One of the forerunners of the arcade beat-em-up genre during the 1980s was Double Dragon, and the series celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Released in arcades in July 1987, the game managed to introduce more than a few concepts that later became standard in the genre.
Double Dragon was developed by Technos Japan as somewhat of a spiritual successor to Nekketsu Koha Kunio-Kun (“Hot-Blodded Tough Guy Kunio,” released in English-speaking countries as Renegade). Players could control Billy Lee or his twin Jimmy, who have teamed up to defeat the Black Warriors Gang in order to rescue Billy’s girlfriend, Marian. The game was divided into a number of different missions, with a boss character found at the end of each stage.
The ability to play cooperatively was a major step forward for the beat-em-up style of game, and made the game a significantly popular addition to arcades during the ‘80s. Double Dragon also allowed players to pick up and use weapons that enemies had dropped, such as bats and chains.
Double Dragon quickly saw a number of home console ports, with the first being to the Nintendo Entertainment System. The NES port had a number of significant changes to the game due to technical limitations; only two enemies could be rendered on-screen at a time, and the co-op mode was removed in favor of alternating play. The plot was changed accordingly – Billy served as the only protagonist, while his twin emerged as the true leader of the Black Warriors. Further ports were made to several home computer systems as well as the Sega Master System and the Nintendo Game Boy.
The inaugural title received a sequel, Double Dragon II: The Revenge, in 1988, and another, Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone in 1990. Super Double Dragon arrived on the Super Nintendo in 1992, and a crossover with the Battletoads franchise released the year after. The game also received a six-issue comic series from Marvel in 1991, an animated television show which ran from 1993 to 1995, and a live-action movie in 1994. The series has actually continued this year with the fourth numbered entry, Double Dragon IV, for PlayStation 4 and Windows PC; though it received mixed reviews, the fact that the franchise has been around for 30 years is certainly a testament to the timelessness of the beat-em-up genre.