin! It is another thing that allows the NES port to be unique despite lacking the graphics of its arcade predecessor.
Brad goes for a hair pull foolishly, immediately recognizing his folly. Ant immediately unleashes a flurry of strikes and finishes his combo with a devastating roundhouse kick! Brad dusts himself off ready for more!
BRAD– This is one category I have to firmly give more love toward the home port. The arcade version gets credit for the original compositions like the thumping level one track that’s still one of my favorite retro game tunes, but the Nes version I feel the audio was more on point. The arcade soundtrack had a sort of primitive bleepy and farty quality that arcades of its time seemed to have. The Nes music themes just have that timelessness that still holds up today!
ANT-Alright look, the NES port did a great job remixing the original music from the arcade game as well as adding their own music. I feel the arcade music is more on point with better sound quality, however I have to give the edge soundtrack wise to the NES version because its music is more iconic in the long run because the NES port of Double Dragon is the most popular port of the original.
Ant attempts to get the drop on Brad but is greeted with a surprise back elbow! Brad knows with that strike his opponent is nearly finished, but it’s still anyone’s game…
Brad– Double Dragon is a difficult game no matter the platform. To win this section I suppose we have to evaluate which version is more playable and less annoying with its cheap deaths and frustration. I have played both versions and finished both but only with the aid of infinite quarters and save states in the Nes port’s case. The arcade version is one of the worst quarter munchers i have ever seen! Enemies pummel you with immense ease. The Nes version lets up some but is still very challenging with some enemy types like Abobo being able to strike you in between combos of your own and having far too much health. Should it take over twenty jump kicks to defeat one enemy?
Ant-The arcade game was definitely a quarter muncher in its day! If you’re playing it via emulating, you’re definitely giving yourself a ton of continues so that you can finish the game. The enemies are relentless, plus the arcade version has way more sprites on the screen than the NES port, so you can expect to die plenty of times! Double Dragon was never an easy title. It takes a lot of trial and error to finish this one! Thank God for emulation!
Ant and Brad go on the offensive one last time. In their last exhaustive effort they both throw a simultaneous fist making equal contact. They stagger back and respectfully bow to one another. The fight has concluded.
BRAD- In the end i believe both versions have their highs and lows in equal measure. Beat-em-ups saw a lot of innovation post Double Dragon so neither version is the perfect side-scrolling fighter. What is there no matter which version is solid gameplay and an absolute classic that will always be remembered.
ANT- Double Dragon is a classic! Nothing is like playing that original version. It set the bar for what a beat-em-up game should be, action packed with fun levels and memorable enemies. While not the greatest beat-em-up, it’s still a classic that any beat-em-up enthusiasts should want to play whether the Arcade original or the NES port. If you have Playstation 4, the Arcade version is in the Playstation store right now for $7.99!
Their battle over, Ant and Brad celebrate their mutual respect with a muscled handshake a la Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers in Predator. They begin to walk off into the sunset, presumably to play Double Dragon 2, when suddenly a shadowy figure breaks through the wall emerging dramatically!!!!
While you were bickering about the NES and Arcade versions…you forgot about the ONE TRUE platform where Billy Lee AND Jimmy Lee Can fight and fail together at the same time…without using quarters!
The ONE TRUE DOUBLE DRAGON experience! The only version that will BLAST YOUR SKULLS with FM Sound (unit sold separately)!
The version featuring slightly better colors and graphics! Where you can fight JEFF and not CHIN!?
IDIOTS! Behold! The MASTER SYSTEM Double Dragon is SUPERIOR – so says PETEMAGEDDON!
Grab a controller and LETS DO THIS! …..HEY! Where are you going!? Come on guys…the instructions on how to hook it up are right on the console! Come on! I can’t pause this without getting up…hey guys…wait up…
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Eringobrad is a perler artist and game enthusiast. If you enjoy retro games and art inspired by them find him on instagram and facebook.
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Ultragoldenant is a nerdy father of 3 from outside of Pittsburgh, PA. He also collects wrestling memorabilia, enjoys cosplay, and has a deep love for the decade known as the 90s!
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Peter Graphic is a retro game player and collector. He enjoys writing about and photographing his collection as much as he likes to play! Follow him on Instagram!