Screens | 4/2/2013 at 12:41 PM

Double Dragon II Launches on XBLA This Friday. Check Out Our Exclusive Preview!

You can't keep a good Double Dragon down.

It’s hard to believe that nearly two years ago, I wrote the first exclusive preview of Double Dragon II: Wander of the Dragons for Co-Optimus. A 3D remake of the classic Double Dragon II arcade game, it seemed destined to revive the historic beat-em-up franchise after years of inactivity. Korean game developer Gravity Co, Ltd. and publisher Barunson Creative Co Ltd. understood the series’ importance in the gaming landscape and found the second game’s story most exciting, hence their decision to remake it for modern audiences.

We expected Wander of the Dragons to arrive in winter 2011/spring 2012, but by the time Double Dragon: Neon rolled around in the fall of 2012, Wander had yet to be released. As it turns out, the delay occurred because Gravity was hard at work polishing their game. This entailed adding some extra areas to Wander of the Dragon’s story mode as well as fine-tuning its combat mechanics. And of course, the title still had to go through Microsoft’s challenging Xbox Live certification process.

Like practically every game in the series, Wander of the Dragons’ story mode centers around twin brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee, masters of the martial art Sou-Setsu-Ken (which definitely does not mean ‘Dragon Bunny Fist’). In the first Double Dragon, Billy’s girlfriend Marian gets kidnapped by the Black Warriors, a rival organization that practices the Gen-Satsu-Ken fighting technique. But this time out, the leader of the Black Warriors, Willy (who didn’t show up in Neon) actually kills Marian in cold blood. Thus the brothers Lee set out on a journey or ‘wander’ to avenge her.

The Double Dragon II arcade game has always featured four stages for the heroes to battle through. Wander of the Dragons retains the four stage design (called Episodes here), though each stage now consists of four sub-stages as well.  Billy and Jimmy will chase their foes from land to helicopter (which then crashes), across a logging truck (which also crashes), underground, and into the Black Warriors’ trap-filled lair. Occasional Quick-Time events break up the combat, such as jamming on a button to safely survive a steep fall.

Along the way the Dragon brothers will encounter 10 unique enemies (some with multiple skins like in Neon), and eventually face the gun-toting boss Willy and possibly another mystical threat or two. Skilled players will want to do Marian’s memory proud by tackling Story mode on the Hard difficulty as opposed to Easy or Normal. Hard concludes with a unique final boss and a special ending, much like Double Dragon II on NES and PC Engine.

Reach the tree of Memories to get the 'Just Like Old Times' Achievement.

Double Dragon II has always had a slightly steep learning curve because it replaced the traditional punch and kick buttons with buttons for left and right-directional attacks. Gravity has completely overhauled the fighting system in Wander though, doing away with the directional attacks. On top of the basic punch, kick, grab, and jump buttons, this version introduces buttons for elbowing enemies, blocking, and performing super moves.

The Left trigger can be used to block or roll away from attacks, while pressing it at the exact moment an enemy attacks will perform a counter attack. The right trigger in combination with face buttons pulls off various power and special attacks, including the Tornado Kick (Cyclone Spin Kick in other versions) and a couple of dragon-shaped projectile pitches. These attacks cost energy acquired from attacking foes. Throw in a new combo system, ranged and melee weapons, and Billy and Jimmy will have a lot of ways to hurt people they disagree with.

Or maybe you’ll use those techniques with other characters. The new Survival and Versus modes allow players to select from at least four characters: Billy, Jimmy, Marian (who is totally not a zombie) and one of the game’s minibosses (possibly Jeff). All four characters are accessible right from the beginning, so no need to unlock them. The goal of Survival is to defeat as many as possible on a single life, and you can probably figure out what to do in Versus mode.

Both Story Mode and Survival support two-player co-op, which will likely make for some great cooperative face-punching. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Wander of the Dragons will only support local co-op at launch. Gravity would like to add online co-op in a future patch though, assuming the game sells well enough. Wander of the Dragons was probably made on a lower budget than Double Dragon: Neon, a game which also supports local co-op only (for now), so the lack of online multiplayer shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

Double Dragon II: Wander of the Dragons launches on Xbox Live Arcade this Friday, April 5th. It will cost 800 Microsoft Points, a bit less than the price announced back in 2011. Let’s hope it will have been worth the wait.

We'll have an exclusive look at the characters of Wander of the Dragons later this week. While you wait, why not check out my Co-Op International column that looks at two classic Double Dragon II console versions that appeared only in Japan?