Celebrating Double Dragon Arcade, The Original Brother Brawler
In a history as extensively varied as the video games industry, the words “influential” and “groundbreaking” get thrown around quite a bit. There’s a lot of good stuff out there and a lot of developers of both big studios and smaller operations are inspired by what came before. That said, if you want to know about a game that revolutionized one industry and inspired another, then you’ve come to the right place. Today we’re talking about the beat’em-up that energized beat’em-ups and practically made the term commonplace in the industry. It is, after all, in this month that the original Double Dragon hit arcades.
Double Dragon’s story began well before it was ever in development, with a man named Yoshihisa Kishimoto. Kishimoto originally worked with Data East and was heading up laser disc titles chasing the success of the famous Dragon’s Lair. Kishimoto had made a name for himself with titles like Cobra Command and Road Blaster and it was this that attracted the attention of Technos. Technos offered Kishimoto a director’s chair and he took it with a game in mind based on his high school days. Kishimoto attributed a part of his inspiration to getting in a lot of fights in high school, mostly due to a rough break-up with a girlfriend. With this in mind and his love for Bruce Lee movies, Kishimoto created his first brawler title by the name of Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun, known as Renegade in North America, which would start a long running franchise and become the immediate predecessor to Double Dragon.
With the success of Kunio-kun, Technos wanted Kishimoto to work on another game. Specifically, the company wanted a two-player game in hopes of making more money off a single arcade machine. Kishimoto returned with a title spawned by his love of cinema and anime, particularly Fist of the North Star, Mad Max, and Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, the last of which inspired the naming of Kishimoto’s new two-player game: Double Dragon. Along with Kunio-Kun, these two franchises were set to cement Kishimoto’s legacy within the video game industry.
Double Dragon is everything we all consider natural to the side-scrolling beat’em-up in its purest form. One to two players travel through several zones taking on multitudes of varied baddies and beating them to a pulp. In addition to the standard punches, kicks and jumps, protagonist brothers Billy Lee and Jimmy Lee could perform several different moves like grabs and special jump kicks. Enemies also carried weapons like baseball bats, whips and dynamite that Billy and Jimmy could take and use against them. All of this was to the end of getting the girl, Billy’s love interest Marian. Of course, if in two-player mode at the end of the game, Billy and Jimmy would have to duke it out to see who really deserves to be with Marian in the end.
For everything it was, Double Dragon made ripples that would echo throughout the gaming industry for decades. It revolutionized side-scrolling in brawlers in a time where few games of its kind had that feature and it introduced most of the mechanics that would become the absolute minimums when it came not only to beat’em-ups, but eventual fighting games as well. Double Dragon didn’t invent the beat’em-up genre by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly set the bar that every other imitator would attempt to clear for years to come.