Double Dragon is a lot of things. It’s an 80’s style beat-um-up. It’s one of the earliest examples of two-player co-op. It’s the most successful game ever released by the Taito Corporation. It’s a reason sibling-on-sibling violence increased in 1987, due to the ability to beat your own co-player (this may be a joke; maybe).
What it is not is a single title. This is not in reference to the sequels, but the original game itself. Originally an arcade title, DD has since been translated onto no less than twenty consoles and operating systems. Almost every single one of them—by the very nature of the platform’s limitations—looked and played much differently. The NES even changes the main antagonist and gets rid of the co-op. How can this possibly be considered the same game as the arcade version?
As anyone who reads this knows, I’m a legacy gamer of sorts, at least insofar as my mom was playing video games before I was ever born. I was never scolded for playing too many games, even when maybe I should have been, but it was not long before I surpassed her in breadth of knowledge and skill when it came to gaming.
Before any of that, though, I didn’t know the difference between a penny and a quarter.
People were decrying the influence of video games on popular culture way before Mortal Kombat came onto the scene. Arcades were time-(and money-)wasters. Tetris rotted your brain. Portable gaming systems destroyed kids’ patience (or tried that of their parents, really). If you’re a gamer who grew up in the ’80s, you know what I’m talking about.
These were just the typical portents of the doom of civilization through technology that proved to be almost entirely without base, and most people knew it. How dangerous could dumping block after block on top of one another really be? Were Mario Mario and his brother, Luigi Mario, really that much worse than the A-Team? Hadn’t people heard the same kind of arguments about film, television, and rock n’ roll? Despite a couple busts, video games got more and more popular every year with little-to-no outside intervention regarding their content.
… that is, until 1992, when a gamer could finally rip the still-beating heart out of an opponent’s chest. At that point, everything changed.
You don’t see too many arcades anymore. Most are flagging dinosaurs, nostalgia fuel, or on fire. These days, the best arcades are made of cardboard. But there was a time when arcades were the place to go if you wanted to get your gamer on. They were the land of giants, sleek and sexy arenas where women wore evening dresses and men took their martinis shaken, not stirred.
One of the most interesting aspects of art is how it can serve as commentary “after the fact.” That is, it can speak for itself at the time and then gain additional meaning as the context of its place in history becomes fixed. Casablanca is a great film not just because it had a great script, but because it is a film about Nazis produced and released before the climax of World War II. It’s easy for us to look back and see how Rick and Ilsa will probably survive the conflict, but imagine the true anxiety that audiences must have felt on their behalf with VE Day still over two years away. The film, like so many others in so many other contexts, survives because it has resisted any possible attempt to pigeonhole it. Its meaning changes every year and for everyone who watches it.
The same can be said for Dragon’s Lair. Though Dirk the Daring’s quest to rescue Daphne from the clutches of the dragon, Singe, seems rather quaint compared to the hundred-hour epics of today, it is impossible to overstate its importance to the growth of its medium. One could write a book on all of its pros and cons, but I’ll stick with just three for now…
Gaming is flush with titles that are impossible to beat. I don’t mean so-hard-that-they-appear-impossible, or games with glitches that prevent anyone from seeing an endscreen (if there ever was one). I mean games that are ACTUALLY impossible to beat: they are/were designed so that nobody could truly defeat them.