Double Dragon is easily one of the most influential games of the 1980s; it managed to create a whole sub-genre of arcade brawlers that unfairly sucked the quarters from the kids looking for more to do than just go one-on-one in their fighting games. Games like Final Fight and River City Ransom were spawned from Double Dragon's mold, offering young pugilists a chance to take down hundreds (if no thousands) of gang members all in hopes of saving your girlfriend. With its simple game play and story it's easy to see why a game like Double Dragon could be such a big hit.
But looking back at Double Dragon it's hard to get over some of the game's short comings. For one thing, the game is extremely limited in what you can do. Neither Billy nor Jimmy Lee (the twin brothers) are able to perform more than a few moves, and the whole idea of walking from left to right simply beating people up seem archaic now. And that story, even bad Hollywood beat-em-ups like Road House have more of a story than Double Dragon. This is just one game that does not hold up by today's standard, which might explain why Rockstar Games had to go to great lengths to revive the genre with The Warriors.
But none of these concerns plagued Double Dragon back when this Sega Master System game was released. Back in 1988 it was easy to forgive Double Dragon's short comings because we didn't know any better. This was long before Street Fighter II hit the scene and it's not like there were a mountain of Double Dragon rip-offs over running the console. Back in 1988 this Double Dragon was probably a pretty good catch.
But even then this game was plagued by some development issues. For one thing, the Sega Master System was just not the right console for a game like this. While it's true that the Master System was more powerful than the Nintendo Entertainment System, it's also an 8-bit console that was unable to recreate the graphics and game play accurately. The game has real control problems thanks to the Master System's two-button layout. There are also all sorts of collision detection problems that keep this game from being any fun at all.
When you punch and kick your attacks tend to go right through your enemies. This unfortunate problem tends to mean you're going to get hit (and injured) while you are trying to knock people out. No matter whom you go up against, you're forced to walk up real close to the person and punch while you are also taking their punches. This is the kind of problem you didn't have in the arcade version, the type of problem that keeps this port from feeling like a real game of Double Dragon. Couple this with the fact that you have only a limited amount of moves (of which the flying kick is the most effective ... and hardest to pull off) and you have a game that tries really hard, but just can't recreate the excitement of the arcade original.
The good news is that you will be going through all of the levels you remember from the arcade game ... and you can also enjoy them with a second player. Most of the enemies you remember from the game are here too, but you'll find that they've all been shrunken down and look pretty silly when compared to their arcade counterparts. You will also find the weapons from the arcade game, including knifes and whips and barrels. The game really tries to offer you everything that made the arcade game so memorable, but without the solid game play and good graphics this game just pales in comparison.
It's easy to see why a game like Double Dragon would appeal to so many people, its game play is extremely simple and you never have to spend any time thinking about solving puzzles. This Sega Master System port could have been good, but with its poor controls and repetitive game play this one is hard to recommend. There are far better ports of Double Dragon on other consoles, versions of the game where you are fighting characters like Abobo instead of the control pad. This Master System version isn't terrible; it's just not worth playing.