Everyone who grew up with the NES back in the late ’80s to early ’90s had their own favorite franchises. The Super Mario Bros. series, Contra, Castlevania, Mega Man and so forth. With the arrival of the Super Nintendo we were all daydreaming about which of our NES favorites were next for the 16-bit treatment. One of my favorite franchises was Double Dragon. When I think of beat ‘em ups, my mind immediately goes to Double Dragon. Not Streets of Rage. Not Golden Axe. Not even Final Fight. Nope, my first thought has always been and will forever be… DOUBLE DRAGON. So you can imagine my cry for joy when Super Double Dragon graced North American shores October of 1992.
RETURN OF DOUBLE DRAGON
Everything about Return of Double Dragon: Sleeping Dragon Has Awoke is better, including this badass box art. There are several reasons why the Japanese version is better:
- You can actually catch the boomerang. In the US version it knocks you down
- You can switch weapons. In the US version you are stuck with what you have
- Your Hurricane Kick can connect for multiple hits. In the US version it stops at one. Lame!
- Less insane difficulty
- Option mode to adjust lives plus a sound test
- Expanded final stage
- Less knife and bomb damage
The rest of this review will strictly be based on the Japanese version.
MEMORIES FROM A BYGONE ERA
My brother and I were huge Double Dragon fans dating back to 1988 when the first game came out for the NES. We absolutely loved the sequel but the less said about Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones, the better.
Growing up I was lucky to have a close knit group of family friends. About once a month we gathered for a big sleepover. I fondly recall waking up bright and early Sunday mornings and diving right into Super Double Dragon that holiday season of ’92. The game holds an incredible amount of nostalgia for me — any time I see its visuals or hear its music I am instantly transported back to Brian’s room. It’s a bright crisp Sunday morning, shards of sunlight poking through the bedroom window, birds are chirping and we’re whupping some serious ass together while the smell of eggs and bacon permeates over from the kitchen. Those were the good old days. The golden era of my youth. Every once in a blue moon when I’m feeling super nostalgic, I bust this game out on an early Sunday morning. It never fails to bring a smile to my face, but what amazes me most is how well it’s held up nearly 25 years later.
THE STORY GOES…
The weapons are so satisfying to use. There’s nothing better than flinging a blade at the Shadow Warriors. I also love the sound effect the knife makes whenever it hits the ground. Few beat ‘em ups have more effective weapons than right here.
Certain weapons in other beat ‘em ups seem to hinder you more than help. That’s just wrong. Any weapon in this type of genre should aid you, not make you even more vulnerable to incurring damage. This game gets it right — these weapons turn you into an unstoppable force. I especially love how you can deflect back weapons with a well-timed nunchuck swing!
Few things are as satisfying as beating up thugs in the tiny confined space of an elevator. It makes you feel like you’re playing out some epic martial arts flick.
Kicking them from behind like such felt so good.
By the way, there was a wrestler in the WWF known as Test in the late ’90s. All I could think when I first saw Test was: “He’s Jackson in the flesh.”
Timed right, you can deflect knives with your fist! Now that’s badass. Also, use the punching bag to your advantage. It’s little details like this that makes this game a blast to play.
Jackson’s uppercut is LEGIT. Too bad for him though that he hit the punching bag in the process too hard…
Almost fell out of my chair the first time I saw this. He freaking caught it, wow!
Nunchucks can deflect weapons, too. Sick!
Timed and placed properly, you can trap bad guys in a rather compromising position.
Those small wooden boxes add a nice bit of flavor and personality to this boss fight. This game always manages to strike a chord with my imagination.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Super Double Dragon graced the cover of EGM but strangely was never reviewed. I’m not sure why. This might mark the only game ever to grace EGM’s cover without ever eventually being reviewed. GameFan gave Super Double Dragon ratings of 95 and 98% in their first issue (October 1992). It was the third highest rated game out of 36 titles that they rated in their debut issue. Super Play on the other hand wasn’t as impressed, scoring the game a paltry 68%. Over the years folks seem to be split on Super Double Dragon. One camp dislikes it because of how slow it is. The other camp loves the variety of moves along with excellent visuals and sound. If you’ve yet to play this game, or if it’s been a while, definitely play the Japanese version if you can.
Return of Double Dragon is one of my favorite beat ‘em ups not only on the Super Nintendo but of all time. It felt like such an epic all encompassing adventure. You start out under the bright lights of Las Vegas kicking ass in the streets of Sin City. Talk about a hot start! Then you traverse to places such as an airport, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and China Town, a thug-filled forest and of course things conclude in a heavily fortified fortress. It’s got all the tropes of an epic action flick from the late ’80s to early ’90s. The amazingly detailed, intricate and diversified visuals captivated my imagination 25 years ago — hell, they still do to this day. While I do wish the sprites were a bit bigger, Return of Double Dragon more than holds up visually. The music is just classic Double Dragon. Hearing that classic NES theme in 16-bit form never fails to give me goosebumps. The game is a blast to play with all the moves available, counters, weapons and perhaps best of all the interactive environment. Where else can you send a punching bag crashing into a goon? Many beat ‘em ups suffer from repetition. This one stays fresh from start to finish with subtly sadistic moments of creativity and brilliance interspersed throughout.
It’s not without a few flaws, however. It does play a bit on the slower side so if you’re more into faster beat ‘em ups (such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time), then the pace of play here may come off as a bit plodding. Personally, I don’t think it is plodding but I can see how others would feel that way. Another negative is that the game was rushed out the door in time for the Christmas season, so a lot of little features were cut out due to time. This is evident by a lack of cutscenes, plot details and a proper ending. As a result it really feels bare bones. But these are minor gripes. Return of Double Dragon does so much more good than bad. The sheer amount of moves you can execute would make Michael Jackson green with envy. Having such a wide arsenal of tactics at your disposal makes playing this game a blast. At times you can’t help but feel like a complete badass! Whether you’re blocking jump kicks, countering attacks or leaping off of pillars, Return of Double Dragon makes you feel like you’re Bruce F’N Lee! Sure it’s not perfect, but I feel this entry in the series is too often underappreciated. If you can overlook the slightly slower pace of play, then you’re in for an ass kicking treat.
Here’s a video I published back in 2015