If you’re ever to come across a city engulfed by chaos, with bad guys wrecking everything and walking the streets like they own them, there’s one thing you can do…
Kick and punch every single bad guy until they vanish, occasionally leaving you goodies that you can use to kick and punch other bad guys.
Welcome to Double Dragon – the granddaddy of side-scrolling beat em ups.
In a franchise that has seen a lot of ups and downs, Super Double Dragon (also known as Return of Double Dragon) wasn’t the biggest hit when it released on the SNES in 1992. The side-scrolling genre had become saturated, and many gamers thought this entry didn’t innovate enough to warrant purchase. By this time, the Final Fight series and Konami’s TMNT had gained ground and featured great graphics and unique gameplay modes.
However, if you were a fan of the Lee brethren, Super Double Dragon was still an instant buy. This edition of the game allowed a co-op mode, which meant that two players could take up the fight against the Shadow Warriors together. The game also featured a system where a second player could drop in and out of the action to help their comrades.
The animations are a huge upgrade from the previous iterations of the series. Even though graphics here still aren’t the best, it is nice to see your character’s hair reacting to you swinging a staff for example. Enemies will also occasionally pound the ground in frustration because you’re kicking their ass.
The levels are standard beat-em-up fare, but there’s still a noticeable variety here as the backgrounds shift from LA to the Golden Gate bridge to an airport and so on. The environments are detailed enough to keep you entertained.
Around the time Super Double Dragon came out, there was a push in the industry to introduce some newness to the beat-em-up genre. Developers understood that gamers were getting tired of the same old formula in different games. It is here that Super Double Dragon missed a beat or two. The gameplay is almost the same as it had been in previous iterations of this game, and for people who have played a beat-em-up before, this might seem like a drag. The final boss level in the Japanese version was way too long, and the developers decided to cut it short for the western release.
There’s another notable problem with this game – sluggishness. Our heroes are supposed to be unstoppable badasses with no time to waste, but they’re just…slow. If only the developers had implemented some kind of quick-run feature, this could’ve been much better.
Super Double Dragon delivers in the combat portion of the game. You now have a much wider array of attacks to unleash upon the goons you’ll face, and dispatching of them in creative ways is a lot of fun. They can even do wall jumps and spinning hurricane kicks a la Street fighter. There’s also a fury meter which when filled, transforms your character into a stronger version capable of dealing out more death and destruction.
You also find a lot of weapons along the way, and you’ll need to use these diligently to get through the game. Bombs and knives are great for crowd control and taking out strong enemies quickly. If you have the timing right, you can also dodge knife throws and corral enemies into explosions. In the Chinatown level, you have access to punching bags, a boomerang and even a nunchaku. Yes – you can channel your inner Bruce Lee as you wade into an army of thugs, nunchakus flashing with a grin on your face. You’ll also come across enemies which have unique weapons like swords. The controls work great for the combat, and understanding the full range of moves your character is capable of is crucial for getting to the end in one piece.
Complements the on-screen action competently, with a smattering of bone-crushing and pain-inducing sounds punctuating your combat. The retro soundtrack with its high-tempo riffs will keep you entertained along the way.
Super Double Dragon is a fun game if you can overlook the graphical shortcomings and slightly sluggish pace. The combat is great, and the co-op feature makes for some good times with friends. There’s a lot of new stuff to like here, such as the improved animations and additional fight moves. If you’re a fan of side-scrolling brawlers, give this one a try. It’s a window into gaming history.