Double Dragon is Really Weird
Way More Than Beating up Dudes in the Street
Double Dragon has been around for a very long time, and it’s changed quite a bit over the years. At its core, the series is about 2 dudes wandering the streets, beating up other dudes (and the occasional dudette) in search of one of the dude's girlfriend. On the surface, it seems like it's a fairly down-to-earth kind of game, but its grip on reality is actually pretty tenuous at best, what with its astonishing amount of street violence tearing through construction sites and cities without a single cop to be found. But the original game at least, did have a degree of groundedness to it. Sure, there were those cave levels, and it's best not to think too hard on exactly what Abobo is supposed to be (particularly his NES incarnation) but after the first game, things took some unexpectedly weird steps. How did we go from beating up dudes in the street to flying to the moon? With a brand new Double Dragon game coming soon in the form of Double Dragon Gaiden, there’s never been a better time to take a look at just how weird Double Dragon can be.
We start at the start with the original Double Dragon. Like I mentioned before, this game was mostly grounded in reality, or at least the arcade game was. Of course, if you spent some time with the NES port, you were treated to a few bizarre moments as you got deeper into the game, including this weird cave that sporadically changed colors for some reason, and the biggest mystery of all, Abobo.
In the arcade original, Abobo was just some big dude. But for the NES game, his sprite was changed into this weird, lumpy mess of a man. He could break through mountain walls with his bare fists, and cae in more color variants than Andore from Final Fight, including a green-skinned flavor that appears in that aforementioned color-changing cave. So yeah, it’s got its weird moments, but overall, it's about as grounded in reality as most games of this era.
For the sequel though, they began pressing their feet on the weirdness pedal a lot harder. Double Dragon II: The Revenge is an interesting game. The arcade version starts out pretty normal, walking around a helicopter landing site or something and beating up various dudes. Then the boss shows up, and aside from his rather unusual outfit, everything’s more or less normal. That is until you beat him and HE DISINTEGRATES RIGHT OUT OF HIS CLOTHES. It’s as surprising as it is unnerving. Things level out more or less until you get to the very end where you have to fight a purple shadow version of yourself that I’m pretty sure can throw fireballs. And when you beat him, your girlfriend Marion shows back up doing just fine, which is weird because the game starts with her being shot with a machine gun in the middle of the street in broad daylight. And no one does anything about it. And her corpse just disappears. And you immediately just start beating up dudes instead of checking to see if she’s okay (because her corpse blinked out of existence) and you know what? None of this makes any sense. Let’s move on.
The NES version though, now that’s where things get properly wacky. First, let’s talk about the doors. Every door in this game is electronic. It may not seem like much, but think about that for a minute, and then play the game again. It’s impossible to ignore! Like… why? Why is every single door in this game world completely motorized? Anyway, you fight that disintegrating guy just like in the arcade game, and things get sort of normal for a while. There's a forest level, a helicopter (complete with fully automatic doors!) that apparently holds like 20 dudes in the cockpit. (Do helicopters have cockpits?) A guy tries to run you over with a bulldozer that’s approximately the size of a house. You travel through an evil base with disappearing spiked platforms, you again fight a purple shadow version of yourself, and ultimately end up in… space?
I give the game credit for trying to explain Marion’s resurrection as opposed to the arcade game’s “who the heck cares?” approach, but all this business with prophecies and dragons is pretty out there. It’s properly bizarre in the same way many Saturday Morning Cartoons in the 80s were. It’s also a really great game. Weird, but great.
Let's Go To Egypt!
So. Let’s talk Double Dragon 3. Let me start by saying I have very little experience with the arcade version because in my opinion it’s the hottest of garbage. So we’ll focus instead on the NES version since it’s my understanding that they both follow a similarly bonkers series of events.
