Although not the first arcade beat ‘em up ever released, 1987’s Double Dragon set the standard for the genre in many ways. Similar to Doom, Double Dragon is often referred to as the granddaddy of its genre. Developed by Technōs Japan, players control the ass kicking Lee brothers as they seek to rescue love interest Marian from the evil clutches of the nefarious Shadow Warriors. It perfectly captured the spirit of the late ’80s but more importantly it was a fun 2-player game that would spark an endless line of classic contemporaries — Streets of Rage and Final Fight just to name two. Credit the mastermind Yoshihisa Kishimoto for giving us one of the most beloved genres of all time. In June of 1991, the Battletoads arrived on the scene courtesy of Rare. It thrilled (and terrorized) many NES gamers. Many of us remember it for its wackiness and of course the infamously difficult biker section. Rare developed Battletoads in response to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze that was going on around that time. Two years later, Double Dragon and Battletoads joined forces to take on the Shadow Warriors and the Dark Queen’s army. On paper, it sounds like a wet dream. But the real question is… did it live up to expectations?
If you were anything like me growing up then you probably at some point too daydreamed about two of your favorite franchises crossing over. I remember my very first exposure to a crossover was when I spotted a VHS copy of King Kong vs. Godzilla at Toys R Us in the late ’80s. I had no idea such a movie existed and it absolutely blew my mind. The two titans are set to have their rematch in 2020 but real fans know it first happened nearly 55 years ago (August 11, 1962).
Who could ever forget the classic ending to Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday? Seeing Freddy’s iconic claw dragging Jason’s goalie mask to the depths of Hell stirred much water cooler talk about a future Jason vs. Freddy crossover. Fans finally got that movie 10 years later in 2003. Better late than never.
In the gaming world there have been lots of memorable crossovers. One of the biggest ones was X-Men vs. Street Fighter. Capcom sort of opened the floodgates. It was all the rage back in 1996. Other notable crossovers include Capcom vs. SNK, Super Smash Bros., Street Fighter X Tekken, Kingdom Hearts, The King of Fighters and Capcom vs. Marvel. Hell, even Sonic and Mario have teamed up!
But the earliest gaming crossover I can remember playing was Battletoads & Double Dragon. It first came out for the NES in the summer of 1993 before receiving Genesis and SNES ports in late ’93. I fondly remember playing the SNES version at a friend’s house one Saturday night. We couldn’t beat it — it’s damn hard — but we sure had a blast trying. My friends and I didn’t think it was the greatest game ever but we enjoyed it relatively enough. I recently went back to replay Battletoads & Double Dragon for the first time in well over 20 years. I was a little anxious. Part of me wondered if maybe the game’s even better than I remember giving it credit for. Maybe it’s brilliant in a way that my 10 year old mind back then wasn’t quite able to grasp. Kind of like rewatching classic Simpsons episodes from the early seasons and finally getting all the jokes you missed as a kid.
On the flip side, I was a little anxious if maybe childhood memories covered up for a disappointing crossover. But that’s the beauty of retro gaming. You can (re)play them and (re)form your own opinions. You can revisit the past and reevaluate games you once enjoyed. Some games will pass the test. But some don’t. Others are caught somewhere in-between. I was anxious to see where this one would fall…
THE STORY GOES…
Professor T. Bird is a mentor to the ‘Toads and serves the Splinter role.
Wouldn’t be a crossover if they said no
Umm, Billy you OK? I got some Pepto-Bismol if ya need it…
“Bastards, I’m still down here!” *shakes fist* -Jimmy Lee
Joining forces to assemble THE ULTIMATE TEAM!
Select any of the five heroes. Rash rocks a mean pair of shades.
Pimple is the muscle of the group. Zitz is the brains.
Finally, Marian is not the cause.
Villains from both universes collide to form their own super team.
Roper is as big and bad as Abobo, only Roper has a BIG gun. Robo Manus is said to be second in command of the Dark Queen’s army.
Shadow Boss is a loose amalgamation of various characters from the Double Dragon games rather than one specifically. The Dark Queen serves as the final boss, letting you know exactly which franchise style this game is more catered to.
STAGE ONE: TAIL OF THE RATSHIP
Shadow Marines greet you right off the bat as you wage war on the tail of the Colossus. Be careful — one big punch from them can deplete two health boxes!
