originally written December 17, 2009 / Last edited August 8, 2020
1987's Double Dragon was a huge arcade senstion that completely redefined the beat-em-up genre that many say IREM's Kung-Fu Master started in 1984. Nekketsu Koha Kunio-kun (a.k.a. Renegade) may have arrived one year earlier, but Double Dragon's refinements on those play mechanics were more like stone tablets enscribed with brawler commandments, carried down from the mountain by a denim-vested diety who smote the wicked with aluminum baseball bats and booted feet. Everything from its two-player simultaneous gameplay, isometric playfield, control scheme, fighting options, detailed graphics and designs of the characters themselves are what truly set the standard for most of the beat-em-ups that followed. Technos raised the bar rather high and their competitors either made earnest attempts to rise to the challenge or made shameless rip-offs that fell flat. Sure, we got some fun games like Bad Dudes vs. Dragonninja, but the next evolution of the Beat 'Em Up wouldn't happen until 1989.
Besides the classic "hero saves girl from gang" storyline (though this game has players rescuing a jail cell full of kidnapped beauties), this game doesn't play like a complete Double Dragon rip, something that can't be said for many BEU games from 1987 to 1989. Like many of Konami's later arcade side-scrollers, the main version of this game allows four players to play at once, a set-up also seen in their 1988 wrestling game, The Main Event. The graphical style still resembles their earlier side-scrollers like Jail Break and Rush 'n Attack (a.k.a. Green Beret), but with hints of the detail that would make Konami's later games a wonder to see in action. If you're a fan of Konami's brawlers, you'll find a few of your favorite things in here including the ability to attack fallen enemies before they get back up, driving a kneecap into the sensitive area of the bad guys (complete with the sound of a fight bell being rung), and blunt weapons or boss attacks knocking victims into the background's walls. Many of the bosses make some fun first impressions, like the gas-guzzling biker you see over there. This is also one of the early Konami games to feature backgrounds that threaten to steal the show. More than just being something to fill space behind the beatdowns, these background contain advertisements that take on a life of their own, hazards that can produce cartoon-like effects if they hit you and much more detail many stages that you'll find from this time period.
Unfortunately, the game is a bit rough around the edges. Problems with attack timing, attack range and other issues never let the game play completely gel. The game is still more playable than many of the failed Beat 'Em Ups of this era, but the game lacks a certain spark. Such is the price of innovation and we all know that Konami's experimentation here paid off like mad later. I can't find precise release dates on this game, but most of the online references (and my own memories) talk about seeing Crime Fighters in arcades before the next game I'm going to talk about. Hindsight makes it glaringly obvious that this is Konami's transitional brawler and is right on the edge of what would become one of their greatest game recipes.
All of this effort would have been for nothing if the game wasn't such an accessible game to play. The controls are simple but cover a wide range of options and can be easily figured out in a few moments with the only learning curve being the jumpkick methods, picking up on the attack patterns and paying attention to the stage. The fighting does owe a bit to Double Dragon's more contextual method of fighting, in which the position of your character compared to your opponent or where you are in the jump determines the move when you press attack. It was a blast to play this game with three other people in the arcade because you rarely had to worry if the player knew how to play or if they'd accidentally beat the crap out of you and cost you a life. Just like Crime Fighters, there are little interactions with the background that can work against you and some that will help you fight the enemy in a way that the Turtles would do in the show. This game had the total package and went far beyond your usual tie-in game by being a great game in its own right. The popularity of the Turtles led to the popularity of the game, which made beat-em-ups even more popular. It's a shame that few companies would put forth as much effort as Konami did, as many of their competitors simply used licenses to trick people into wasting money on rushed, poorly-made games. Fortunately, one of the few companies to match these efforts of fully utilizing a license with great, accessible play mechanics just happens to be another company that made a 1989 beat-em-up that helped mold the beat-em-up genre forever or else I wouldn't have been able to make this strained segue-way...
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