Prepare yourself, because you may feel old in a moment. Double Dragon has turned 30. This beat’em up series is a staple, though its presence and impact has waned in more recent years. Still, 30 is something to celebrate, so celebrate it we will. Let’s go over what the series is about and some of the entries you should really be playing.
Who are these Double Dragons?
Each Double Dragon game follows Billy and Jimmy Lee. These are twin brothers who practice Sou-Setsu-Ken and have their own dojo. They have quite a bit of trouble with the Shadow Warriors, an antagonistic gang that is also known as the Black Warriors, Gen-Satsu-Ken and Black Shadow Warriors. Basically, they are two martial arts experts who keep getting caught up in situations that send them out to face overwhelming odds and right wrongs. And often end up rescuing Marion Kelly, who is sometimes also called Marian, Mary Ann or even Noiram.
This means going through side-scrolling beat’em ups. While early games tend to limit Billy and Jimmy’s appearances to modern, urban environments, they have also appeared in sewers, on mountains, in deserts and on trains. It is best played with another person, for a co-op experience, though it is possible to go ahead and beat the game on your own.
How many Double Dragon games have there been?
A lot? Yeah, let’s go with a lot. As I mentioned earlier, this is a 30-year-old series. Things happen. Fortunately, it is not too difficult to catch up, thanks to so many modern ports and rereleases.
Double Dragon (Arcades, 1987)
Ah, the original Double Dragon. This is the one that started it all, sending Billy and Jimmy off to save Marion from the Shadow Warriors. It is also the most rudimentary, what with being the very first game. It debuted in arcades, but eventually made its way to systems like the NES, Sega Master System, Genesis, Game Boy and Game Gear. A Game Boy Advance remake in 2003, Double Dragon Advance, made it look and play better. Most recently, the original was made available for the PlayStation 4 as Arcade Archives: Double Dragon in 2015. Just be careful if you play a two-player game, as then you’ll have to fight your companion for Marion’s affections at the end!
Double Dragon II: The Revenge (Arcade, 1988)
So much for Marion! The Shadow Warriors killed her after the events of the previous game, sending Billy and Jimmy off on a quest for revenge. This entry is an upgrade to the original, due to the inclusion of new moves and enemies that look and fight differently. Like the original Double Dragon, Double Dragon II started in arcades, then appeared on systems like the NES, Genesis, Game Boy and Turbo CD. For those looking for a more recent release, Hamster’s Arcade Archives line has PlayStation 4 owners covered again.
Double Dragon III: The Rosetta Stone (Arcade, 1990)
Double Dragon III is weird. There is the arcade version, The Rosetta Stone, which was released in 1990 and appeared in DotEmu’s Double Dragon Trilogy on the PC and mobile devices. In it, Billy, Jimmy, and their random friend Sonny are attempting to find three Rosetta Stones so they can face supernatural opponents and enjoy the world’s strongest fight. This means fighting more Shadow Warriors, of course. The interesting thing here is this installment lets you pick characters other than Billy and Jimmy Lee, opening up different fighting styles, allows three people to play and adds item shops before certain stages where you can buy power-ups.
But, there is also Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones, a parallel project with a similar plot on the NES. Now, even though Marion was dead in Double Dragon II, she is suddenly alive again here. Billy and Jimmy are trying to find the Sacred Stones of Power to save her. Two other characters can join Billy and Jimmy as you play, Chin Seimei and Yagyu Ranzo. Characters also have backup weapons. People who want to play it on a more modern console can get it via the Wii U Virtual Console.
Super Double Dragon (Super Nintendo, 1992)
This was a special occasion for the Double Dragon series. Super Double Dragon didn’t appear in arcades first! It was made specifically for the Super Nintendo. It is unique in that Billy and Jimmy actually have different fighting styles. They can also guard against enemy attacks! As you can guess, the twins are fighting the Shadow Warriors again. It has not been released on the Virtual Console, so you will need to find the actual SNES cartridge to play it.
Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls (Super Nintendo and Genesis, 1994)
Double Dragon V is notable for being the first entry in the series not developed by Technos. Leland Interactive Media took over. It also changed the genre of the game. Instead of a side-scrolling beat’em up, this is a traditional fighting game with 12 characters. Billy and Jimmy are there, of course, and the other ten are members of the Shadow Warriors. Aside from the SNES and Genesis versions, there was also a Jaguar port in 1995. However, it has not been rereleased on any modern systems.
Double Dragon (Arcade and Neo Geo, 1995)
The weirdness continues! Double Dragon is another fighting game, but this time developed by Technos. It is based on the 1994 Double Dragon movie that starred Mark Dacascos, Scott Wolf, Alyssa Milano and Robert Patrick and was set in Los Angeles. Like Double Dragon V, there are 12 playable characters. It eventually appeared on the Neo Geo CD and PlayStation, and people in North America were able to get the PSOne Classic version of it on their PlayStation 3s thanks to MonkeyPaw Games.
Double Dragon Neon (PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, 2012)
Let’s play “one of these things is not like the other.” After a long hiatus, Double Dragon came back thanks to WayForward Technologies and Majesco Entertainment. This reboot was made in that brief period between Technos shutting down and Arc System Works acquiring Technos’ IPs. The Shadow Warriors, led by Skullmageddon, have kidnapped Marion. It is up to the twins to save her. In this entry, you can dodge to gleam and temporarily increase attack power, equip tapes that will boost their stats or work together with the other player to gleam. high five and share health or psych the other person out and cause damage. If you do not have a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, you can also find Double Dragon Neon on PCs.
Double Dragon IV (PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC, 2017)
Arc System Works’ first Double Dragon game attempts to take things back to the old days. This is an installment with retro graphics and both the traditional, side-scrolling beat’em up and one-on-one fighter. Billy and Jimmy are being targeted by both the Shadow Warriors and a new gang called the Renegades. You have to help them defeat both crews. If you play through the game’s Tower Mode, you can even unlock playable characters other than Billy and Jimmy for the campaign.
What about cameos and crossovers?
Even though Billy and Jimmy’s series may have had some gaps with no new games, the characters didn’t sit around, doing nothing. The two made cameos in other games and even starred in a cross-over. The crossover is most notable. Battletoads & Double Dragon is a Rare NES, Genesis, SNES and Game Boy game starring Billy Lee, Jimmy Lee, Pimple, Rash and Zitz. Battletoads’ Dark Queen and Double Dragon’s Shadow Warriors are attempting to take over the entire galaxy. It is up to the toads and martial artists to invade the two enemy groups’ spaceship and save the day. If you want a little more variety, in terms of genre, Super Spike V’Ball on the NES has Billy and Jimmy playing volleyball. Also, the Neo Geo’s Rage of the Dragons has a number of fighters inspired by Double Dragon, like William “Billy” Lewis, James “Jimmy” Lewis and Abubo.