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The Revenge

I first saw Double Dragon II at a pizza joint in Oregon. It was gray and pouring outside, but warm and bustling inside. The controls had parmesan cheese and a bunch of other crap on them, but it was worth putting my hand in all that gunk to play one of the hottest games out. The difficulty was ramped-up so high that I only got to play once; I got destroyed in the first stage by a teleporting biker. A teleporting...biker? Yes, but we'll get into the logic of that later. After that, I was reduced to watching other people play it. The two ridiculous green sword dudes were awesome! Their movement, their attacks; I was pulling their moves off on my friends for weeks.

It's not just the game itself that stood out; the artwork was epic, and still is. It depicts a blood fued that has escalated into a full-blown war. The brothers, fighting to the death from the edge of a rooftop; Billy with Marion on one arm and an enemy whip wrapped around the other, then Jimmy with a crushing left as the impending doom of a helicopter looms in the background. There's a lot going on, but Billy stands out in this picture because we've seen this imagery before throughout history; the arms of justice.

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"Arms Of The Truth"
One arm clutching the good of purity, the other clutching a strangling evil. The imagery is familiar and speaks volumes. It's likely this one piece of artwork drove sales more than the gameplay itself, probably superseding its own reputation. Games these days lack this cover art appeal; new ones have boring covers, and cool covers of old ones are lost in emulation. Before emulation, though, DDII was released in its purest form on the Sega Genesis (in Japan). But you'd never know, since it's either completely unknown, ignored, or trashed by "fans." The few who actually do know of its existence slam it in favor of inferior versions (that are not even close to the arcade version) with no disregard to the era in which it was released.

 

It didn't get a faithful home release for a while, so to true fans who played the arcade version, the Genesis home release was probably a long time coming. Back then, there couldn't have been a better way to play the game at your own convenience without having to worry about quarters! Unless, of course, you had the money to buy the arcade unit, shipped it, lugged it in, and found a corner of your home for it. But, really, of the generation of players that were raised with the series, who really had the money to get an arcade unit for home use? Nobody did. That's why it was so awesome when the Genesis version came out. Just a few bills got you the domestic Genesis "Core" hardware, imported game, and the import-friendly Game Genie. Like the Genesis version of the first game, it had all the awesome gang-fighting action and cool graphics of the arcade...in your home!

 

"Beholder Of Justice"
DDII could have been cooler in design than DD, but noticeable oddities only break it even. Billy and Jimmy look even cooler in white/gray than red/blue, the gang leader looks even more menacing, and regular enemies look even more brute/rotten than before. However, metabolic-syndrome IT department nerds, teleporting bikers, and sweatpant swordsmen are all just too ridiculous to ignore. The sword dudes in green sweatpants are probably the least odd of them all, but there's just something that makes me wonder why they had to wear sweatpants, and why they had to be green. The metabolic-syndrome IT department nerd isn't just the only character ever in a game with such a health condition, but he could be the worst-looking enemy in any game, ever. Of all-time.

 

A teleporting biker makes no sense at all, either. And what's with Abobo's emo hair replacement? These guys are abysmal, and downright painful to look at. The only thing good that comes out of this is that they look so bad you really want to destroy them and move on so that you never have to see them ever again. Serious as a heart attack; they really do look that bad, and are truly a motley crew (not to be confused with the "DrXFeelXGoodX" butt-rock band). The gang stomping grounds are familiar, but I always liked how DDII seemed more modern. It's still like a tour of underground brawl locales like construction sites, but overall more of a war spread across the rooftops of the city. Brawling through DD's colorful locales was fun, and warring through DDII's rough battlegrounds is even more raw and thrilling.

 

"The Rise Of Brutality"
The brutal gameplay from DD was back, but new controls made it harder to use the same (elbow smash) tactics. Enemies in DDII are dirty as hell (literally), and as Richard Pryor told Gene Wilder in Stir Crazy, "if you're not bad around here, you're gonna get fucked." Shovels, grenades, and morning stars are some of the visceral new weapons they've brought to war, and you can get them if you're bad-enough. It's a rush using a morning star on some shovel-wielding jerk, or using a shovel to go up against teleporting bikers. You gotta watch out, though, because when you turn their weapons against them, they start using stuff like farming equipment against you. It may sound funny until you get caught in vicious rotating metal blades. Time them jumps!

 

Of course, you have a new Spinning Cyclone Kick and environmental hazards to even out the odds. You can still dispatch enemies by kicking or throwing them on conveyor belts and off edges like in the first game, but it's so much cooler to rocket them off the edge with a Spinning Cyclone Kick! The werewolf-looking dudes from the first game especially deserve it to ensure their future absence. This violence is not unwarranted, though, and is a direct result of tragedy that unfolds at the start of the game. Marian doesn't just get punched in the stomach and taken away like in DD; in DDII, she gets shot in cold blood and left for dead. Though nothing can bring her back from her untimely departure at the hands of the gang leader, it's this vendetta that drives you to burn through the game.

 

The Crushing Sound(s) Of Defeat
The first game had some incredibly heavy music for the early technology behind it. It wasn't the dynamic CD-quality audio that would be seen in future video games, but it was abrasive-enough to fit the fighting going down onscreen. Moreover, the music was actually memorable and even had hard-core breakdowns! DDII naturally progresses on the same path and only deviates slightly while staying in the same direction of the game's theme of loss and revenge. There are less breakdowns, but the stage clear music has some crazy blast-beats, and stage three has some of the most memorable music from the 16-bit generation. The sounds of hand-to-hand combat haven't changed much, either, except the enemy death metal grunts added to go with their new and (un)improved crusty looks.

 

Fair-weather Fans
So, then, how could "fans" bash such a great game? Apparently for being too close to the original (an addictively fun, timeless classic). But, how could it be a bad thing to deliver more of something so good? And while some of the backgrounds may look similar, they are not "recycled." Examples include how there are no back alley or cave parts, and how the gang hideout is completely different from the one in the first game. Both may have rocky entrances, but the marble floors, gold (bronze?) pillars, and blatantly "Oriental" interior separate the one in DDII from the stone interior and "Western" interior of the one in DD. How any "fan" could miss these differences is baffling, not to mention the "Oriental" and "Western" spear-wielding statues.

 

Then there's the residual emphasis on platforming from the original game (which apparently wasn't enough for "fans" who enjoy falling repeatedly into into pits and off cliffs). Speaking of dying, how do we even know that Marian miraculously comes back to life after being gunned-down? Sites out there are claiming she lived. Didn't she blink a few times and then disappear after being gunned-down? Is there any text confirmation she came out of it all alive? All I gotta say is, how serious can someone's "humble opinion" of this game be if their favorite enemy is the metabolic-syndrome IT department computer nerd boss? My opinion is not humble; it's meant to beat you over the head. It's not perfect, but DDII is a natural progression of the original, and one of the best side-scrolling fighters of all-time.

 
Dragon Force Without Ballads
Double Dragon II
may not be a new game, but its still appealing today even to youngsters who weren't around when it was big. It may look primitive next to anything that came after it, but it's easy for anyone to jump in and play, and it's a blast with friends! Of course, there's something to be said about the game's cover art; a certain intrigue and mystery of what lies ahead of our heroes that have been torn from the red. The picture portrays a struggle for a buxom blonde who gets gunned-down right before your eyes, and it is this tragedy that immerses you into a struggle that isn't just about Revenge, but all out war.

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