Desperate to impress their Shadow Boss, Shadow Marines aren’t afraid to risk life and limb. Feel free to kick them off!
Better yet, stomp on their fingers.
Sometimes they’ll come flying at you like such. Toss them wankers into the abyss.
Ahhh, the classic Will Smith elbow drop!
Jimmy Lee would never react this way — I told ‘cha it’s much more Battletoads than it is Double Dragon. After all, Rare did develop this game. But I’ll overlook this. Love the dramatic Abobo entrance, though. Really made him look like an intimidating force!
Abobo was never this tough before!
Finally you put the boots to him, sending him off into deep space.
Professor gives you a quick message at the end of each stage along with a preview of what’s to come. I enjoy these little cutscenes and the miniature versions of the ‘Toads and Dragons especially.
STAGE TWO: BLAG ALLEY
Getting the dummy goons to attack each other is always good for a laugh. Speaking of a laugh, it’s quite comical scaling the chain-linked fence to whack them upside the head.
Shame you can’t toss them into each other.
Walkers make quite the entrance. Love that little detail of the wall being partially taken out there.
Break a Walker apart to steal its leg. Now play Whac-A-Goon!
Doorman of Doom. Believe it or not, that’s actually his name. So cheesy it’s gold. Toss his sticks of dynamite back at him to end his cowardly existence.
Break those eggs apart to reveal various goodies. I like how most of the levels are sectioned off. I especially like how this one has the dash covered up by an egg there. It’s weird little stuff like that that makes me smile. Meanwhile, Jimmy Lee confronts the cowardly Doorman of Doom personally. He’s not exactly thrilled to meet one half of the legendary Double Dragon face to face…
Remember the Turbo Tunnel level from the first Battletoads game? Yeah, I know you do. It makes a cameo here. And thankfully, it’s extremely reasonable.
Turbo Tunnel was only three levels in for the original Battletoads game, and it terrorized an entire generation of NES loving kids. It returned in the SNES sequel, Battletoads in Battlemaniacs. It wasn’t as difficult there but it was still a pain in the ass. Thankfully, it’s super easy (and short) in Battletoads & Double Dragon.
Obstacles are briefly highlighted before the player is forced to react. Love the way Jimmy kicks his legs out to grab some air.
Watch out for bad guys hot on your trail, and be sure to take advantage of the 1UP opportunities.
Whoever complains about having a rat problem never saw this! Um, I wouldn’t do the body bump greeting if I were you, Jim.
Someone’s been working out!
Jimmy ultimately wins the war but not without a few scars.
Oddly fascinating to see your little guy trek through the stage preview there.
STAGE THREE: ROPES AND ROPER
Sounds like a kinky Saturday night. It’s good to see Linda back. I like how the window there gives you a preview of incoming enemies. Knock the stuffing out of the bloody ravens. Oh and welcome Rash to the party. The ‘Toads were getting a little restless waiting on the sidelines.
Linda is no joke. Get caught in-between two [now THAT sounds like a kinky Saturday night -Ed.] and it’s lights out for you, bub. Get ready to swing on some ropes. Don’t miss the platform there or else you’ll lose a precious life.
Fried toad, anyone? Kick the switch to disable it.
Yanking Linda’s hair while kicking her in the bum is my definition of a good time. Better yet, don’t be afraid to give her some head. And to all her friends as well. Now that’s a wild Saturday night.
Another rope section… only this one involves avoiding a moving laser. Great. Scaling the fence there reminds me of Mario in Super Mario World. Except not as smooth.
Avoid getting roasted by pulling your little toad legs up. Pretty cool little bit there. And look who’s joined the debauchery.
Pimple, you’re just in time, too. This stage is called Ropes and Roper. You’ve seen the ropes. Now meet Roper. He goes about 6’9″, 320 pounds and he loves moonlit walks on the beach. He also gets off on whacking toads with his big gun.
Roper has trouble loading his gun occasionally. Thank God for small favors. But get caught by one shot? It becomes a streaming parade of death. Totally cheap and brutal. Good luck giving him the old BOOT.
Looks like we’re heading to outer space [Nothing gets by you -Ed.]
STAGE FOUR: RATSHIP RUMBLE
Space shooting Gradius-esque stage? SWEET! But wait, you quickly come to find out moving the D-Pad moves your ship in a stationary 360 degrees while “A” moves you forward. WHAT THE — needless to say, it’s cumbersome and annoying. Should have stuck to a traditional SHMUP control scheme.
