Double Dragon – review

The legendary brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee are back in this re-imagining of a classic…

Back in 1987 Double Dragon was an arcade side-scrolling street-brawler, that saw you take control of one of two brothers on a mission to rescue your sweetheart from the clutches of the Black Warriors. The hook was that the game allowed two players to play the brothers.

24 years, numerous ports and sequels later, and Aksys Games are going back to the first games’ roots and re-making (not porting) the original.

dd1The first thing players will notice are the new visuals. Those of you expecting lush 3D visuals will be disappointed, as the game still has that 16bit 2D look, only this time the presentation has a stronger eastern feel to it. Something akin to manga… at least in the still cutscenes. Die hard fans will no-doubt hate the new look, but I think Aksys have done a pretty good job of capturing the retro feel, while updating it enough for a more modern audience… that, and the original really did look terrible!

The game now includes six levels, plus a couple of bonus stages. But the biggest addition is with the character’s increased skill set. You still have the usual punch, kicks and grabs, but now you can pull off extra moves using button combinations.

Speaking of buttons, no retro side-scroller is worth its salt on the iPhone without good controls. Many fail, but occasionally the developers come up trumps (Sonic 4 and League of Evil being good examples). Double Dragon’s controls are a mixed bag however. The eight-way D-pad works well enough, but the buttons are a bit small and can easily be missed, I had to keep looking down at the four action buttons to make sure i’m pressing the right ones. Generally the controls are not responsive enough to pull off some of the actions required. For example, avoiding fallen explosives or projectiles is almost impossible as there is a short delay after pulling off attacks.

There is also a problem with collision detection. Often you will throw a punch, only to find you were not quite on the same vertical plane as the enemy. Once again this can cause frustration, for if you miss a punch or kick then by the time you regain control to move into striking distance, the bad guys knocked you on your ass. The original arcade game had a similar problem, but got round this by making the enemies quickly move to the same plane as you, and this should have been added to this remake.

dd2Finally, the controls takes up way too much space on the screen. I think a more transparent effect for the controls would have worked better, and to lose the surrounding background which covers up too much action, particularly when avoiding obsticles.

Overall I think the controls need a rethink. Too often developers aim for virtual controls, and while they can work, the touch screen can be utilised in better ways. Perhaps accelerometer control for movement, and gestures for fighting would be better suited… something Fight Night has proved can work for fighting games.

The levels themselves offer up a pretty good challenge. There are more enemy types than before, as well as new bosses. On anything but easy mode these bosses can be tricky, especially with their minions backing them up. As with the original, you can pick up weapons dropped by enemies, such as baseball bats and whips, and use them against them. Later levels have hazards such as pits, spikes and moving walls to contend with, but generally the action involves button mashing your way through all oncoming enemies. You can play through the game’s six stages in around an hour, albeit by using up a few credits. New characters unlocked after the first play through add replay-ability, as well all the all new moves for each of them.

As the name suggest though, this really is a game for two players. The connection between two devices (over Bluetooth only) is lag free and is definitely more fun than the single player mode. Unfortunately though, you can hurt the other player, meaning any attempt to join forces to take out a single enemy (like a boss) will more than likely result in un-intentionally killing each other. This was of course also in the original and so is an intentional part of this game. But, for me and my friend it just ruined the flow of what could otherwise be an awesome co-op experience.

dd3In the original arcade game, and after defeating the final boss, the two brothers had to duke it out to the death for the affections of the love interest (which only happened in two-player mode). I can’t tell you if this is the same in this remake though, as we didn’t complete the game in co-op.

In conclusion then, Double Dragon iOS is a mixed bag. On the one hand you have a classic style, 16bit brawler with everything you loved from back in the day. And on the other, a classic style, 16bit brawler with many of the problems that are as frustrating as they were back then, with the added problems of iOS virtual controls. Having said that, if you like retro brawlers, then you’ll probably want to check this out despite its flaws.


Double Dragon is out now for $3.99. Get it on the DoubleDragon - Bow Mobile Corporation

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  • david

    Actualy I think its really goodm i like the original grpahic a bit better but I like this almost the same,+ the sound is great it has the original arcade fx style,and didnt have any problems with controls… great game

  • Luke

    Would have loved to see the original ported. A remake of such a classic is almost always a disappointment.

    I like the fact you can hurt your buddy. I can’t tell you how many times I would grab my friend, then knee him just every once in a while in the head just to make sure you kept hold… until this eventually ended up in a real fight in the living room :)