"The vigilante myth at its most naked and vicious"
February 21, 2013 11:36 AM   Subscribe

"In its original form, Double Dragon is, if nothing else, a game in which Lynyrd Skynyrd fights to rescue America from The Ramones, The Village People, and Grandmaster Flash." - Dan Whitehead of the Gameological Society on Double Dragon and how gaming reflects a culture's changing relationship with the urban landscape.
posted by EatTheWeak (56 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is just a great article. One of those things that points things out that should have seemed obvious before, but for some reason, weren't. And well written to boot.

I will not quote every part I liked, but I will quote my favorite:

Clad in denim, mullets proudly displayed and indulging in enthusiastic air guitar at the end of each stage, they’re Bo and Luke Duke as reflected through a Walter Hill prism.

posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:45 AM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


They made a 2012 remake of Double Dragon? Why?

I'd rather play a game where Chuck D rescues America from Lynyrd Skynyrd.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:48 AM on February 21, 2013 [24 favorites]


I misread a key part of that article as "their (apparently shaved) girlfriend" which lead to a great deal of confusion.
posted by yoink at 11:49 AM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


The first two levels play it reasonably straight, but after that, the story treats the over-the-top urban gloom as the joke it is and instead blasts off into space, where you discover the bad guy isn’t some backstreet Mr. Big but rather a Saturday morning cartoon villain called Skullmageddon. Part Skeletor, part Krang from the Ninja Turtles, he’s played for laughs and utterly undercuts the now-ridiculous alleyway brawls the series was built on.

Ugh.
posted by JHarris at 11:50 AM on February 21, 2013


Also, Batman tends to do a good job of making its city seem like a dangerous place. Why can't games?
posted by JHarris at 11:51 AM on February 21, 2013


They made a 2012 remake of Double Dragon?

Because it is so fucking good.

Tell me you can look at your character riding an overpowered behemoth as the screen blares

EXPENSIVE EXPERIMENT
GIANT TANK


and not laugh.
posted by griphus at 11:55 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Double Dragon Neon is a fantastic remake and has arguably the best soundtrack in any game of 2012.

This article is great too.
posted by HostBryan at 12:00 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wonderful article!
posted by absalom at 12:01 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I'd like to say that this is a great article, and I'm having much more fun with Double Dragon Neon than I did with the originals, which I played far more frequently than I should have. The lack of online multiplayer seems almost like punishment though.
posted by griphus at 12:04 PM on February 21, 2013


You know, Skynyrd actually played benefits for Jimmy Carter, stereotypes aside.
posted by jonmc at 12:06 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


You know, Skynyrd actually played benefits for Jimmy Carter, stereotypes aside.


They also briefly stopped using the Confederate flag, though they brought it back after fans complained.


Skynyrd is complicated. But Simple Man is always going to be one of the best things.
posted by HostBryan at 12:11 PM on February 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


Double Dragon Neon soundtrack composed by MetaFilter's own Jake Kaufman
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:27 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


What the article misses is that the game mechanics really drove the setting and plot of the games more than anything else. The beat-em-up genre originally started as martial arts games, where the player character was a martial arts expert and waves of generic martial arts bad guys would swarm the player. The transition to an urban setting with gang violence made the genre more accessible to the Western audience, but the fact that the game revolved around enemies appearing to attack the player was directly copied from the old martial arts formula. Newer urban games like GTA/Saints Row/etc. do not have the same type of "everyone is against you" setting because there are much more types of interactions available in the game than just fighting enemies. There are games that have the same "waves of generic bad guys" mechanic these days, but most of them are shooting games of some kind rather than fighting, and I don't think the waves of thugs concept would work as well for a modern realistic shooting game as it did for old 80s beat-em-ups (zombies seem to be a popular replacement these days for those types of games).
posted by burnmp3s at 12:27 PM on February 21, 2013


Fun fact: every enemy in Double Dragon is susceptible to the elbow strike. Face away from the enemy, throw elbow strike after elbow strike, and you can beat the game on one life.