Colossus, we meet again. This time, I’m taking you out for good.
Commence Mission Stop That F*cking Missile.
STAGE FIVE: MISSILE MAYHEM
Similar to stage three, this level uses a single plane (the first two levels do not). I don’t typically like single plane but at least it makes sense here somewhat. Right off the bat we’re greeted by an old friend, Lopar. Beating him will send him cartwheeling off the screen. Nice comical touch.
WHEW was that close! Oops… I spoke too soon.
Preview incoming enemies through the window. Love how the door opens and closes. X indeed marks the spot, as well as a firm jump kick.
General Slaughter is the mid-boss of this stage. I love mid-bosses. I feel like too many beat ‘em ups lack a mid-boss. This game is no different; General Slaughter is really the only true mid-boss. Later on, Billy comes face to face with his old nemesis. Try not to get burned this time [Gee, thanks for the helpful tip -Billy Lee]
Creative enemy entrances in beat ‘em ups are the best, aren’t they? Check out how Lopar busts out of the window there. He also likes to hide behind the red wings. Beware his ninja stars, too.
Being a crossover, I love it when enemies from both universes attack you at once. Sadly it doesn’t happen often but it’s nice when you get it. And look, I found the Bruiser twins pre-Super Punch-Out!!
Nintendo’s dirty little secret they didn’t want you to know!
STAGE SIX: SHADOW BOSS SHOWDOWN
Brilliant beginning! Love seeing the Shadow Boss’ silhouette flashing in the background for a split second before disappearing back into darkness. It’s actually a bit creepy, too.
Killing a Walker with his friend’s leg is hilarious. Oh and look closely in the background. Do you see anything there? Yup, throughout this level Shadow Boss actually stalks you from behind the columns of this shadowy corridor. Brilliant.
Dragons and ‘Toads use the Walker’s leg differently. Both are great but I can’t resist showing how Rash uses this bum for batting practice!
OUCH! That hurts my eye just looking at it. Billy thinks he’s ready to take on all comers when, from out of the shadows, comes the big bad Shadow Boss.
Appropriate reaction this time, even for a Lee brother, I’d say. That is one nasty punch. Zoom in if you’re browsing on a smart phone. You’ll get the full effect.
Billy’s head gets turned into a pile of mush.
Better grab a hold of one of those light fixtures above or it’s exit stage left for you.
Think he’s done with you already? Not so fast, he says. It’s over when he says it’s over. Yeah, good luck with that jump kick there…
Manage to beat him and his suit of armor will fly all over the basement floor. Best of all, the placement of each item seems to be random. You gotta appreciate little details.
Things aren’t done with this level yet. After the Shadow Boss you must get by this little laser trap. Be a shame to lose here after all that hard work! Bit of a tongue on that Professor, too. He and Cranky Kong should do a collab sometime.
Proof positive that we live in a “What have you done for me lately?” society. This is it, Dark Queen. Prepare to be foiled.
STAGE SEVEN: ARMAGEDDON
Shades of Will Smith once again. I like the small detail of the Mechano-Mitt having red (injured) fingers after being smashed.
Finally, the Dark Queen. She’s actually not that tough.
A LITTLE HELP
This game is pretty damn tough. Especially the third level on. Jeez, what’s up with Battletoads games and level three? Anyway, for a major boost, at the character select screen press Up, Down, Down, Up, X, B, Y, A. If applied correctly, after selecting your character you’ll be taken to this handy level select screen. It’ll also grant you 10 lives (you get three normally). The levels aren’t particularly long but this code increases the game’s enjoyability and longevity significantly.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
The game did alright with the critics, if not slightly underwhelming when you consider the crossover star power. EGM enjoyed it the most, giving it scores of 8, 8, 8 and 8. GameFan was notorious for handing out high ratings like they were free condiments at a fast food restaurant, but they were a bit lukewarm on Battletoads & Double Dragon. It received ratings of 74, 77, 79 and 80%. This is in the very same issue, mind, where Clay Fighter was infamously awarded a 97%. Just some food for thought. I’d be remiss if I also didn’t bring up how Sgt. Gamer’s comment pissed me off as a little kid. In his 74% score, he had this to say: “I do have some complaints, however; the biggest being the inclusion of the Double Dragon characters. In the immortal words of the Joker: It’s time to retire…” Man did that set me off back in 1993! I was and still am a huge Double Dragon mark but um, dude, it wouldn’t be called Battletoads & Double Dragon without the Lee brothers. Secondly, NO, they don’t need to retire — YOU DO. Ahem, sorry. Moving on then. Super Play was notoriously difficult on beat ‘em ups and it really showed here. They gave this game a freaking 37%. 37%! Wow. I freely admit this isn’t the greatest beat ‘em up by far but 37%? If anything, maybe they made a typo and it was supposed to be 73%, one might think. But nope, the whole review was scathing and negative. This is NOT a 37% game. So, as you can see, for such a big crossover the reception was a bit meh.
