Double DragonDouble Dragon wasn't the first game to get the idea of beating down bad guys with strings of punches and kicks, but it managed to popularize the idea, with many games of this sort following, even today, though in smaller droves than in, say, the early 90s. Either way, with popularization usually comes success - look at Super Mario Brothers and Wolfenstein 3D, for *bleep*s sake! Unfortunately, Double Dragon doesn't quite feel good. Now, yeah, it's the one that made beat em ups popular in the first place and it should feel primitive (at least compared to what came afterwards), but playing through this will make you constantly think "there's something missing..."
Story: So basically, Billy Lee's girlfriend gets punched in the stomach and kidnapped by a rival gang, and he has to rescue her. At least it's not in a royal setting - in fact, it's the polar opposite, unless it's like the richer part of the streets or something. Not much else, but it at least sets up some sort of premise.
Gameplay: Double Dragon is your basic beat em up, in which you approach a gang of enemies on a part of the streets or wherever, and beat the shit out of them. You'll only be fighting two or three at a time, and they're fairly run of the mill, though the former might be because of the NES hardware... or something, and the latter is because that's how the arcade version was, and.. maybe they couldn't think of much beyond simple fists and feet. You can use some weapons, like whips and shattered glass bottles, though once you defeat a group of enemies, that weapon will disappear... for some strange reason. The fundamentals are far from perfect, mainly due to the fact that enemies can land their combos onto you every once in a while, even during your own! Typically, they should stagger after being hit, yet here they are, able to get some cheap hits in! It ends up being a slap fight, only with fists!
One interesting element is that there's this level up system. Get enough points by beating up thugs, and you'll gain an extra heart, which allows you to use an extra attack. You'll eventually able to use the jump kick, pull their heads down and knee the hell out of them, and pull off other stronger combos, even the all powerful hurricane kick, which usually helps with crowd control. It felt like an RPG, as you had to earn your other attacks by getting points, and it was fairly cool, I guess, though it doesn't really feel like with works with the two buttons the NES controller has.
Not to mention, there were some pretty stupid decisions. For one, the programming is obviously incomplete. The most infamous is the one where you can skip the level 2 boss by going down two ladders, and he just stands there like a bitch! Get him off screen, and you win! They also decided to sneak some platforming segments, and given that the jumping controls are shit, these end up feeling awkward and out of place. Screw it up, and lose a life, and there are no continues, so to get as far as the third level (there are only four, by the way), and die because of that damn bridge is a kick in the nuts. Randomly falling stalactites and a segment with moving platforms - does that sound like fun to you!? With bad controls, it ends up about as fun as rubbing a cactus between your balls!
The worst of the stupid decisions is that there's no two player simultaneous play. Any reason for this, Technos? Because I'm sure the NES can do this! It not only makes the game feel less fun in the fact that you aren't playing with a friend, but the way they pull off a two player mode is just *bleep*ing ridiculous - two player alternating? This works for Super Mario Brothers because the levels weren't designed for two player simultaneous play in mind, nor would it work in the first place because of obstacle and enemy placement, but for something like Double Dragon where there are spaces to beat bad guys down on, it works, and you can verify this by playing on the original arcade machine! But hold on! We get this other little mode where it operates like a prototype of Street Fighter! Yeah! Too bad it sucks! Won't even go into it, because it's not as if you'll actually want to go into that mode beyond this - it's a simple prototype of Street Fighter. Goddamn, it felt like they were desperate for some replayability!
Controls: The basic punching, kicking and ground moving is simple enough, and, although a pain in the ass at first, jumping is simple and effective. You have to press A and B together, which sounds like a fairly stupid decision to make in the first place, but ends up sort of working, though you can't change your momentum while in the air, which makes platforming more difficult than it really needed to be. On top of this, executing some of the stronger moves later on required intricate precision - you might be thinking that you'll perform the hurricane kick, but really, you're doing a frontflip, grabbing the enemy by the hair, and chucking them away, sometimes landing you into a pit! Horrid inconsistency for the lose! Shame. The other controls were fine, plain and simple!
Graphics: The graphics are reasonably good with some nice looking backgrounds and some pretty slick color usage. It manages to get the surroundings correct... shit, they're almost SNES quality - you know you did well when you get close to that quality. Unfortunately, the characters aren't that good looking. They all look distinct from one another with different clothes and such, but with disfigured faces that looks like something out of a trial from the Saw franchise and detail that rivals Super Mario Brothers, ehh, they're not that great.
Audio: The soundtrack is mixed. The first level's song is excellently catchy, and the second level's song isn't half bad either. Actually, most of the soundtrack is catchy, though never really excellent; merely listenable. However, the songs for the first halves of levels three and four feel so *bleep*ing disjointed and like a black metal record that tried way too hard to seem low budget, that it feels like I'm getting penises in my ear each time I hear these tracks. Terrible.
Replay Value: With a distinct lack of a good two player mode, there's nothing to keep things interesting, and the second gameplay mode feels more like filler than anything else. Bah. Once you finish, there's not much incentive to play again. There are better beat em ups to play through, anyway!
Overall: The NES port of Double Dragon is... weak. Without a proper two player mode, there's not much to come back to, and with crappy platforming segments and controls that get worse as the game progresses, there's not a whole lot to experience in terms of quality and fun. Stick to the arcade classic, guys.