This is what I learned in college instead of attending classes. Well, that, and how to get the maximum high score possible in Atari's Pole Position.

I have wasted my life.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:34 PM on February 21, 2013 [22 favorites]


You know, the more I think about it, the less the Lynyrd Skynyrd thing makes sense. I mean, I do think it's true that the game has a relationship to the whole Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, white-man-get's-revenge-on-racialized-'scum' genre, no doubt, but it's also more complex and more interesting than that. For one thing if you look at the artwork, it's not at all clear that what they're going for here is down-home, good ol' boy Americans. The pompadour hair, for example. In the late 80s that was much more "New Wave" than "Country Rock" (I don't think Skynyrd ever wore mullets, did they? They just had long hair. The "country" mullet thing is more a Billy Ray Cyrus 90s thing. And then there's the prissy knee-high boots. There's also the fact that they clearly "belong" to the world they're in. They're not clearly demarcated from the (white) thugs that they beat up. If the opening "scene" had them in a pick-up truck on the street or something we might imagine them as having just had the misfortune to drive into a bad neighborhood--but they're clearly part of the world depicted in the game. And most significantly of all, they're martial arts experts. I think they even have those headband things on. There's a reason that the Dirty Harry/Charles Bronson myth is a white man with a gun getting even with the "punks" who have invaded our nice racially homogenized cities. To have your "heroes" be martial arts experts in the 1980s was a much more complexly hybridized (and specifically racially hybridized) position. Definitely not a simple "Lynyrd Skynyrd beats up Grandmaster Flash" proposition.
posted by yoink at 12:39 PM on February 21, 2013 [17 favorites]


Complete derail: One of my college friends recalled a night from his childhood near halloween when his father, a small town doctor in McComb, Mississippi had just sat down to supper with the family when there was a call from the Amite County Sheriff's office. There was an emergency situation and any available doctors were needed to assist with several critical patients. Further instructions stated that the doctor was not to discuss the incident due to it's expected high profile nature. My friend's father was true to his word and kept the injured patients' identities even from his own family who'd wondered where he'd gone all night after the deputies rushed him off in a squad car. Only later did they find out when the family of the deceased and injured gave him a gift as a thank you, items from the personal effects of the dead that proudly grace the family's mantel to this day: a pair of black cowboy boots with bright red flames embossed up each side with the words, "LYNYRD" and "SKYNYRD".

Anyway, good article.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:41 PM on February 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


Another interesting example of American city portrayal that comes eleven years after Double Dragon: Babe: Pig in the City. I saw this movie as a kid, it scared me in a vague, harrowing lonely way, and then I saw it again about a month ago (on VHS, naturally), and damn son, this movie kicks ass.*

Both the Double Dragon City and the Babe City are menacing, but in exactly opposite directions. While DDC lacks establishment and authority, BC is drowning in it. Red tape, rules, restrictions, hostile attitudes coming from non-person entities. The fear in DDC is running into trouble; the fear in BC is causing trouble.

Where are the freaks and queers in BC? Why, they're posting up on the same curb that a police cruiser in parked. But the cop doesn't mind them, he's looking out for trouble makers, i.e. Mrs. Farmer who disrupts the hustle and bustle of City Life. Get with the program lady.

*I recommend smoking a nice fat bowl beforehand.
posted by Taft at 12:42 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Knee to the head! Knee to the head! Knee to the head! Kick! That was one of my favorite things to do in all of video games.

It doesn't look like you can do that in the remake, huh. That's sad. It looks more like Final Fight which I never glommed onto nearly as much.
posted by furiousthought at 12:43 PM on February 21, 2013


On review, I'm with Yoink on this. It's more like the Warriors beat up the Riffs.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:44 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only question I have about all this is are you a bad enough dude to rescue the president?
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:01 PM on February 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Double Dragon Neon is a fantastic remake and has arguably the best soundtrack in any game of 2012.

