Let’s get some logistical distribution qualms out of the way first: Arc System Works didn’t really handle the release of the Double Dragon & Kunio Kun collection on Xbox One very well. Over on the Nintendo Switch this was a full-on compilation, featuring 18 titles, with the style of presentation expected of retro compilations in this day and age. Instead of getting the full collection, Xbox One owners receive each of the games individually and only seven of those: Double Dragon, Double Dragon II, Double Dragon III, Renegade, Super Dodge Ball, River City Ransom, and Crash‘n the Boys: Street Challenge. Porting the Switch collection itself with all 18 games in one place would have made much more sense, but unfortunately Xbox One owners will need to make do with seven individually priced games and miss out on all the other titles.
The other disappointing aspect of these archive releases is how bare-bones they are. Each release has the base game and an online multiplayer mode with an absolute ghost town of a community (the only way you’re playing is if you know someone and set a private session well in advance). Given the brilliant ports and remasters we have seen in recent times, the releases on Xbox One don’t offer much by way of extra features, enhancements, or modes. There are not even basic museum gallery features outside of very simplistic information tucked away in the options menu.
The only silver lining here is that you can choose to pay for the games you’re actually interested in, and the original Double Dragon definitely stands out as one of the best propositions among these games from the Double Dragon & Kunio Kun archives.
1987’s Double Dragon is arguably the original granddaddy of the modern beat ‘em up genre, as even the biggest release in the genre today, Streets of Rage 4, can trace its DNA back to the original Double Dragon. And yes, this seminal brawler predates Capcom’s Final Fight even. The version that has landed on Xbox One is based on the NES home version rather than the arcade original, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing given how much of the nostalgia and fame the game enjoyed was because of the NES version. It’s a bit odd and out of context for Xbox One, given that some years ago the Xbox 360 Live Arcade had the original 1987 arcade version. The simple thought comes to mind: why couldn’t they fit both the arcade and NES versions on the same digital release?
Still, Double Dragon on NES is as classic as they come, and the beat ‘em up journey holds up really well even as a bare-bones port with some mechanical and performance enhancements. However, it is nothing quite as dramatic as some of the quality retro remaster efforts we have seen in recent years on Xbox One. Double Dragon is timeless and always playable, and if you are feeling nostalgic about going through those stages and experiencing versatile brawling action then this NES classic won’t disappoint. The level design holds up, the combat system still works considering that the genre really hasn’t evolved too much from the basics to this day, and it’s always a satisfying pick up and play.
Jimmy and Billy got their start here as lesser-known video game icons who are recently enjoying some pop culture relevance thanks to the efforts of developer WayForward in the last decade; games like Double Dragon Neon and River City Girls spring to mind. Their movesets are surprisingly versatile with all the punches, kicks, throws, and special moves to get them through a variety of stages, some even featuring light platforming and other level design gimmicks. There’s a reason why Double Dragon was among the most important AAA titles for the NES back in the day, and much like other NES legends this is an experience which just clicks no matter what type of gamer you are. It’s a short but very challenging experience, and always a fun one to come back to and slowly get better at.
What still shines the most about this version of Double Dragon is the music. The chiptune soundtrack is among the best of the best, from the earworm bass intermission track to each of the stage tunes which have been remixed so many times since – there is just something about the arrangement of the original Double Dragon soundtrack that makes it among the best and most nostalgic music in all of gaming.
Without any of the bells and whistles this is simply Double Dragon optimised for Xbox One. It certainly could have offered a whole lot more as a release, but the base NES game is still a strong and playable classic even in 2020. It may be a hard sell given the quality of other archive releases on Xbox One, but anyone hankering for the original granddaddy of beat ‘em ups will enjoy this trip down brawler lane.