Anyway, in Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones, the title alone gives away that we’re in for some mystical nonsense. Which, don’t get me wrong, I love me some mystical nonsense, but I can’t say up to this point that I had ever played Double Dragon because of it. Anyway, An old woman hobbles up to your dojo and spouts some nonsense about traveling the world to gather 3 sacred stones. I think your girlfriend has been stolen again. I'm honestly a little hazy on the details. Also, they hilariously misspelled player 1’s name as Bimmy.
The game kicks off in the Double Dragon’s dojo, where their student Brett got the stuffing beat out of him by a bunch of thugs. You show up and beat them up and wouldn't you know it, the bad guys all come through the wooden front door WHICH IS MECHANICALLY OPERATED! As the adventure continues, you encounter some dudes who can slide on grass for some reason, and there's an honest to goodness log cabin in China with yet another electronic wooden door. What’s funny about this whole thing is that it’s almost like you’re traveling through time because the people in each country seem to be dressed as historical caricatures instead of thugs who want to beat the snot out of you.
Of course then you get to Egypt and you have to fight a mummy. And Cleopatra. And she's shooting flaming birds out of her hands. And actually she’s Princess Noiram, who was actually your girlfriend under an evil spell the whole time. See, this one set the stage right away about it being bonkers, and that whole ending sequence still caught me off guard. What a wacky game.
Next, we have Super Double Dragon, the game most people (and even the games themselves) acknowledged as Double Dragon 4 up until the actual Double Dragon IV released years later. Your girlfriend, who is a narcotics investigator now, disappears while looking into the Black Shadow Warriors. It’s up to you to don your trademark red and blue outfits and kick some butt! And... wow. What a change. I mean, it's all pretty video-gamey, and I'm fairly sure I beat up a clown at one point, but this one is really straight-forward. No mystical nonsense. Just beating up dudes.
Cartoons and Movies
Of course, it’s not long before we’re right off the rails again with Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls. This game appears to be based on the dreadful Double Dragon cartoon series. It's a one-on-one fighter, and it's terrible. It also might be even less grounded in reality than Battletoads/Double Dragon. There's a skeleton guy with sunglasses, a fat purple guy, some sort of cyborg whose fighting style is described as "dissin'" and the Shadow Boss is wearing... what the heck is he wearing??? Seriously, how did we get here? I would just look at it as some sort of weird spinoff based on the awful cartoon, but they went ahead and numbered it like it's supposed to take place in-continuity after Super Double Dragon! To be fair, at least it doesn't take itself seriously.
Hey, do you know what’s worse than the Double Dragon cartoon? The Double Dragon live action movie! And on the Neo Geo, there’s a Japan exclusive fighting game based on that very thing. I honestly don’t know if this one is more or less unhinged than Double Dragon V. I’ve also never had the pleasure of playing it myself, but the general consensus out there seems to be that it’s at least a better game than V, so that’s something!
The Future, By Way of the 80s
Almost two decades later, after a handful of remakes of varying quality, a proper new Double Dragon game came out in the form of WayForward’s Double Dragon Neon. The developers went ahead and embraced the weird with this one, and it went unapologetically off the rails right off the bat. In fact, I’d be willing to bet these guys don't even know what rails are any more. By the end of the second level, you managed to walk into a building that was really a rocketship in disguise, which promptly launches into outer space. The game makes absolutely no sense, but at least it has the good sense to be completely goofy about it, which I love.
And that just leaves Double Dragon IV, which is just 12 stages of mediocrity. There are a few multicolored Abobos, but other than that it’s just plain bland. The less said about it the better.
Double Dragon is certainly a series that's more than meets the eye. It may have started as something relatively normal, but if you look just below the surface, you see that this series is remarkably weird. That's not a complaint! I absolutely love these games. Well, except IV and V, but most of them are a rollicking good time. As for the upcoming Double Dragon Gaiden, I have put some time into the game and while it’s absolutely fantastic so far, it hasn’t done anything super weird yet outside of a strange fascination with hot dogs and hamburgers, but I’ve got my fingers crossed it takes me to Mars or something by the end. But what do you think? What’s the weirdest thing in a Double Dragon game?