Speaking of recent DD-like beat-em-up remakes with excellent soundtracks, Streets of Rage also turned out fantastic. (dev site)
posted by samsara at 1:23 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I propose a measure of classic arcade game difficulty. While I'd like to put it in terms of distance traveled in the game on one play, there is no standard measure of progress that applies between games, so we could just put it in terms of time played.

The measure is the median time that people, playing to the best of their ability their first game with no prior knowledge of the game except that which they could be reasonably expected to have (like control panel instruction cards), will play before the game ends.

I'm thinking about this because, randomly, I thought to play NES Double Dragon about a week ago, and although I remembered little about how to play, I did notice that I got about as far as I did the first time I played, which I would wager most people's first games reach: midway through mission 3. The game seems balanced for this: if you just beat up thugs without trying out a lot of different moves, just playing casually, your three lives give out at just about the beginning of Mission 3.

The nature of this sorry of game is, just a little increase in skill or strategy has a disproportionate effect, because its effects are magnified over the length of the game. But that fits Double Dragon, because the game isn't really long, and it ramps up sharply in difficulty towards the end. Near the end of Mission 3, there's a platforming section (of all things), at the stay of Mission 4 there's those can blocks, and at the end there's the machine gun guy (and the super final boss after that, that want in the arcade version). Double Dragon needs those unfair challenges at the end, because without them the fairly simple gameplay would easily be overwhelmed by improving players.

Well, that's what I'm thinking right now anyway.
posted by JHarris at 1:37 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Speaking of Recursive Fury, popular arcade games like DD were what made the arcades, and those arcades were one of the big urban bogeyman that people feared.
posted by anonymisc at 2:22 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


While the soundtrack is impressively done, it seems like it is pretty much the soundtrack to the original game, but done with real instruments instead of 8-bit goodness.

And God, I love the original soundtrack. (Theme, Stage 1).
posted by 3FLryan at 2:32 PM on February 21, 2013


Man, I would love a fighting game that queered the genre to have you facing thickneck jocks, klansmen, nazis and militia survivalists, and set the conflict over, like, rescuing the little brother of some leather dudes or something. Be able to play as Chuck D, Megan Rapinoe or Tom of Finland, that kind of thing.

(I guess I've finally gotten to the point where, as a straight guy, I just don't care at all about the straight-dude-rescues-girlfriend plot line.)
posted by klangklangston at 2:38 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Man, I would love a fighting game that queered the genre to have you facing thickneck jocks, klansmen, nazis and militia survivalists, and set the conflict over, like, rescuing the little brother of some leather dudes or something. Be able to play as Chuck D, Megan Rapinoe or Tom of Finland, that kind of thing.

I don't know of any video games like this, but this is basically the core proposition of the (original) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the subgenre it spawned. The protagonists are urbanized hippies, and the bad guys/monsters are inbred Texas rednecks, possibly even spawned directly from the arid landscape. This was right after Vietnam, too, and there's a potent metaphor in there about America consuming its children.

Or something.

posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:42 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hmm. I guess I'll have to go back to TCM, since I haven't watched it in like 15 years, but I remembered it as being more reactionary than that — I think I read it as decadent hippies deserving to die or something.
posted by klangklangston at 2:45 PM on February 21, 2013


Clad in denim, mullets proudly displayed and indulging in enthusiastic air guitar at the end of each stage, they’re Bo and Luke Duke as reflected through a Walter Hill prism.

They mention Walter Hill, but don't go into specifics. According to Teleport City, though, beat em ups like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage were inspired by Streets of Fire, the spiritual sequel to The Warriors.

I love that whole decaying neon aesthetic of these games.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:47 PM on February 21, 2013


I pumped so many twenty cent pieces into this fucking game that it is actually embarrassing, especially considering the fact that I never beat it until it was rereleased on the Xbox 360 a few years ago. Pretty sure it was the game that convinced me that computer games "cheat".
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 2:48 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think I read it as decadent hippies deserving to die or something.

