The Double Dragon series is incredibly important to video game history. As one of the pioneering titles in the "beat-em-up" genre, it introduced millions of quarter-pumping arcade junkies to street brawls augmented with throwing knives and whips. The first time I remember swearing in front of my parents was while playing Double Dragon, which made asking for another quarter to keep playing incredibly awkward.
Over the years, I've probably spent several hundred dollars playing Double Dragon I, II and III, so it was a no-brainer to plunk down US$2.99 of my own money for the chance to have these classic titles on my iPhone. This mobile update brings with it a few new tricks and one glaringly harsh reality; you will probably never beat Double Dragon with "one quarter."
Double Dragon Trilogy is a faithful port of all three arcade versions of Billy and Jimmy's adventures. There are a few new gameplay modes which mostly consist of scaling the difficulty from the original arcade game's "swearing in front of your mother for the first time" level to a less frustrating mobile difficulty, which will still probably have you swearing under your breath. For the truly masochistic, there is an expert level.
Every Double Dragon game is hard. They're throwbacks to an era where a game's difficulty was just as much about profit as it was fun. If you think Candy Crush asking you to wait 30 minutes or pay a dollar to keep playing is obnoxious, you would have committed ritual suicide in an '80s arcade.
In keeping with tradition Double Dragon Trilogy is a frustratingly difficult game. The learning curve of this title is already steep, but when you factor in the virtual controls of the iPhone, it sort of becomes like learning to ride a bike again. Its controls are responsive, but it takes a bit of time to make the transition from joystick to virtual thumb pad. Just stick with it; you have a girlfriend to rescue/avenge!
Once you get the hang of the controls and stop swearing, you'll notice the unsung hero of Double Dragon Trilogy -- the wonderfully remixed music. These games have always had wonderfully epic, slightly cheesy soundtracks, and the remix job by Developer DotEmu sounds massive even on your tiny iPhone speakers. Double Dragon II in particular shines in the sound design department. Each punch crunches and I'm regularly finding myself humming its tunes in the shower.
Multiplayer is possible via local Bluetooth support, so be prepared to have your partner sitting close to you if you want to fullly experience the double in Double Dragon. Over Bluetooth, the game runs smoothly with no hiccups or lag that might lead to your player taking a random cheap punch. People have spent 26 years playing two-player Double Dragon shoulder to shoulder with a friend. While the lack of online multiplayer is a disappointment, at least we get a two-player mode.
The collection's one major weakness however is Double Dragon III, which is ironically crippled due to the original title's in-game purchases. Yes, even in 1990, games were being ruined by in-game purchases. Double Dragon III features weapons shops where gamers could buy new moves, characters, weapons and power ups for a quarter. You'll notice I said "could." DotEmu has unfortunately not included the ability to simulate feeding DD3 quarters, meaning you can go into the shops you'll find throughout the game only to be mocked with the reality that you can't fully experience the title.
While I respect DotEmu for not seizing the opportunity to add in-app purchases for their $2.99 title, it's frustrating to not be able to play as any of the other playable characters. Hopefully they'll update the title at some point to include the full game. Still it isn't the greatest loss. While Double Dragon III is an interesting part of the series' history, it was originally rushed into development to meet the release of a movie that ended up not coming out in 1990. Accordingly the gameplay doesn't feel as smooth as that found in its siblings, meaning you'll probably find yourself spending most of your time with the first two games.
How much enjoyment you get out of Double Dragon Trilogy will depend entirely on your tolerance of the title's incredible difficulty. Old-school gamers throw around the phrase "Nintendo hard" a lot these days, but dear lord NES had nothing on arcade games. Once you get used to the virtual controls, and ignore that a big part of Double Dragon III is unplayable, you're left with a wonderful burst of classic arcade action.
For such a seemingly simple series, Double Dragon always had an extra layer of depth for people who took the time to learn the secret special moves and tactics of the enemies. On a bright day in 1987, you probably would have spent $3 playing Double Dragon without getting to the end of the game. It's nice to know that 27 years later, for the cost of one afternoon at the arcade, you can have an infinite number of chances to save Billy's and Jimmy's significant others. Maybe with enough practice I'll finally make it to the end of the game this time.