Released: 1988 / Master System
The topic of the most recent (and always excellent) Retronauts podcast was the classic(?) brawler series, Double Dragon. They talked about each game in the series in substantial depth, but when they discussed the first title, the majority of the discussion was about the NES version. While there were many ports of the original arcade title (the NES version being the best known), the Master System version is fairly solid and has one key feature that could potentially elevate it above the NES port.
Look at the picture of the title screen up there. No, your eyes are not deceiving you, there is, in fact, an option to play the Master System port of Double Dragon co-op, a staple of the genre that the NES version mysteriously lacked. As anyone who has played Resident Evil 5 can attest to, co-op can make a somewhat disappointing game much more enjoyable. And there are unfortunately a few disappointing aspects about the Master System version of Double Dragon.
For one, combat is a bit awkward. Not only do enemies take an absurd amount of damage before going down, but the hit detection is strange and requires fists, thugs, and stars to be aligned perfectly in order to make a connection. There is an overall feeling of strangeness in the character movement as well, as protagonists Billy and Jimmy Lee’s walking animation is more akin to a scampering rodent than a street-fighting-tough-guy’s swagger. Thankfully, the bros still pack a decent moveset, including the requisite punches and kicks, but also headbutts, back attacks, and jumpkicks (all available at the start, without needing to be unlocked).
Overall, the stages in the game look pretty good, although a bit sparse. Characters are fairly detailed and well-animated for the time, but at times the flickering in the game becomes so excessive that they become almost transparent. The game retains the memorable music from the original title, which sounds good on the Master System, although some of the sound effects are a bit crude and jarring.
Double Dragon on the Master System is the very definition of a mixed bag. For everything the game does right, there seems to be some technical issue to punish the player.