(Editor’s Note: Technically, Double Dragon had it’s Sega Seal of Quality Revoked for being a rehash of a previous generation’s game, thus disqualifying it from our Top 50 list. But this game rules so hard we at least sent it off with a positive review)
As Double Dragon begins, we see a woman standing in the street being approached by a gang. Their leader has a machine gun and looks kind of like old WWF wrestler Razor Ramon in a yellow biker outfit. One of them punches her in the stomach, throws her over his shoulder and they calmly walk away. At this point, you should already have realized that what you’re about to experience will be the greatest thing ever.
The game never explains why they kidnap her, but apparently this happened a lot during the 80s, because both the woman and the gang members seem pretty nonchalant about the whole thing. Once they’re gone, a garage in the background opens its door, revealing a really kickass Trans Am. Standing next to the car are the two protagonists, Billy and Jimmy Lee. Actually, according to the artwork on the arcade cabinet the blue one is named “Hammer” and the red one is “Spike”. I’m not sure how people figured out their real names, but I do know that they both look so much like the singers from Tears for Fears that it’s a little bit scary.
Interestingly, the gang is already out of sight by the time Billy and Jimmy hit the street, so they didn’t actually see anything happen. For all they know, the girl was never even there – it’s not like Razor Ramon left them a note or anything. But somehow they just know to chase after them and rescue their mutual girlfriend. And rather than go after them in their awesome car, which would be a lot faster and involve far less fighting with people who want to kill them, they decide to walk after the kidnappers.
Mr. T, a gang member from the Beat It video, and the guy from Tears for Fears all race toward a loose knife while the biggest freaking cat I’ve ever seen looks on.
This turns out to be a pretty terrible plan, as they manage to go all of about 5 feet before they’re attacked. That’s the problem with looking just like a singer from Tears for Fears — everyone wants to fight you. About 5 minutes into the game, you are simultaneously attacked by a guy with a baseball bat, a woman with a whip, and a huge bald man with a handlebar mustache who wants to pummel you so badly that he smashes through a brick wall just to get at you. Shortly after that, you have to fight Mr. T while someone else throws knives and oil drums at you.
That’s the first level.
Now you may have read that last paragraph and thought to yourself “A woman with a whip? That’s kind of sexy.” I can assure you that its not. Not even a little. Double Dragon was the first beat-’em-up to have a whip-woman, but if your expecting some kind of long haired beauty in a revealing leather outfit like in Battle Arena Toshinden (or a 1700’s era naval commander uniform like in Soul Calibur), guess again – the Double Dragon whip-woman has big 80’s hair and wears what looks like an aerobics outfit. Maybe tastes were different 25 years ago, but I just can’t imagine that kind of look was ever considered pretty hot. All I can say is that if you’re expecting Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, guess again.
The second level of Double Dragon takes place behind a warehouse or factory of some sort, where you fight on top of stacks of steel I-beams. When you finally get to the building, the door opens up and three more whip-women come out. Yes, that’s right, these women all take their whips with them even when they go to work at the factory. You can fight them, but it’s quicker just to throw them onto the nearby conveyor belt, which will carry them back into the building. For some reason that kills them. Or maybe they just had to go back to their jobs. Either way, it gets them to stop whipping you, which is all that you’re really trying to accomplish.
One of the ‘sexy’ whip ladies is thrown onto the conveyor belt, taking her back inside the warehouse where she will have to return to work.
The next few levels take you through a forest and eventually you enter the gang’s secret base. Like all street gang hideouts, it’s inside of a mountain, with gold walls and elaborate sculptures. There are also spike pits, which sort of clashes with the rest of the décor but is effective for keeping away stray animals. Inside, you find your girlfriend suspended from a peg in wall by a rope around her waist. Clearly this gang has kidnapped her to decorate the wall.
You then fight The Machine Gun Guy (according to the makers of the game, his name is Jeff; but he will always be known as The Machine Gun Guy to arcade-goers everywhere), who apparently only brought 5 bullets, because he’s much more interested in hitting you over the head with his gun than shooting you. Upon defeating him, if you are playing with 2 players, Spike and Hammer… err… Billy and Jimmy decide that they’re done sharing a girlfriend and fight each other. After this, the woman magically frees herself from the wall and hugs the winner. After all, no mere rope can restrain the love women feel for a guy who looks like he’s the singer from Tears for Fears.
It’s also worth mentioning that while this festival of ass-kickery is going on, some of the best music ever used in a video game is playing.
As much as I’d like to say that the game is perfect, the fighting system in Double Dragon is a bit flawed. You only have a few moves at your disposal, and the only one that is really effective is the “elbow punch”, which only hits people behind you. The whole game becomes a weird routine of walking up to an enemy, turning your back to him, and then trying to elbow him before he caves in the back of your head with a bat. Your next most effective move is a headbutt, which actually hits people in front of you, but is performed by double tapping forward, which is tricky to time correctly. Most of the time you just end up jerkily walking toward your opponent while he pummels you in the face. Not so good.
Aside from that, the only real flaw I have ever seen with Double Dragon is that it gives us a tantalizing, yet unattainable, glimpse into a world far more perfect than our own. Is that such a crime?
“OH YEAH!!!” shouts one of the giant guys as he bursts through the wall, realizes he isn’t wearing his Kool-Aid Man suit, and starts beating up your character to hide his embarrassment.