Double Dragon: Any Port In a Storm

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?

Double Dragon isn’t unique, of course. Porting has been around since the very beginning of gaming, of course. Home versions of Pong surfaced shortly after that game’s debut. One of the most infamous was the Atari version of Pac-Man, which was only vaguely connected to its namesake.

Aside from the hurt feelings of wide-eyed youth, allowance in hand and hearts about to be shattered by the limitations of technology, this doesn’t seem like it would be that important… except that video games make this a thorny subject. Music covers are considered different songs. Stagings of plays are considered different performances. Remakes of films are different films. Yet video games, uniquely, are considered the same yet different: a homoousian approach that doesn’t really fit despite being understandable.

Human beings like comfort (with the exception of masochists), and familiar situations are the most comfortable. It’s coded in our DNA: that which we have tried before is safe and not hazardous. It’s the reason why people flock to sequels and remakes. It’s why so many strip malls and housing developments look the same. New equals scary. Different equals uncertainty. Same-ol’-same-ol’ equals contentment (if not satisfaction).

Ports allow that. We get the same fun feelings we once did while leading Billy and Jimmy Lee through a city filled with thugs, but in the comfort of our own home. No unwashed masses to deal with, or—with the advent of the Wii Virtual Console and other wayback machines—no need to dust off ye olde Sega Master System. Our memories come flooding back. Serotonin levels increase. We are happy.

Best of all, we don’t have to put up with awful translations of software anymore. Most (if not all) major consoles can emulate older games to a near perfect degree. Ports across the Xbox and PS3 are largely the same (to be fair, the same can’t be said for the Wii versions). There’s no need to take shortcuts, to downgrade colors or animation from the arcade.

This is a shame, in a way. What we get in perfect emulation and perfect connections to the games of yore, we lose in imagination. Programmers once had to think up creative ways to port titles across platforms. Some were successful. Others were not. Yet in the effort, they were able to put their own stamp on a game that, like a guitarist covering “Tangled Up in Blue”, made it uniquely theirs.

The result, at least in terms of Double Dragon, was recognizable but different. It didn’t have all of the same features, but it was fun in its own way. It’s hard to find a DD cabinet nowadays, but the Game Boy version of the title is still easy to download on the 3DS. It’d be better to have both versions but the fact that the port is considered more worth saving than the original says something about the power of individualism-through-interpretation.

People want something easily recognizable, but maleability is what makes the individual and society better in the long-run. Consuming the same thing over and over leads to stagnancy. Like Darwinism, the better adapted survive while others die off. What results is a progression of species… er, titles… that speak to modern fans of all kinds (not just hardcore) and their platforms.

Homogeny is not good. If every version of Double Dragon was the same, people would not have gotten to appreciate the subtle charms of the good versions of the game… or learned about the nefariousness of certain rushed productions that separated them from their money. In both cases, the consumer comes out ahead, as does the market, as does the artform.

It’d be nice to have it every way. There would be direct translations, differentiated content, and interpretations of existing material. Consumers could choose one or all. Or none. There’d be an arcade-true version of Double Dragon, the NES version, an Xbox Live version crafted by indie developers under license, and a new sequel. Flooding the marketplace? Only if you overcharge. Human beings like familiarity, remember, even if said familiarity is different at its core.

Imagine, if you will, a Shigeru Miyamoto-version of Double Dragon. Not a next-gen remake, mind you, but a true adaptation done in the style of the grandmaster. What would the maker of Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, et al do if forced back into the 8-bit era? Would he still have his chops, or has the next generation of technology spoiled him?

That’s how it’s supposed to happen, and that’s the way it was… once. It’s the way it could be. It’s not the way it is. Oh well. At least one can still kick some old-school ass with Billy and Jimmy; pick your poison(ous platform) and load up.

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