Co-Op International: Double Dragon II Edition

9/17/2012 at 12:00 PM

Billy and Jimmy bust heads in Japan

PC Engine version

In honor of Double Dragon: Neon’s recent release on XBLA and PSN, this month’s Co-Op International looks at a couple of classic Double Dragon games that never made it out of Japan. Both are ports of Double Dragon II: The Revenge and share a few things in common, but otherwise they could hardly be more different. If you enjoy learning about this slice of beat-em-up history, let us know in the comments below!

Double Dragon II for Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis

For more screenshots, check out our gallery here.

Sega Genesis fans, did you ever wonder why the Genny got ports of the original Double Dragon and the abysmal Double Dragon III, but not part II? As it turns out, a little company called Palsoft (whose best known game is Magical Chase for Turbografx-16) actually did bring DDII to the Mega Drive, the Japanese version of the Genesis. Palsoft’s version suffered from several technical shortcomings and thus never got picked up for worldwide distribution.

DDII on MD, despite its rough visuals, is actually closer to the arcade DDII than any other console port. See, the three NES Double Dragons basically used the original arcade games as loose templates but dramatically changed the levels and other elements (especially the second and third installments). But the MD game has all four of the arcade levels plus every arcade enemy and weapon - no more and no less. Thus it stands out for its faithfulness.

That said, DDII deviates from the source material in a few ways. The enemy AI and movement is a bit worse, and enemies don’t remain staggered for long, making it harder to throw them. Most curiously, Mission 2 starts and ends like the arcade level, but the middle is pretty different, with a tall ladder climb and multiple conveyor belts. Given how accurate the other levels are, I wonder why the excursion.

I don't remember this area...

DDII’s graphics hew closely to the arcade style, but everything is smaller and less colorful than the Genesis is capable of. It looks superior to an NES game and probably falls just below what the Turbografx could do. The low-resolution visuals would be more forgivable if not for the slowdown that bogs down the action whenever more than two characters are on-screen at once. Despite those visual shortcomings, the actual music is great and very close to the arcade.

DDII Mega Drive supports 2-player local co-op. Your enjoyment will come down to both players’ patience with the slowdown. On the plus side, friendly fire can be turned off, unlike the real arcade game. Players share the same pool of five credits, but if you play on easy you’ll have no problem reaching the end together. Speaking of which, the ending is just a black-and-white highlight reel. It doesn’t even mention Marian or roll credits.

Language barrier: None. The game and menus are entirely in English.

Difficulty to import: If you own the original cartridge like me, you can play it in a US Genesis using a converter or by modifying the console’s cartridge slot. Most people nowadays would play this via emulation though, which works just like booting up any other Genesis ROM.

Double Dragon II for PC Engine Super CD/Turbografx

Naxat Soft’s PC Engine version of Double Dragon II is based on the NES DDII instead of the arcade game. Yet it takes so many liberties as to feel unique. Like the 8-bit Nintendo version, Billy and Jimmy still take a ride in a helicopter (and even visit the cockpit here), and there are some challenging platforming sequences and disappearing floors later in the game’s 10 levels. You have to press both attack buttons simultaneously to jump in this one, making the jumping bits that much tougher.

More screenshots of this version here.

Being a CD game, this version features fully-voiced story scenes between each level. These sequences give the game a very eighties-anime feel, and I love them. Depending on the difficulty level, you’ll receive one of three different endings, too. The redbook audio soundtrack during gameplay is all-new (except for the final boss theme) and mostly wonderful. No less than three versions of the classic Double Dragon theme appear during the intro and ending, the credits version sounding especially beautiful.

The graphics during gameplay beat the Mega Drive version’s, hands-down. The backgrounds lack depth like most Turbografx games but they show a lot of colors, as do the sprites. Speaking of which, I wish the sprites’ art style matched the one used in the story scenes. In-game Billy, Jimmy, and the final boss all look much different than their cinematic counterparts. Besides, the sprite style leans slightly towards the ugly side.

DDII PC Engine has 2-player drop-in, drop-out co-op just like the MD game. Again, friendly fire can be toggled, and you’ll definitely want it off if you plan to reach the end. Both players share credits, so if either Lee brother can’t handle the platforming segments you’ll be in trouble. Thankfully level select and level skip cheat codes will get you right back where you left off if things go sour.

With impressive cinematics, fantastic music, and a large selection of levels, the PC Engine version of Double Dragon II bests both the NES and arcade games. Turbo Technologies, the US producer of the Turbo Duo (a Turbografx with built-in CD-ROM), had an awful habit of leaving fine games like this, Dracula X, and Street Fighter II Champion Edition in Japan, much to the dismay of Turbo-loving gamers. Hence Double Dragon II was one of my earliest import purchases - way back in 1993.

Language barrier: Low. Unless you speak Japanese, you’ll lose out on a bit of the story’s charm. But those scenes can be turned off if it bothers you enough, and the menus are in English.

Difficulty to import: The original CD-ROM will play in any Turbo Duo or Turbografx CD system equipped with a Super System Card Version 3.0. The emulation route is a bit harder here due to the game’s large file size (300 MEGs), but it’s worth the effort. Playing on emulators like Ootake even reduces the loading times you’d have to stoically endure on a real Turbo Duo. Check out this guide for full instructions.