Video Game: Double Dragon I

aka: Double Dragon 1

The first Double Dragon game was originally released as an arcade game in 1987 (having begun development as a sequel for Renegade). Though it was not the first Beat 'em Up, it was the Trope Codifier, and its incredible popularity inspired many imitators that helped propelled the genre to new heights.

The premise is simple - martial artists Billy and Jimmy Lee (originally named Hammer and Spike in the arcade version) must rescue their lady-friend Marian from the clutches of the Black Warriors, the dominant street gang of New York City. Throughout four stages, the Lee brothers must punch, kick, and jump their way through enemy forces to rescue her. The original arcade game was also famous for its Twist Ending: if two players clear the game, they had to fight to the death for Marian's love.

The NES port, developed in-house by Technos and published outside Japan by Tradewest in 1988, is famous for its differing points. Since Technos was inexperienced in developing NES games at the time (having only ported Renegade to the NES prior to it), the popular two-player mode was omitted, replaced with a turn-based one and a "Mode B" one-on-one fighting mode where the player controls the Lee brothers or five enemy characters (with match ups being limited to mirror matches). The plot was also altered to fit this change: Billy ventures out on his own, and Jimmy is revealed to be the leader of Black Warriors. The level designs were also very different, making the adventure longer than its original arcade release, and it added a Character Level feature - the player earn experience points by beating up enemies, allowing Billy to gain new techniques as he levels up.

Other versions of Double Dragon were released for the Master System, Atari 2600, 7800, Game Boy, Genesis, Lynx and various home computer formats with varying degree of quality. A remake was released by Atlus for the Game Boy Advance in 2003 titled Double Dragon Advance, which integrated elements from the various sequels and console versions and updated the combat system to more modern standards. In 2011, another remake was released for iOS and Android devices simply titled Double Dragon, which was developed by Brizo Interactive, who also handled the rarely seen Zeebo version released only in Brazil and Mexico.

