When it comes to genres with deep gaming experiences, there is one that is particularly shallow: Beat em ups, aka Brawlers. These games back in the day didn’t really expect a lot intellectual firepower to be spent - just quarters. As a result, they opened the world of gaming to a much larger audience than many games at the arcade. They were immediately understandable and intuitive to play. It didn’t matter if you were six years old or sixteen (or sixty). You moved a joystick around and slapped at one or two buttons until your on-screen foes were eliminated. You were even given visual cues to walk your character to the right when a screen of bad guys had been wiped out just in case you weren’t sure what to do next.
Like Golden Axe
, Double Dragon and its sequels were arcade hits in the late 80s. Indeed, the only real difference between Golden Axe and Double Dragon is the theme: one is fantasy and one is based on urban gang violence.
It is really easy for many of us to forget what gaming at home in the late 80s looked like. The Super NES wouldn’t even hit US shores until 1991. Most gamers, for really good looking and sounding games, simply had to go to arcades - there was no comparison. Home alternatives ranged from microcomputers (e.g. Apple IIs, C64, Tandy, Amiga, Atari, etc.) or consoles (Atari, Coleco, Intellivision, NES, Sega Master System).
When it came to arcade ports, games were instantly judged by their appearance. Next came sound, then the controls. Almost none ever stacked up.
So in 1989, when Double Dragon II (DD2) became available for Amiga, the graphics must have simply been jaw dropping to die-hard gamers and lovers of all video games. Nothing on the market even came close to what Richard Alpin at Binary Designs was able to reproduce. The original Double Dragon had been released the year before, and had been universally panned. Not so with DD2.
The graphics are a very close match to what could have been found in the arcade cabinet. The opening theme music by Tomas Dahlgren is simply jaw dropping. If you haven’t heard it, I highly recommended spending 90 seconds with some decent headphones. We've posted a raw video on YouTube so you could check it out
. And the controls are very smooth and responsive.
To be frank, the Amiga doesn’t have a ton of exceptional arcade ports. Double Dragon II comes close and should be considered one of the better attempts.
It does have a few issues at least worth mentioning.
A couple of fighting moves are missing. The most noticeable is the one where you can grab an opponent by the hair and knee them in the face repeatedly. Also the AI of the bad guys is a bit rough around the edges. If you happen to get a chain whip, you can pretty much stand in place and just let them all walk into you until you kill them all. This tactic seems to work surprisingly often. But since the balance of the bad guys is a bit off, i.e. if they hit you your energy bar takes huge damage, you kind of need something like bad AI to help you out.
The game offers 1-player mode or a 2-player cooperative mode. One nice thing about the Amiga version is the use of only a single fire button to initiate attacks. In the arcade version there was a punch button and a kick button (and a combination of the two). For the Amiga, you only had one button to mess with so combining it with joystick moves produces most of the techniques needed.
You only get 2 credits from what I can see. As a result, you have a much better chance of progressing further in the game in 1-player mode as fun as 2-player can be. Also, since there are no cracks for this game that means there are also (to my knowledge) no cheats. So it really is like the arcade, except you only have 2 quarters. Good luck! I made it to the end of stage 2. There are four stages (it's not a very long game).
People often wonder - and get downright nasty about - why arcade ports seem to be so weak on the Amiga and other platforms from the 80s and early 90s.
Richard Alpin, the coder of Double Dragon and several other ports explained on Retro Asylum
"It seems people nowadays have some misconceptions regarding the way the industry worked back in those days – budgets were small, typically one programmer would do e.g. CPC and Spectrum versions of something – coding from scratch – in just a few months. Everyone was very busy and the focus was on delivering the product on time (which was extremely important for arcade conversions, they were usually targeted at the Christmas market; “Granny Money” as we used to call it). Having the result be acceptable quality and done on time was MUCH more important than making it as good as it possibly could be.
Remember the publisher had typically spent a lot of money on licensing fees and usually they expected the game to sell almost regardless of how good it was because kids would recognize the name and want it.
Quality of the end result was not the #1 focus for anyone involved except perhaps the actual programmer taking pride in their work – and schedules were tight. If the game didn’t get delivered to the duplicators on time, we’d get sued / go bust; so that’s how it was."
In addition - and this shocked me - many of the teams told to port games were never given any
source code or even art files from the original parent companies that created the arcade games. It was up to these small teams with pressure-cooker schedules to produce it all by hand.
"I never had any help from the arcade PCB companies (Sega etc) at all. We either got a whole cabinet or in some cases just a bare PCB. It would have been great to have had some source code, gfx, etc, but.. no."
It’s no wonder so many ports wound up looking like they did when graphics - and even AI - had to be built from scratch, and not even with the ability to easily compare pixels. Hopefully they at least got some cheat codes! It’s pretty remarkable what got produced under the circumstances, even the “bad” stuff, in my opinion.
Overall, Double Dragon II is a very good port and deserves to be in our collections.
This game was played on an NTSC Amiga 500 via original floppy.
Double Dragon II is almost legendary when it comes to its copy protection schemes. The game came on a single floppy disk but resisted most attempts to be copied. As a result, most ADFs floating around out there simply don’t work on most hardware.
However, it goes a step further. Apparently the floppy disk version could not be played on a machine with a “new Agnus” chip, either. The only way I could get the game to run was on an original Amiga 500 with no upgrades.
See a first-time unboxing of the NOS game, as well as more on how to get the game to work on classic hardware, here
You can also play DD2 via WHDLoad
, should you have that option available to you. If so, several bugs were cleaned up along the way.