Double Dragon

Double Dragon

Company: Atari
Model #:
Dan Kitchen & Donald Hahn
Year: 1992
No (Activision only)
Originally released by Activision


Double Dragon by Atari?!?  No we haven't gone crazy here at AtariProtos (well we have, but that's another story), Double Dragon was indeed supposed to be re-relased by Atari.  After Atari relaunched the 2600 in 1986 they licensed many titles from other 2600 game companies that had either gone out of business (such as Coleco and Parker Bros.) or had gotten out of the 2600 market.  From Activision Atari licensed Double Dragon and Rampage (who had originally released them in 1989), but neither title was ever released under the Atari label before Atari themselves decided to end support for the 2600 in 1992.


Double Dragon was a hit arcade game released by Technos in 1987.  You play either Billy Lee or his twin bother Jimmy Lee (or Spike and Hammer as they were known in the US) as they try and rescue Billy's girlfriend Marian from the Black Warriors gang.  Your quest will take you through four different levels (known as Missions) after which you must fight the Black Warrior leader Machine Gun Willy (who wields a machine gun BTW).  Oddly enough if you play the arcade game with two players and you both survive the fight with Willy you must then fight each other to the death in order to decide who ends up with Marian.  I guess Billy and Marian weren't exclusive after all.


The Atari 2600 version of Double Dragon is actually fairly close to the arcade version.  Since the arcade game used large highly detailed sprites, the graphics had to be majorly simplified to work within the 2600's limitations.  While the backgrounds look very nice, the players and enemies are a mixed bag.  The Williams (and their pallet swap Roper) and players look like generic dudes wearing funny hats, but the Lindas and Abobos look almost like their arcade counterparts as does Willy himself.  The music is acceptable with a short tunes the change every few screens.  Due to the 2600 only having one button the attacks had to be simplified down to a punch, kick, jump kick, and elbow smash.  The elbow smash and regular kick require pushing the joystick in a diagonal while pushing the button which can be somewhat hard to pull off so most players will probably stick to jump kicks and punches.  Some of the more interesting weapons like dynamite and the whip have been removed, but the basic bat, knife, and oil drum are available.  Unfortunately any weapon you pick up will disappear upon moving to the next screen.


Unlike other late arcade ports like Xenophobe and Ikari Warriors, the 2600 port of Double Dragon actually supports two players at once (take that NES version!).  Unfortunately in order to pull this off some technical trade offs had to used.  Each player is restricted to either the top or bottom of the screen and cannot cross the over to the other side.  Since the 2600 version only features two enemies on the screen at one time, each player gets his own enemy to pummel.  In one player games the player can move anywhere on the screen but the two enemies are still restricted to their own area until one of them are defeated.  After which the remaining enemy is free to roam the entire screen like the player.


Perhaps the biggest problem with Double Dragon is that the enemy AI is insanely hard.  The enemies will mercilessly knock you down over and over again until you've lost all of your health.  It's quite possible to lose all your lives in less than a minute in this version.  Considering the game never awards any extra lives, most players will probably never see the end of Mission 1 much less the end of the game. One has to wonder if the game was playtested by anyone except the programmers.  The best way to get anywhere in this version is to spam the elbow smash move as that will knock the enemy down if it hits.  The AI is smart enough not to just keep walking into this though so you'll have to work on the timing to hit consistently.  Once you do however, it makes the game a little easier (moving the difficulty from unfair to just insane). 

Perhaps the best feature in the 2600 version of Double Dragon is the practice mode (Game 3).  This mode is a single screen one-on-one fight between Jimmy and Billy without any enemies to worry about.  Technically this mode is all about honing your combat skills, but given the insane difficulty of the game there's really no amount of practice that's going to help defeat the cheap enemy AI.  Instead this mode can be seen as the closest the 2600 ever got to a Street Fighter clone where you and a friend can trade punches, kicks, and elbow smashes until one goes down.  There's also a bat in the center of the screen that you can use to even the odds a bit.  If this mode had been expanded just a little it could have made for a nice standalone game.

Double Dragon on the 2600 is a technical marvel, but a deeply flawed one.  Companies like Activision were pushing the limits of what could be accomplished on hardware that dated back to 1977, but in the end failed to make a game that was fun to play.  It's a shame because with a little bit of fine tuning games like Double Dragon and Kung Fu Master could have been extremely fun even if they didn't look or play quite like their arcade counterparts.


Version Cart Text Description
5/20/92 Doubl Dragon C300046-194A 5/20/92 PAL2600
Final Version (PAL)


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