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Cult Video Game Essentials: Double Dragon (1987)

Double Dragon is a 1987 beat ’em up video game developed by Technōs Japan and distributed in North America and Europe by Taito. The game is a spiritual and technological successor to Technos’ earlier beat ’em up, Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun aka Renegade, but introduced several additions such as two-player cooperative gameplay and the ability to arm oneself with an enemy’s weapon after disarming them. Double Dragon is considered to be one of the first successful examples of the genre, resulting in the creation of two arcade sequels and several spinoffs, as well as inspiring other companies in creating their own beat ’em ups.

Originally an arcade game, home versions were released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Master System, Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Atari ST, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, Game Boy, Genesis/Mega Drive and Atari Lynx, among other platforms during its height of popularity. A remake titled Double Dragon Advance was released for the Game Boy Advance in 2003. The NES version was re-released for the Wii’s Virtual Console in North America on April 28, 2008 at a cost of 500 Wii Points. Nintendo also released the Game Boy version on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console in 2011.

Another remake was released for the iOS mobile devices in 2011, which features brand new gameplay, sprites and animations, and music. A new Double Dragon title, Double Dragon Neon, was released in 2012 for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, and in 2014 for Steam and is considered a reboot of the series.

The player takes control of martial artist Billy Lee, or his twin brother Jimmy (also known as Hammer and Spike in the supplementary materials for the American arcade release), as they fight their way into the turf of the Black Warriors gang in order to rescue their common love interest Marian. The player character has a repertoire of martial art techniques which they can perform by using the joystick and three action buttons (kick, jump, and punch) individually or in combination. Techniques range from basic punches and kicks, to more elaborate manoeuvres like hair grabbing moves and elbow strikes. When playing with another player, one can assist the other by grabbing their partner’s opponent from behind. Caution should be taken, though, as some enemies are able to do the same thing to the players. The player begins the game with a certain number of extra lives and a life gauge which depletes as the player takes hits. If the life gauge runs out or the time limit reaches zero, the player will lose a life.

There is a small variety of enemy characters that the player will face through the course of the game. Certain enemies carry melee weapons, which can be knocked out of their hands and picked up to use against them. Available weapons include baseball bats, whips, throwing knives, and dynamite; in addition, rocks, oil drums, and boxes can be found in certain places.

The game is divided into four different stages or “missions,” which consist of a city slum, a factory, the woods, and the gang’s hideout. The game normally ends if a single player defeats the final boss alone. However, if two players manage to complete the game together, they are then forced to fight each other in order to determine who will win Marian’s affections.

The original arcade version displayed 384 colors on screen, out of a 4096 (12-bit) colour palette. The hardware used several 8-bit microprocessors running in parallel; 16-bit processors were expensive at the time the game was first released. Along the multiple Hitachi HD6309 based processors, multiple processors were dedicated to sound, such as the Yamaha YM2151 FM synthesis sound chip.

The game was that huge that in 1994 they made a movie featuring our Hero of Cult Al Leong:

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