That Saturday night at my friend’s house back in late 1994 paints the perfect picture in showcasing the strength of the SNES and like-minded friends. My friends and I didn’t bother leaving the house that night. Nope, instead we happily played two lesser known SNES games that gave us almost as much entertainment as one of the classics would have. Those two games? Samurai Shodown and Battletoads & Double Dragon. I remember us playing these two games for three or four hours and being as happy as pigs in mud. Two games that probably would not crack anyone’s personal Top 50 SNES list. Yet they’re a shining example of the system’s extensive library. There are tons of decent to solid little games that can easily entertain you and some pals. It’s no wonder I love the SNES so much. It’s the library that keeps on giving. Anyway, I just had to share that memory. I can’t write about this game without fondly recalling that fine evening.
When it comes to Battletoads & Double Dragon, it’s an unfortunate case of unfulfilled potential. It’s not a bad game but I personally can’t help but feel a bit disappointed by it. Sure it’s a blast with a friend but it’s not quite the ultimate crossover like how it should have been. For starters, while the music is actually quite well done with rock-like techno tunes, the sound is very forgettable and mediocre. But my main beef with this game is the Battletoads are clearly the stars and the Lee brothers come off more as supporting cast members. Worst yet, they don’t feel like the real Lee brothers. That to me as a huge Double Dragon fan is the biggest no-no. Even the Double Dragon enemies look weird and not true to spirit. Because Rare developed this game, rumor was they weren’t well versed with the Double Dragon universe and it honestly kind of shows when you play this game. The ‘Toads and their universe were well represented. But not so much on the Double Dragon end
Gameplay-wise, there are quite a few blemishes. Right off the bat, there’s a sense of poor programming. This is evident when you can’t even switch characters after continuing. What? That almost defeats the purpose of having five to choose from. Sadly, the same flaw that plagued the original NES Battletoads and later Battletoads in Battlemaniacs is back: overlapping continues. That’s right, in 2-player mode when one of you dies, it’s back to the beginning of the stage. WHAT! WHY? Ugh. Just not good decisions. I also don’t mind a reasonably difficult game but this one borders on cheap after the first two stages. Things get pretty brutal later on, so thank God for the cheat code to skip stages and have 10 lives. And enemy damage is way too high. It’s very hard to stop them from killing you once you let them punch you once. This usually leads to a succession of punches that ends up in you losing a life. It’s very unforgiving — unnecessarily so. Last but not least, the control feels a bit off and the boss battles are cheap.
But on the bright side, and yes there is a bright side, it’s still freaking Battletoads & Double Dragon. Sure it’s watered down but it still counts for something. It is fun to play with a friend, even factoring in the annoying overlapping continues. The music, as I said, is really quite good. And THANK THE HEAVENS that they finally got the Turbo Tunnel section correct. It’s not just tolerable — it’s actually pretty fun! Amazing what happens when you make it reasonable, not overly long and not ridiculously hard. Can’t forget about that cheat code, either. It makes it all the more appealing to revisit the game every once in a while. Finally, I appreciate the dark humor and various comical bits. There’s definitely some charm here.
All in all, Battletoads & Double Dragon is a mixed bag. A disappointment, for sure, but not without some merit of its own. Leave any lofty expectations you may have at the door and you just might enjoy it. I try to appreciate it for what it is rather than complain about what it could have been. It’s admittedly hard at times when you think about the wasted potential but at the end of the day I’m glad we got this game at all. At the very least, it gave me and my friends some good memories. It should have been great but it isn’t. It is what it is. At least it’s playable and enjoyable enough. And at least we’ll always have Return of Double Dragon to remind us of what a great SNES Double Dragon game looks like