Part of the series of seven individual titles from Double Dragon & Kunio Kun canon that publisher Arc System Works just dropped on Xbox One, Double Dragon II: The Revenge also stands out as one of the stronger titles alongside the still highly enjoyable original Double Dragon. Unfortunately, as an archive release on Xbox One, Double Dragon II on Xbox One has the same flaws and omitted features as the release of Double Dragon and all the other games. Oh, and it must be noted that the game featured on Xbox One is the NES version only.
Originally starting out as an expansion pack to the original hit arcade game, the game would quickly evolve into the bigger sequel Double Dragon II: The Revenge in 1988 before being ported to the NES a fair while later in 1989. Considering how during the time gaming had just started transitioning into the 16-bit era with the likes of Mega Drive and PC Engine (the Super NES was still some way away), this was a rather late bloomer for the still popular but ageing 8-bit system. Still, Double Dragon II on NES showed that the 8-bit console still had some untapped potential as it proved to be a substantial improvement over the 1988 Double Dragon release, especially from a technical and graphical standpoint.
The original Double Dragon followed a pretty stock standard trope of rescuing the kidnapped damsel from the bad guys, which even during the ‘80s was a plot device beaten to death. And speaking of death, Double Dragon II: The Revenge decided to take the tired trope to an edgier level by having the damsel murdered in the opening sequence of the game, with the brothers Billy and Jimmy now out for bloodthirsty revenge, more than willing to go beyond than just giving their foes an arse kicking. It’s not a big deal considering the amount of mature games we have seen today, but for a 1989 video game release this was pretty cool and edgy material for the kids.
The original NES version of Double Dragon II: The Revenge saw a substantial graphical improvement over its predecessor, with more detailed sprites and a richer colour density than the original. It showed that the NES still had some ways to go before fully stepping aside for 16-bit consoles. The music was just as strong too, featuring some catchy chiptunes which were also iconic in their own right. Here and now, the game for the most part performs and responds just fine on Xbox One, although some of the sprite and pixel flickering could have been cleaned up a bit more.
The game design of Double Dragon II is one of the biggest reasons why this sequel feels so much different and, in many ways, better than the classic debut. The level design is so much more diverse and interesting – not that the original was boring mind you, but in the sequel each stage changes things up a bit at every turn. One moment you’re fighting between buildings, jumping roof to roof, and then suddenly you’re battling inside an aircraft. The set pieces are certainly memorable and hold up quite well even by modern beat ‘em up standards. The pacing and placement of enemies is done really well, and the boss battles are quite memorable with some of the boss characters going on to become underground internet gaming legends.
The gameplay of Double Dragon II is generally quite strong, with new special moves and plenty of weapon pickups to keep the action fresh and interesting. What the game really changes is how the core attacks operate, because unlike the dedicated punch and kick buttons in the original Double Dragon this game has a forward (punch) and back (kick) attack where the buttons swap depending on the direction you are facing. It’s quite confusing and never gets any easier, but it’s not flawed enough to ruin the experience given that the attack scheme actually proves to be practical, especially when enemies gang up on you from both sides.
Double Dragon II: The Revenge on Xbox One is the proverbial bigger and better sequel in every sense. It’s up there with all the great parts twos in gaming like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – and is certainly better than Devil May Cry 2. The combat mechanic feels counter-intuitive for the most part but proves to be practical in busier brawls, and the level design is just enjoyable and interesting at every turn. As a fan, this one is worth picking up alongside the original Double Dragon as one of the blueprint greats of the beat ‘em up genre.