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Coin-Op History 101
Double Dragon

by Michael Thomasson

The immensely popular side-scrolling beat-em up Double Dragon has formed a true legacy. The initial game was released in 1987 by Technos in Japan, and licensed to Taito for manufacture and distribution in the United States and Europe. The original game concept, in addition to the character names, were loosely inspired on the Bruce Lee film, 'Enter the Dragon.'

Interestingly, when Taito released the game internationally, they altered the original Technos Japanese storyline. Since most reading this column reside outside of Japan, we'll focus on Taito's international Double Dragon releases.

Double Dragon

Martial arts masters and brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee attempt to rescue Billy's girlfriend Marian from her abductors known as the Shadow Warriors. The game was playable by two players simultaneously, and in addition to using martial arts moves, the heroes could also use items found in their environment such as knives, whips, baseball bats, sticks of dynamite, boulders and oil drums. Double Dragon contained a shock ending that reveals that the leader of the Shadow Warriors, known as Big Boss Willy, was none other than Billy's own brother, Jimmy Lee. The final battle, if being played cooperatively, bouts the players that were previously in cooperation together against one another! The game was such a HUGE hit that when it was released on home consoles, the game box proudly stated, "You'll never have to stand in line to play Double Dragon again!"

Double Dragon II: The Revenge

The first Double Dragon game was such a big success that Technos and licensing partner Romstar released the first sequel in the growing franchise during the following year. Part two seems to completely ignore the surprise ending from the original, and both brothers are again a team seeking to offer street justice to the Shadow Warriors and their leader, the Shadow Boss. This time their mission isn't a rescue operation, as Billy's girlfriend Marion has been murdered and they are seeking, as the title implies, revenge.

While the first game had individual punch and kick buttons for executing attacks, The Revenge alters the control scheme and implements a 'right attack' and 'left attack' button scenario. The Lee brothers have expanded their martial arts moves and can now perform a devastating new spin kick maneuver.

An interesting fact is that the yelling sound heard when a coin is inserted into the cabinet is a sound sample captured from the coin-op game Kung-Fu Master.

Double Dragon III: The Rosetta Stone

Technos released the third game of the series in 1990, with a fundamentally different design approach both in game play and graphic style. Billy and Jimmy Lee meet with Hiroku, an old and mysterious fortune teller, who challenges the brothers to travel across the globe in search of the Rosetta Stones, and return them to Egypt to battle with the "world's strongest enemy." The third chapter allows for three-player simultaneous cooperative play. The new supporting character is none other than Sonny from Technos' first coin-op release, Tag Team Wrestling. The control set-up from part two was abandoned, and The Rosetta Stone returns to the button scenario of the original Double Dragon.

Interestingly, weapons can not be taken from defeated enemies during game play like in the two preceding installments. Part three contains a shop that can be visited where weapons, special moves and even back-up support characters with different fighting styles that can be recruited for additional aid, must be purchased. The shopping does not require fictional money obtained during the game, but actual real currency. That is correct, you must insert another coin to upgrade your status, making The Rosetta Stone much more expensive to play.

Double Dragon

In March of 1995, the Neo-Geo system was graced with a new Double Dragon game with the identical name of the original game. Again titled simply as Double Dragon, the game is loosely based on the 1994 movie, which was, in turn, based on the game series. It is no longer a side scrolling beat-em up but instead is a one on one fighting game. It draws elements from the previous three Double Dragon arcade games and even references the fourth console-only Super Double Dragon, which was released on the Super Nintendo.

In this version of the game, the two brothers are drawn to their childhood hometown known as Bloody Town, which is no longer a peaceful place but ruled by violence. The story revolves around Koga Shuko and his quest for the Double Dragon medals.

Oddly, this game alters many of the characters from their original conceptual design. For instance, Marian, the weak and previously deceased damsel in distress, is now revived as a lethal combatant. Duke, formerly known outside of Japan as Big Boss Willy, has shaved his beard, abandoned his machine gun, and become a martial artist to be reckoned with!

If you look closely during the Cheng Fu stage, you can spot an original Double Dragon arcade cabinet situated in the large white boat in the background.

Rage of the Dragons

While not an officially licensed Double Dragon game, independent game manufacturer Evoga, in cooperation with publisher Playmore, released a sequel to the Neo-Geo Double Dragon fighting game in September of 2002. The game features the return of the two Lee brothers, Billy and Jimmy; and also the return of Abobo, who has been slightly renamed as Abubo.

If you can't get enough Double Dragon, there are numerous ports of the coin-op games for over a dozen home console systems and classic computers. In addition to the arcade games, there were also original Double Dragon games that premiered and were only available on home consoles:

Super Double Dragon

1992 Super Nintendo

The premiere console-specific Double Dragon title was Super Double Dragon for the Super Nintendo. This title featured a distinctive power meter feature that allowed players to charge up the power meter to perform power moves, such as the spinning jump kick, spinning back-fist, and the cyclone spin kick.

Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team

1993 NES, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis and Game Boy

The Battletoads arch-nemesis, the Dark Queen, has enlisted the Shadow Boss and astonishes all do-gooders by launching out of the moon with an enormous spaceship known as the Colossus. Billy and Jimmy Lee join forces with the Battletoads to battle classic enemies from both game series.

Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls

1994 Atari Jaguar, Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo

This dreadful entry into the series is inspired by the equally dreadful animated Double Dragon cartoon series. Billy runs a martial arts dojo with his brother Jimmy Lee, and does battle one-on-one with the enemy. This game is a fighting game similar to the Neo-Geo arcade Double Dragon, and not a side scrolling beat-em up.

Double Dragon Advance
2003 GameBoy Advance

When Technos of Japan, Corp. went bankrupt, Atlus purchased the rights to Double Dragon. While this version is an update of the original 1987 Double Dragon game, Atlus added so much supplemental content, that it became its own game. Not only has this rendition been given a graphical overhaul, but four additional levels have been introduced to double the amount of game levels. This title also borrows characters, scenarios and attack moves from Double Dragon II and Super Double Dragon.

The Double Dragon legacy continues in other formats, too. The Lee brothers can be found on the silver screen, as an action figure line, on television as a Saturday morning cartoon, as a board game, telephone calling cards, handheld LCD games by Tiger Electronics, a comic book series, trading cards, an audio soundtrack, a beach towel, as an iron-on patch, and more!

Double Dragon
Saturday morning cartoon


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