Head 2 Head: Double Dragon – Sega Master System vs NES

Number four in our new series of face-offs between classic games on rival consoles. The aim of Head2Head is not to say which console I think is the greatest (all consoles have their own particular strengths and weaknesses), but rather to examine the same game released for rival consoles and to say in the fairest possible way which I think was the best at the time. This episode features the home version of the arcade smash hit Double Dragon, originally developed by Technos Japan and distributed in Europe and North America by Taito in 1987. The game was then released in 1988 on the NES and Master System followed by releases on Atari 2600, 7800, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC464, Amiga, Atari ST and MegaDrive. The idea for this Head 2 Head came from a conversation on Twitter with Danny Major (@GuyFawkesRetro), well worth a follow!


At first glance, the Sega Master System seems to have this one licked, but first appearances can be deceptive. Yes, the colours are brighter, the characters more detailed and the intro screen is much better, but play the game a while and you will realise that whilst some degree of thought has gone into the NES screens, the same cannot be said of the SMS version. Double Dragon on the SMS has bland, featureless screens with little or no thought to actual interaction between characters and scenery. The NES also has splash screens announcing the next level, something which they clearly couldn’t be bothered with on the SMS version.

Both versions have numerous glitches and bugs regarding the screen redraw, with flickery sprites and characters only being half redrawn when knocked to the ground being just two of many issues. These issues are more prominent on the SMS version especially on boss levels and this along with the lack of graphical detail gives the NES a win.


From the intro music, through to the level-start and in-game sound effects, there is only one winner here and that is the Sega Master System.


This one proved to be a bit tougher. Both had so many flaws that they almost cancelled each other out. Poor collision detection on the SMS makes it almost unplayable especially on boss levels. The fact that only 2 enemies appear on the screen compared to the 3 on the SMS gives Sega’s effort the advantage in that area. Better screen design on the NES version make playing it more enjoyable than its SMS counterpart. The SMS does have 2 player co-op which is something that the NES version sadly lacks but even that can’t make up for the SMS version’s poor screen designs coupled with bad, almost unforgiveable collision detection which results in us giving the NES version the edge… just.

Review Video


Author: Ant Harper

Father, Husband, website developer, avid gamer since the mid-70s and collector of just about anything video game related. 8-Bit microcomputer and Sinclair specialist with a huge Sinclair related collection of his own. Blogs about retro gaming here but occasionally elsewhere when people ask. Bored of Mario and never much liked Zelda. Performs quirkafleegs for cold hard cash. Often found destroying ice crowns in the Lands of Midnight. Remembers: Lunar Lander. Plays: Steel Battalion, Gears of War

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1 Comment

  1. I agree with this article and throughout the years i have played 3 console versions of Double Dragon (NES, MS & MD) and the NES run’s away with the win hands down in my opinion. I have also played a lot of the orginal DD in the arcade back when i was much younger, used to play it outside the Pathmark supermarket by my house and the NES version just feels like a more comparable port that just feel’s more like the arcade version.

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