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Double Dragon II: Why the Hate?

By Larry Petit

What would you say are the greatest beat-Ďem-ups of all time?  Itís really a fairly short list.  Double Dragon, of course, sits at the top.  Final Fight is up there.  Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons Ė maybe a few others.  When you consider how many side-scrolling fighters were released, surprisingly few were done exceptionally.  You may have noticed that I didnít list any sequels.  Thatís because historically, sequels just arenít as good as the original (with the exception of Streets of Rage 2, though frankly I prefer the first one, and try to forget the third one).  Whether thatís true or not (and it usually is), sequels often have a lot to live up to.

That brings us to our subject today: Double Dragon II: The Revenge.  If a sequel ever had a lot to live up to, this is it.  The original game was nothing short of a phenomenon, and no doubt Technos wanted to repeat that success one year later.  Theyíd be crazy not to.  Unfortunately, DD II gets a lot of criticism, both then and now.  However, in my humble opinion, much of this is undeserved.

This isnít so much of a problem here at the Dojo, and we certainly donít play favorites (DD 3 is pretty much universally hated here), but Iíve noticed a strong anti-DD II sentiment on some review sites.  Why?  DD II does more right than it does wrong in my opinion.  Why the hate?

One of the most famous (or rather, infamous) aspects of DD II is that, at its core, itís the original DD with fresh paint.  That may be over-simplifying things, but really, for the most part, the sprites and backgrounds are the same as the original game; they just look different.  Billy and Jimmy have new pallets (dark blue and white, respectively.  Shades of Crockett and Tubbs?  Probably not, but I wish!), as do the enemies (who also sport new heads), and the backgrounds are the same as the original, just with different objects (helicopter instead of car at the beginning, etc.) in place.  This is actually one of the bad points of the game.  Instead of giving us all new levels, Technos just dressed up old ones.  While Iíd like to say it gives us a sense of familiarity that weíre comfortable with, I just canít dress it up that way.  Technos copped out big time.

The story itself was only slightly changed from the original.  The gang still walks up to Marian at the beginning, but instead of slugging her in the stomach, they full out shoot her!  Billy and Jimmy are, needless to say, probably a little miffed about this.  You should be, too.  We played through the entire first game, just to get this as a pay-off?  The NES version would incorporate some goofy resurrection nonsense at the end, but here in the arcade, when Marian is dead, Marian is dead.  The story is disappointing, but it serves the title well.  This isnít a game of rescue.  Itís a game of revenge.

So, the game itself appears to be little more than a dressed up clone of the original.  If thatís all youíre looking at, itís easy to see why the game received a weak reaction.  However, this isnít totally the case.  DD II changed things up enough to make it worth playing through.  Letís get one thing clear: Since DD II is really a modified DD, itís still an absolute blast to play.  Argue all you want about copying the stages, and some bizarre enemies (which weíll get to later), but it doesnít change the fact that DD II is genuinely fun.

One thing that  found its way into the NES version also is an updated control scheme based off the one found in Renegade.  Basically, you have left and right buttons.  If youíre facing right, hit the right button and youíll punch right.  Hit the left button while facing right and youíll do a back-kick. This applies vice-versa as well.  Sounds confusing, I know, and it does take some time to get used to, but the control scheme works very well once you get it down.  Is it a substitute for a standard control layout?  I donít know about that, but it helps keep you clear on both sides much better, and, if anything, the back-kick just looks cool.  You get a ton of moves, including the punch/back-kick deal, knee-to-the-face, elbow smash, hurricane kick, over the shoulder throw, and a reverse kick.  Good stuff, for sure.

And who will you be using these moves on?  Aside from the standard baddies mentioned above, youíve got some new bosses.  Thereís a bit more variety here than there is in DD 1.  First off, just about everyone from the original returns, albeit with a new look (as previously mentioned).  The only exception is the Bolo sprite, but since he was just a bald Abobo, thatís not a big deal.  Speaking of Abobo, heís back, and the only difference is heís got flowing hair!  Thatís A+ material right there!  Now, as for the new baddies, there's Oharra, a big guy similar to Abobo.  You could say heís just a head-swapped Abobo, but I donít want to give him that kind of credit.  Abobo is an individual.  The boss of mission one is Burnov, a large fighter with a mask.  He disintegrates when heís defeated, though later in the game he regenerates once before dying for good.  Mission 2 is home to Abore, a large Arnold-look-alike with suspenders.  Heís a real pain, especially when he reappears toward the end.  Mission 3 features Chin Taimei, a ninja with a pair of tonfa sticks.  He makes Abore look like a walk in the park, and just like him, appears toward the end too.  The final new baddies are the doppelgangers.  Let me explain: right after you defeat Willy, the room gets dark, and ghostly clones of the Lee brothers appear.  They have your move-set and can also hit you from the inside.  Maybe itís just me, but these guys take forever to kill.

One thing I certainly donít like about DD II is the fact that thereís a supernatural slant to the proceedings.  Not a huge one mind you.  At least, not until the end.  Abore disappearing and later reappearing is unbelievable and the doppelgangers at the end donít make much sense.  DD 1 was pure walk-and-punch action with no ghostly nonsense.  The idea of beating up hordes of baddies isnít exactly realistic in the first place, but theoretically, it could happen.  A large fat man disintegrating before your eyes probably wouldnít.

So, what have we established?  DD II is a clone of DD 1 with some new enemies, a few new moves, a beefed up challenge and an odd otherworldly slant.  None of this is especially bad, mind you, but DD 1 set a precedent for realistic street fighting.  Donít get me wrong, you donít walk up to a Double Dragon cabinet expecting to see an insightful slice of life, but it helps if you can relate to some things.
However, for everything DD II does wrong, it does more right.  The new set of moves is great, and the game is much faster paced than the original.  When you successfully pull off the hurricane kick, it just makes you feel good.  This is an 80s game, even more so than the original, if that makes any sense at all.  This is the type of game you could only find in the late-80s, from the blaring soundtrack to the Lindas' Mohawks.  As I said earlier, this game is an absolute blast to play, especially since it moves so fast.  Being able to fight in two directions at once is great, and the soundtrack, while not as heralded as the originals, certainly gets you pumped to fight.

So, letís see.  The complaints lobbied against DD II basically amount to a cloned level design and different control scheme.  Bah.  As far as Iím concerned, this is still a quality fighter.  You canít even really count the controls scheme against it; a few minutes of play is all it takes to get used to it.  Tons of moves, a great soundtrack, some interesting baddies, an intriguing (if somewhat disappointing) plot, and a challenging quest.  Too bad all side-scrollers werenít this good.

Is DD II better than the original?  Thatís really a matter of opinion.  The vast majority would say no.  Iím not arguing with that.  All Iím saying is to take DD II for what it is: a fun side-scrolling fighter that features much of the quality of the original, as well as some innovative new designs.  The beat-Ďem-up market would become saturated with me-too clones as the 90s dawned, but DD II is a testament to how much fun this genre can really be.