This game provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy: Jimmy Lee in the NES version, who went on from being Billy's partner to becoming the "shadow boss" of the Black Warriors.
  • The Artifact: The input for Jump Kicks in the arcade version is different depending on the direction the player is facing. The kick button only does jump kicks to the left, while the punch button is for jump kicks to the right. This is actually a leftover mechanic from when the game was conceived as a Renegade sequel, which featured directional based attack buttons.
  • Artifact Title: Subverted by the NES version. The title Double Dragon wouldn't had made much sense without the 2P co-op mode, so what did the developers did to get around this conundrum? Just make one of the Lee brothers into the main bad guy so you could still have both of them in the game.
    • The Game Boy version lacks both, the 2P co-op mode and the final fight between the Lee brothers, but it still has the one-on-one "Mode B" minigame from the NES version, meaning that Jimmy Lee is still in the game, albeit in a limited capacity.
  • Badass Mustache: Abobo's in-game sprite sports a horseshoe mustache in most versions. The concept art for the NES version gives Abobo a clean-shaved look though, making him look similar to Kratos or Sagat.
  • Bald of Evil: Abobo.
  • Boss Rush: In the arcade version, the player fights twin versions of the Mohawked Abobo (the Mission 1 boss) just before reaching the final hall where Machine Gun Willy awaits, who fights alongside three clones of Jeff (the Mission 2 boss) after the initial batch of lackeys are defeated. In the NES version, the player fights a group of Williams and twin versions of all the other enemies (Abobo, Chin, Linda, and Rowper) just before the final fight against Willy (and Jimmy), one after the other.
  • Character Level: The NES game added a leveling system that only allowed the player to use his basic punches and kicks (and the headbutt) at the start of the game, gradually giving him access to the rest of his moves as he levels-up.
  • Composite Character: Jimmy Lee in the NES version, who not only serves as the new final boss, but essentially replaces Jeff (the head-swapped Lee brother boss from the arcade version) as the player's evil counterpart.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: In Mode B in the NES version, the computer has more health than you, can duck - which you can't do - and reacts faster than humanly possible when you run at it.
  • Co-Op Multiplayer: Famously subverted by the NES version.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory: The NES version uses A+B as the command for a jump kick—if your character has reached Level 3. Until then, A+B is just a regular jump, not an attack. Forget this bit, and you may jump right into a bad guy's punches.
  • Damsel in Distress: Marian.
  • Degraded Boss: Happens to Jeff in the arcade version and Chin in the NES version. Chin in particularly appears as a mook at the beginning of Mission 3 almost immediately after the boss battle against him at the end of the previous stage.
  • Demoted to Dragon: In the NES version, Machine Gun Willy goes from being the final boss to simply being the last enemy Billy fights before the final battle with Jimmy.
  • Dual Boss: Both, the arcade and NES versions, reuse Abobo as a dual boss, specifically in the middle Mission 3, where the player fights two of them just before crossing the bridge to the enemy's hideout in the arcade version, and in the NES version just before entering the cave (through the holes both of them make). The arcade version also include a fight against two Mohawked Abobos just before the final battle against Willy and his bodyguards, while the NES version has another twin set of Abobos among the final enemy rush prior to the end.
  • Every 10,000 Points: The arcade version, like most other games at the time, awards the player with extra lives based on the amount of points acquired depending on the DIP settings. The NES version on the other hand, forces one to clear the game with just the three lives Billy starts with.
  • Evolving Attack: The NES version gives Billy new moves as he gains experience points from fighting enemies.
  • Expy: The design of Chin, the enemy character exclusive to the NES and Game Boy version, resmebles that of the Karate Fighter, an opponent from an earlier Technos game Exciting Hour (aka Mat Mania).
  • Head Swap: While Machine Gun Willy (the final boss) himself is completely unique, the rest of the bosses in the arcade version are recycled from other characters. The Mission 1 boss is pretty much Abobo with a mohawk and reappears as the Mission 3 boss, while the Mission 2 boss is an evil Lee brother. The NES version removed both of them.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: The NES version took a cue from Renegade and added a Sit-on Punch to Billy's attack repertoire, allowing him to pin down fallen enemy grunts and punch them while they're down.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: After defeating the final boss in the arcade version, Billy and Jimmy must fight to the death to see who wins the heart of Marian.
  • Level Grinding: The level-up system in the NES game awards players experience points based on the attacks they land on a foe. Since enemies only die when they're knocked to the ground, it's easy to leech off experience points by attacking an enemy without knocking him. If you're really patient, you can earn the entire set of techniques in this fashion by the end of Mission 1.
  • Long Song, Short Scene: In both, the arcade and NES versions, the music that plays during stage transitions gets cut off before the full track is played. As a result, the only way to listen to the full intermission theme is through sound rips.
    • The full track gets played in the Game Boy version, where it used as a background music for the first area in Mission 4 (the mountain path to the enemy's hideout).
  • Mirror Match: Mode B in the NES version is a one-on-one versus game that allows players to control the Lee Brothers or one of five enemy characters from the main game, but the battles are limited to same character matches (everyone is matched a palette swap of themselves). The Game Boy version features the same game mode as well accessible via link cable, but only allows both players to use the Lee brothers.
  • Named by the Adaptation: None of the characters were officially named in the arcade version, aside from the "Hammer and Spike" moniker that Taito America Corp gave to the protagonists for the promotional flyer and cabinet art (the Japanese flyer and instructions doesn't give out any names). Technos came up with the backstory and names of the characters for the Famicom version (as well as the liner notes for the soundtrack album), but the head-swapped enemies were absent in this version and didn't get names at the time as a result. The head-swapped evil counterpart to the Lee Brothers would later be named "Jeff" in the Mark III version though, leaving the mohawked version of Abobo as the only enemy without an official name (as he was not in any of the console versions).
    • Later licensed conversions of Double Dragon would use the backstory for the NES version while basing themselves on the arcade version, creating a few inconsistencies in the process. The manual for the home computer ports in particular would list the NES-exclusive character Chin as an enemy and even include references to the "Shadow Boss" (Jimmy Lee's title as the secret leader of the Black Warriors), despite having him as one of the heroes. The manual for the Genesis version is possibly the biggest offender in this instance, where the author makes the wrong assumption that Machine Gun Willy is Jimmy Lee and refers to the Player 2 character as Jake instead.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Mohawked Abobo in the arcade version bears a more than mild resemblance to Mr T.
  • Non-Standard Game Over: If the 2-player duel at the end of the arcade version ends in a Double KO (say, if both brothers fall into the spike pit below), the game returns back to the title screen with no fanfare whatsoever.
  • Obscured Special Effects: Willy and his gang takes off on their bikes after getting a hold of Marian in the arcade version. While we don't see the actual bikes on-screen, we do get to hear the engines roaring off-screen after the Lee brothers leave their garage and it's obviously not coming from their car.
  • Off Model: In the NES version, Jimmy Lee has blue hair instead of his usual blond in the opening sequence and his skin tone is much lighter as well. This was likely due to the NES' limited color display (it could only display up to 25 colors on-screen) — the opening sequence is the only part of the game that has more than three characters (Jimmy, Marian, Williams, Rowper and Chin) on-screen at the same time.
  • Palette Swap: In addition to the Lee brothers themselves, the arcade version reuses the same small pool of enemies, changing only the color of their clothes and occasionally mixing in a darker skinned variants for each stage. The Green Mohawked Abobo at the end of Mission 3 is of special note. The only recurring enemy who keeps the same palette for every appearance is Linda (at least in the arcade version).
  • Pistol-Whipping: Willy with his gun.
  • Production Throwback
    • The end of Mission 1 in the arcade version has a billboard for Nekketsu Koha Kunio-kun, the Japanese version of Renegade, on the building just before the first boss battle.
    • The red Interceptor from the cult laserdisc game Road Blaster (a.k.a. Road Avenger) can be seen inside Billy and Jimmy's garage at the start of the first stage. Road Blaster was directed by Double Dragon creator Yoshihisa Kishimoto, who was employed by Data East prior to joining Technos Japan.
  • Sequence Breaking: In the final area of the arcade version, Willy watches on from the balcony and will come down once the Lee brothers have beaten enough mooks. You can bring him down earlier by intentionally letting Abobo throw you up the balcony and knock him down.
  • Shout-Out Theme Naming: Lead designer Kishimoto was influenced by the films of Bruce Lee and named the Lee brothers after him. Billy Lee in particular was named after Billy Lo from Game of Death. The two recurring enemy characters, Williams and Rowper, take their names from the other two main heroes in Enter the Dragon, while Linda is named after Bruce's wife Linda Lee Cadwell.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Williams' name is shortened to "Will" on the Vs. Mode's select screen in the NES and Rowper's name mistranslated as "Lopar" in almost all the localized manuals, which also shortened Chin Taimei's name to "Chintai".
  • Stalked by the Bell
  • Theme Music Power-Up: The title theme is played during the final battle againgst Machine Gun Willy.
  • Unwilling Suspension: Marian in the arcade version. In the NES version, she's resting on a bed.
  • Wanted Poster: In the arcade version there are wanted posters of the first two bosses (the Mohawked Abobo and Jeff) in the very start of the game, with a bounty for $10,000 each. Willy's wanted poster can be see next to Jeff's in Mission 3, which shows that his bounty is $100,000, ten times greater than either of the other two.

Alternative Title(s):

Double Dragon 1