Video Game: Double Dragon I

aka: Double Dragon 1

The original Double Dragon was originally released as an arcade game in 1987 (having begun development as a sequel for Renegade). Though not the first Beat 'em Up, it was the genre's Trope Codifier, and its incredible popularity inspired numerous imitators in its day — and beyond.

Martial artists Billy and Jimmy Lee (originally 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. The Lee brothers must punch, kick, and jump their way through enemy forces across four stages to rescue her from the clutches of Machine Gun Willy, the leader of the Black Warriors. The original arcade game also had an infamous Twist Ending: if two players clear the game, they must fight to the death for Marian's love.

The NES port was developed in-house by Technos and published outside Japan by Tradewest in 1988. Because Technos was inexperienced in developing NES games at the time (having only ported Renegade to the NES prior to it), the arcade game's popular co-op 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 due to memory limitations). The game's plot was altered to fit this change: Billy ventures out on his own to save Marian, and Jimmy is revealed to be the "Shadow Boss" of the Black Warriors. The level designs were changed to make the adventure longer than the arcade game, and it added a Character Level feature (the player earns experience points by beating up enemies, which allows 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 degrees of quality. Atlus released a remake, titled Double Dragon Advance, for the Game Boy Advance in 2003; this remake integrated elements from the various sequels and console ports and also updated the combat system to more modern standards. In 2011, another remake (simply titled Double Dragon) was released for iOS and Android devices; Brizo Interactive, who also handled the rarely-seen Zeebo version released only in Brazil and Mexico, developed this remake.

Double Dragon contains the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Villainy: In the NES version, Jimmy went from being Billy's partner to being 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: This is subverted by the NES version. The title Double Dragon wouldn't make much sense without the two-player co-op mode, so the developers turned one of the Lee brothers into the main bad guy so both of them would still be in the game.
    • The Game Boy version lacks both the 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) before reaching the final hall where Machine Gun Willy awaits. Willy 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) before the final fight against Willy (and Jimmy), one after the other.
  • Character Level: The NES game added a leveling system that forced the player to use basic punches and kicks (and the headbutt) at the start of the game. As the player levels up Billy, new moves are unlocked.
  • Composite Character: In the NES version, Jimmy Lee not only serves as the new final boss, but effectively 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 the NES version's Mode B, 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: The NES version famously subverts this.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory: The NES version uses A+B as the command for a jump kick—when Billy has reached Level 3. Until then, A+B is 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: This happens to Jeff in the arcade version and Chin in the NES version. In the latter, Chin 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 being the penultimate fight before the final battle with Jimmy.
  • Dual Boss: Both the arcade and NES versions reuse Abobo as a dual boss—specifically in the middle of Mission 3, where the player fights two of them either before crossing the bridge to the enemy's hideout (arcade) or before entering the cave through the holes both of them make (NES). The arcade version also includes a fight against two Mohawked Abobos before the final battle against Willy and his bodyguards, while the NES version includes another twin set of Abobos during the final rush 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 forces the player to clear the game with only 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, resembles that of the Karate Fighter, an opponent from earlier Technos game Exciting Hour (aka Mat Mania).
  • Head Swap: While Machine Gun Willy 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 he reappears in Mission 3 with green skin, 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 have the patience, you can use that trick to earn the entire set of techniques 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, which plays the track in the first area in Mission 4 (the mountain path to the Black Warriors 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 mirror matches due to memory limitations. The Game Boy version features the same game mode (accessible via link cable), but only allows 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 listed the NES-exclusive character Chin as an enemy and even includes 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: 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 strong resemblance to Mr T.
  • Non-Standard Game Over: If the two-player duel at the end of the arcade version ends in a Double KO (e.g. if both brothers fall into the spike pit), the game returns back to the title screen with no fanfare whatsoever.
  • Obscured Special Effects: Willy and his gang take off on their bikes after abducting Marian in the arcade version. While players don't see the actual bikes on-screen, they do get to hear engines roaring after the Lee brothers leave their garage, and the sound is 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. The NES's technical limitations meant it could only display up to 25 colors on-screen, and 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 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.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Willy does this 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 from a balcony and will come down once the Lee brothers have beaten enough mooks. You can bring Willy down earlier by intentionally letting Abobo throw you onto the balcony (which knocks Willy 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 was even 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. Linda is named after Bruce's wife, Linda Lee Cadwell.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Williams' name is shortened to "Will" on the Mode B select screen in the NES, and Rowper's name is 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: This happens to 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; each one has a bounty for $10,000. Willy's wanted poster is next to Jeff's in Mission 3; the bounty for Willy is $100,000—ten times greater than either of the other two.

Alternative Title(s):

Double Dragon 1