Multiple possible interpretations!

It's pretty clear that it's about a generational/values/urban-rural conflict, though. Whether you think it's more important that the hippies are decadent and get killed because they might deserve it, or it's more important that the bad guys are inbred, amoral, murdering monster hicks depends on your priorities, I guess. (I think the main characters are mostly innocent, although Franklin, the kid in the wheelchair, is horribly whiny and annoying).

The TCP Wikipedia page has a good overview of critical interpretation of it, by the way.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:51 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait... Billy and Jimmy are blue collar brothers who love classic rock? You could fan-hack Double Dragon into a Supernatural fighting game.

I'm a bit offended by the association here between classic rock and reactionary values.

The only recent attempt to try and bring back the classic urban beat-’em-up mentality in any serious way came from the risible Watchmen games, released digitally in 2009 to coincide with Zack Snyder’s movie

They forgot The Warriors game by Rockstar, which is amazingly good. And Godhand (also good) and the Scott Pilgrim game (amazing). And maybe Sleeping Dogs, though I haven't played it yet.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:54 PM on February 21, 2013


I'm a bit offended by the association here between classic rock and reactionary values.

Go tell it to the guys who pick interstitials for talk radio.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:57 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Cheaper travel and the wider social circles made possible by the internet have pulled back the curtain and revealed that, actually, the odds of being raped and murdered by giggling maniacs the moment you step off the bus at the Port Authority terminal are fairly slim.

Ahem. Much of the change has been a dramatic across-the-board drop in urban crime, New York especially included. New York in the 1980s -- when I lived there -- had quite a few places it wasn't advisable to wander into unprepared, places that are now, as I understand it, hipster dorms. While I was never mugged, I was pickpocketed, and manhandled once or twice. I witnessed street crime including broad daylight purse-snatchings. A college friend came to town for an interview, rolled into Penn Station, and was promptly mugged within the hour -- had to do the interview with no glasses (smashed to pieces) and cuts and bruises all over his face. So there's that.

It isn't just demystification, or really, either of the two things mentioned. I wouldn't say that either The Warriors or Double Dragon represented true-to-life depictions of urban existence, but they were derived from a very real cultural understanding of the time.
posted by dhartung at 3:06 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


It isn't just demystification, or really, either of the two things mentioned. I wouldn't say that either The Warriors or Double Dragon represented true-to-life depictions of urban existence, but they were derived from a very real cultural understanding of the time.

I think what this article misses a bit is that the urban decay is also COOL. The city in The Warriors/Double Dragon/Streets of Rage/Streets of Fire is dangerous, but it's a sexy neon danger, all bright graffiti and multi-ethnic thugs.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:14 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm a bit offended by the association here between classic rock and reactionary values.

If you'd like to investigate the links between classic rock and reactionary values in the least scientific possible way, enjoy the massive time sink that website is.
posted by Copronymus at 3:28 PM on February 21, 2013


Trying to picture conservatives today with the "are you a bad enough dude to save the president?" thing.

Nope, not happening.
posted by Foosnark at 3:42 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been trying articulate a certain type of American fantasy that abets the lone gunmen that we find committing gun atrocities from time to time across the US. Something between Rambo and Stephen Segal, but without the nuance of real story. This is it, I think.
posted by es_de_bah at 3:43 PM on February 21, 2013


Great post, thanks, but what then does Battletoads & Double Dragon mean?
posted by J0 at 4:25 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think the most interesting eighties throwback from 2012 is Hotline Miami. It comes complete with pink, teal, and a harrowing and apocalyptic view of the city; not to mention an awesome electronic soundtrack.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:38 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]



Double Dragon Neon soundtrack composed by MetaFilter's own Jake Kaufman


The soundtrack is amazing, and sold me on the game.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:02 PM on February 21, 2013


"As the idealistic 1960s collapsed into the nihilistic disillusionment of the 1970s, which then curdled into the selfish paranoia of the 1980s, for much of the suburban and rural population, the city was seen as the terrifying black heart of all that was wrong with the world, Sodom and Gomorrah writ large in sleazy neon."


