Review: ‘Double Dragon Neon’on October 2, 2012 at 8:00 am
Wow, “Double Dragon”, it’s uhh… been a long time. How have you been? Yeah, I heard you went into a bit of a depression spiral after that horrid fighting game, “Double Dragon V”, was released. It’s been a rough time between then and now, huh? Well, it’s good to see you back on your feet. You look great now. You seem vibrant, in good shape, and it’s good to see you laughing again. Oh, you have a new game called “Double Dragon Neon” out? Wow, this looks incredible…
“Double Dragon Neon” (you sexy beast) is the latest creation from “WayForward”. I won’t try to mislead you, I love WayForward. As a developer, they’re a true hidden gem. They’ve given us “Shantae”, the criminally overlooked “Sigma Star Saga”, “Mighty Flip Champs!”, “Aliens: Infestation”, “A Boy and His Blob”, “Contra 4”, which may be the best game in the series, among others. Their catalogue of games may have a bunch of licensed crap in it, but don’t let that get to you. Hell, even their licensed “Thor” game on the DS is surprisingly solid.
Of course, “Double Dragon” is a favorite from my childhood and knowing that “WayForward” was at the helm for reviving this classic franchise, there was no way I could pass this game up.
“Double Dragon Neon” is a remake of the original “Double Dragon”. When you start the game up, you’ll see an all too familiar scene of Billy Lee’s girlfriend, Marian, getting punched in the gut and carried off by some thugs to take back to their leader, Skullmaggedon. You see, Skullmaggedon is kind of a supernatural-undead-samurai-power nerd-Skeletor knockoff and he just wants a girlfriend… or maybe a prostitute. Marian is dressed like one and is seen standing on a dimly lit street by herself. You make the call.
Anyways, no better reason to call up your twin bro, Jimmy Lee, take to the streets, and start beating the crap out of people!
How does it feel when beating the crap out of people? Pretty damn good. This is going to sound weird, so stick with me; it manages to retain a slightly clunky feel that was present in the old “Double Dragon” games while updating the combat system for this age. I know that doesn’t sound “good” but you have to trust that it actually works really well. As soon as I started playing, I thought, “Holy crap, this is ‘Double Dragon’!” I did some impressive combos and then I thought, “Holy crap, this is ‘Double Dragon’ on steroids!”
There actually are an impressive amount of moves you can use and that variety helps keep things feeling fresh throughout the game. Also, you’ve now been given the ability to dodge, which helps keep the game feel fair and balanced. This is a problem most games in the “beat-’em-up” genre suffer from, which is unbalanced difficulty due to having absolutely no way to defend yourself. “Double Dragon Neon” definitely fixes this. If timed right before an enemy attacks, the dodge will also give you a brief boost in attack power, called “Gleam”, which can absolutely devastate the baddies.
To top it all off, you can collect additional abilities throughout the game called “Mixtapes”. As you defeat enemies, they will occasionally drop these little beauties. Twenty in all, ten tapes are devoted to giving you badass special moves and the other ten are for boosting your stats and giving you passive abilities. You’re allowed to equip one of each type and the more tapes of a certain type you collect, the more powerful that tape will become.
The special moves vary wildly in their actions. From the iconic “Spin Kick”, to kneeing someone in the face, summoning a screen full of lightning, or calling forth dragons, there are going to be a few favorites you’re going to stick to. There is even an attack that has a chance to steal items from enemies, which can help you collect more tapes faster.
The stat boosters are all pretty basic, one will give you increased damage with weapons, one will give you more MP to use special moves, one gives you more defense, etc. It’s simple but they end up being incredibly important since they are how you manage to get stronger and you absolutely need to be stronger to take on the harder difficulties. The number and variety of Mixtapes always ensures you have different options for taking down Skullmaggedon’s minions.
However, looking at this game purely from a gameplay perspective, you’re not going to find it to be too special. Sure, it’s fun and while it does do some stuff to modernize the “Double Dragon” formula, it’s not enough to really convince us “Double Dragon” belongs in the modern age of gaming. At least… not until you realize just about everything else about the game is incredible.
You’ll immediately notice the game’s overbearing 80’s vibe, and it’s fantastic. The main characters have mullets, the environments are bathed in pink neon light, the thugs all look like rejects from “The Warriors” and the 80’s punk rock scene, and you collect cassette tapes. While the game’s graphics may not be mind-blowing, the art style and overall design do more than their fair share in making the game’s settings a radical and awesome place to be.
The game also has a great sense of humor. I found myself laughing consistently as I played throughout the game. It’s not clever or witty but it is silly and stupid; and it does those things very well. Billy and Jimmy are dense and idiotic. They high-five all of the time, which is awesome, they throw around the afro picks they stole off the guys the punched in the face, and do sweet air guitar solos every time they complete a level. They’re hilarious. Plus, you also get a ton of referential humor, like a boss that is clearly supposed to be Mega Man. The game even makes fun of past “Double Dragon” screw-ups, like the infamous “Bimmy and Jimmy” typo in “Double Dragon 3”.
Oh, then there is the music; which is, you know… AMAZING. I’m absolutely not exaggerating here because I’m listening to it as I’m writing this. It’s probably soundtrack of the year. Jake Kaufman did an awesome job of not only redoing songs from the original games but also creating entirely original tunes with lyrics. Your soundholes are going to be filled with the sweet sounds of cheesy 80’s greatness. There is a singer that sounds like Kenny Loggins and Joe Esposito had a baby. Is your mind blown? All of the game’s mixtapes also have their own track that plays when you select them. They’re equally awesome and amusing all at the same time.
Editor’s Note: The soundtrack is available as a free download here
Everything isn’t perfect though, as it seems that they forgot this game isn’t actually being released in the 80’s because it doesn’t have online co-op. Supposedly, that is going to be patched in, so be patient for that. Also, while it’s fantastic that you can make your character stronger, the method for doing so is entirely too random and grindy. Since you have to keep collecting the same tapes to power them up, it becomes annoying to have to wait for a selection of two or three random tapes to randomly drop from enemies. Then you also have to collect Mythril to increase your tape’s maximum level and that’s only dropped from a few bosses in the game.
This is a shame, because while playing through the game on the harder difficulties is fun, it’s also absolutely necessary to power up your characters before doing so. Having a second player does make things easier but since no one has real life friends anymore, you’re going to have a hard time playing co-op too.
Still, “Double Dragon Neon” is a great buy. It evokes just enough nostalgia to get you all wistful and reminiscent but does enough new stuff to be much more than a simple HD upgrade. This game is a true entry to the “Double Dragon” series and it’s the best beat ‘em up that has come around since “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” was released. Just hope they get that whole “online” thing sorted out.