Congrats, Billy and Jimmy!
Double Dragon may be more well-known for its spin-offs nowadays, but the series was a part of arcade and home console gaming back in the day. Pretty much everyone with an NES either owned Double Dragon or knew someone who did, and that title practically alone is responsible for the continued popularity of the beat’em-up genre 35 years later.
In honor of Double Dragon’s 35th anniversary, Takaomi Kaneko from Arc System Works has shared some extremely interesting insight into how the original game to be. In particular, the game’s difficulty and friendly fire aspects are discussed, with some surprising details shared!
The original Double Dragon is a pretty trying beat’em-up, especially if you’re going it alone. According to Kaneko, this was very much by design, as the game was meant to be played co-op. That’s why NES players had such trouble with the game, as there’s no co-op in that version, just a two-player mode where each player takes turns.
As the game was designed for arcades, there was no plan to balance its gameplay. To encourage players to team up with friends, Double Dragon was designed to be extremely difficult to complete for a solo player, requiring considerable skill. This encouraged cooperative play to make the challenge surmountable – and therefore add more coins to the machine.
Kaneko also talked about the game’s ‘friendly fire’ feature, which means you can accidentally (or sometimes on purpose) hit your co-op buddy. This is an element of pretty much all Double Dragon games going forward, and it turns out this feature came to be through play-testing.
Location tests in the arcade sector are a way of gaining player feedback. These allow the development team to see how the game performs by bringing the cabinet to a small number of select locations and monitoring players’ reactions. Friendly fire had been designed and implemented in the game at this point. During the US localization tests for Double Dragon, the team observed that many players who started a two-player game not only played cooperatively, but also started attacking each other. The mechanic would remain for the game’s full release.
Kaneko certainly has more to share on the Double Dragon franchise, as does Tomm Hulett of WayForward. You can read their thoughts in the full feature here.