By Dojo Master
Technos set itself up with a brilliant marketing strategy on this one, albeit accidentally. People complained left and right about the missing two-player mode in the first Double Dragon for the NES. So, just like Coca-Cola taking the original formula off the market and reselling it later as Coca-Cola Classic, Technos took an idiotic mistake and turned it into a fortune by adding the much-wanted two-player mode in the sequel. The long-awaited cooperative play received critical acclaim and the game shot up on the sales charts. Technos had itself a certified series on the NES.
Those who played the arcade version of Double Dragon II knew that is was not a complete sequel, but instead a remake of the original arcade adventure with a few new enemies and rearranged level design. Basically, arcade goers were cheated out of a proper follow-up. Technos went for a full sequel on the NES though, and succeeded unbelievably. The company took a few new features from the arcade version and added several original ideas as well. There are now nine levels instead of four, Renegade-style controls, enhanced graphics over the last NES game, and more importantly, two-player simultaneous game play. Double Dragon II is easily the best game of the series on the NES.
Acclaim acted as the publisher for the NES sequels instead of Tradewest, and though the company did an excellent job writing (or maybe just localizing) the storyline, apparently it didn't care to explain why Jimmy suddenly switched sides in this game. Perhaps Acclaim didn't think it was worth mentioning. Either way, it seems that the brothers have put aside their differences to team up in their brouhaha against the Shadow Warriors.
The graphics were created from ground up for this game. Though the game has a resemblance to its arcade counterpart, it's easily identifiable as its own title. Billy and Jimmy have a similar look to the last game with their iconic blue and red uniforms (not the odd navy blue and white ones featured in the arcade version), huge, bushy hairdos, and the lack of any noticeable shoes (something odd about the NES games). The backgrounds and foregrounds have been drawn with bright, vibrant colors, but there is also a certain darkness and green hue in them that helps characterize the post-apocalyptic setting. The game has a much cleaner and less grainy look than was evident with the previous title. The graphics show that Technos had a much better understanding of the hardware this time around, and there aren't nearly as many glitches as the first NES title either. As sharp as the graphics are for an NES game, the level design is what truly shines. For this game, Technos created the most insanely difficult missions to navigate in the entire DD series. The pitfalls, conveyer belts, moving platforms, and even the sheer design of Mission 3's helicopter level push the obstacles to the limit. The developers made it impossible to reach the end of the game by mastering fighting skills alone. You'll need to master timed jumps and fighting skills if you wish to reach the end, and this is easier said than done. The Lee brothers don't move as well as, say, Super Mario, so the later levels in particular can be quite frustrating, especially for inexperienced gamers. The Lees can't change direction in midair, and they can't run either. But the level designs serve two important functions: one, to break up the mundane fighting that generally plagues brawlers, and two, to challenge even the most skilled Double Dragon fans. It's a wholehearted attention to depth and a massive success in beatemup design on Technos' part.
Fans will also notice the cut scenes in between each level, a little something Technos adopted from Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden series. It's a welcome addition to a series that generally lacks a proper storyline.
As far as clarity and sound effects are concerned, the music is an improvement over the original. No more distortion from Mission 3. Some of the songs have been adapted from the arcade game but they don't sound as good as the original versions My one complaint is that the music is too calm through most of the game. Mission 5 is a good example. As a result, you never really get that fast-paced, button-smashing feeling while you're pummeling the Shadow Warriors. However, each level has fitting themes that set just the proper tone. Mission 6 stands out in particular. When you listen to the arranged soundtrack for this game (available in our music section), you'll be surprised at just how well the songs were remixed. It's just too bad that we couldn't get that kind of quality out of the old gray box. It's a good achievement overall though.
Some of the enemies are back from the original with new moves and looks to match. Williams are back, looking tougher and similar to Roper. Roper is back too, looking fairly similar to his past incarnation. Linda has dropped the spandex for a butch look, and Chin is barely recognizable from his last outing. He now carries two tonfa sticks and packs a solid punch. Right Arm, who has blue pants and a white shirt, is new. Ninja is another new character, but he's not related to the ninjas from DD III. You'll have enough trouble just chasing after him. Bolo is back from the arcade using the NES Abobo's sprite, but with hippie hair. He also has two huge friends to help him: Burnov, a fat man who wears a mask and somehow disappears at will, and Abore, who wears the green army pants looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger from Commando. Ninja and the three larger bosses will give you the most trouble. The others prove to be pushovers most of the time. The enemies are even more wily in this game and they possess a much more intelligent AI than the previous title. You'll find them chasing after you even as you jump from platform to platform. You can no longer avoid enemies by simply jumping to another platform the way you could in the previous NES title.
There are plenty of weapons to suit your butt-kicking cravings. Knives no longer disappear after being tossed at an enemy; they actually bounce off walls, and enemies, allowing for multiple hits. This comes in handy when you need to clobber someone repeatedly. Unfortunately, the knives are not as strong as they used to be, and if not for the humor, this feature would prove to be a little tedious. Linda now carries a spiked ball and chain, which is much stronger than the previous leather whip. There are also hand grenades, which act like dynamite from the first Double Dragon, and metal rods, which can be swung or thrown. The metal rods bounce off enemies as well and do a fair amount of damage. Fire bombs are new here and they erupt after three seconds, creating a small wall of fire. They have a delayed explosion, so they're tricky to use.
Controls and Moves: A+
The controls are amazingly improved over the original. First, the no-stun problem from the first title has been fixed, and second, the characters are new much more responsive. The RPG-style heart system from the previous game is also gone, so all of your moves are now available from the beginning. However, the button setup has been changed so that you're now stuck using the Renegade-style controls from the arcade game, meaning that the B-button attacks left and A attacks right. Your character will punch in the direction he's facing and kick in the opposite direction. I found that this setup made it easier to deal with the constant barrage of attackers of who try to sneak up behind you, especially on Mission 4 with its low spiked ceiling. This game has also enhanced the Lee brothers' aerial arsenal so well that Technos used it again in a modified form for DD III. There are three types of aerial attacks including the standard jump kick, hyper knee and the cyclone kick, which was been ported from the arcade game. The hyper knee is quite difficult to perform with a standard controller, but it deals maximum damage. The cyclone kick is easily executed and it hovers for a second at the top of the spin, taking out enemies on both sides, but it deals less damage than the hyper knee. Hair grabs and hyper uppercuts are also standard fare, but the backward elbow strike has been left out.
There are three modes and three difficulty settings. The one-player game has only one mode. The two-player game has Mode A or Mode B. Mode B allows players to hit each other. Mode A doesn't. The difficulty settings change the enemies' life bars and the number of levels you can play. The practice setting only lets you play the first three levels. The warrior setting allows you to play eight missions, but not the final boss. The supreme master setting lets you play all nine missions and is the only way to go.
To call this game an improvement over its predecessor would be an understatement. Even when compared to the graphically and musically superior arcade sequel, Double Dragon II for the NES shines above the rest. With more than double the amount of missions than the arcade game, the long-awaited two-player mode, improved graphics, superior level design and entertaining cut scenes, DD II for the NES stands out as the best game in the trilogy on any system, being rivaled only by the PC Engine version, which is itself based on the NES game's design. Despite the hardware's limited ability to display only four characters on screen at once, the fighting system is set at a pace that provides guidance for brawlers even today. DD II displays the pinnacle of Technos achievements before its bankruptcy. The next title on the old gray box would save face for the horrendous Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone, but would still fall short of DD II's magnificence.