Yup. That pretty sums up my formative years.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:22 PM on February 21, 2013


Hell, it sums up my parents' attitude toward cities, and I was born in 1988.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:25 PM on February 21, 2013


I sunk some quarters into this game, I admit it. The contrast between my suburban pudding-ass teenage self and the avenging brawler was of course ridiculous. That was part of the fun, really.
posted by thelonius at 6:39 PM on February 21, 2013


(Sorry for the typos in my comment above -- I was entering it using the swipe keyboard on Android. Yeah, it's not perfect.)
posted by JHarris at 7:12 PM on February 21, 2013


I have played NES Renegade through an uncountable amount of times. I have always thought it better than DD partially because you get to ride motorcycles whilst kicking others off of their's. Often inside an apartment building. And those pink gangster ninjas you can throw over your shoulder off the dock into the ocean. And and and...
posted by Sprocket at 7:13 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Great post, thanks, but what then does Battletoads & Double Dragon mean?

Rare picked up the license for cheap. Even by that point the DD games were kind of on the outs.
posted by JHarris at 7:14 PM on February 21, 2013


Oh, and Renegade was originally a Kunio Kun game, that is, of the same series as River City Rampage. G'night everybody!
posted by JHarris at 7:15 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ahem. Much of the change has been a dramatic across-the-board drop in urban crime, New York especially included. New York in the 1980s -- when I lived there -- had quite a few places it wasn't advisable to wander into unprepared, places that are now, as I understand it, hipster dorms.

The change in DC has been remarkable, too, since the 90s.
posted by empath at 8:09 PM on February 21, 2013


"Hey dudes thanks. For rescuing me. Let's go for a burger. . . . Ha! Ha! Ha!" - President Ronnie
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:20 PM on February 21, 2013


If Double Dragon and Renegade are the video game equivalent to Walter Hill movies, then the next generation of beat 'em ups, games like Bad Dudes, Final Fight, and Streets of Rage are the gaming equivalent to Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Everything found in those original side scrollers gets amped up to the nth degree; everyman heroes give way to pro wrestling mayors, sexually and physically threatening street walkers become implied transexuals and rescuing a kidnapped girlfriend is no longer a worthwhile goal. Not when President Ronnie's life is on the line.
posted by thecjm at 12:44 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just wanted to chime in with praise for the magnificent 80s Double Dragon Neon soundtrack. Been listening to it on Youtube, with great admiration.

The end credits feature a fantastic song by the villain Skullmageddon, about how happy he was because he "dared to dream". It's wonderfully silly.

It reminds me of nothing so much as Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, which contains quite unstoppable levels of fabulousness.
posted by lucien_reeve at 3:50 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a bit offended by the association here between classic rock and reactionary values.

Yes, the two, when associated, become quite offensive.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:19 AM on February 22, 2013


The endless swarm beat-em up has its most direct recent-gen descendant in the Dynasty Warriors series. it's just not a side scroller, and it's a throwback to the older martial art setting (on a battlefield this time).

Also, this thread needs more River City Ransom.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:38 AM on February 22, 2013


Also, for those who haven't seen it:

Retro City Rampage is an homage to these games, and other classics of the era.

[Developer] [GoG] [Steam]
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:11 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


TheSecretDecoderRing: ""Hey dudes thanks. For rescuing me. Let's go for a burger. . . . Ha! Ha! Ha!" - President Ronnie"

Bad Dudes is just begging for some hipster director to pick up the rights and make an ironic movie adaptation, set in the 80s. Actually, I'd like to see that.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:04 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, this thread needs more River City Ransom.

BARF! on Hardcore Gaming 101

BARF! on Giantbomb
posted by ersatz at 8:38 AM on February 22, 2013


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