Double Dragon: Neon – Review
Ask any gamer of a certain age to name an ’80s scrolling beat-’em-up and the odds are that Double Dragon will be the first title to come of out of their crumbling, aged gob. It’s one of those few examples of a game that practically defined its genre. It may not have been the first but it put in place, or at least refined, certain elements that simply have to be in any game that followed it. Let’s put it this way… show me a beat ‘em up that doesn’t have co-op play, differently-themed levels, weapons, a striking and grappling moveset and vampish women with whips and I’ll show you a game that can go fuck itself if it thinks it is getting bought.
Of course, like any trailblazer, the once-unique series was followed up by fistfuls of games and other media that soon cheapened the whole Double Dragon name. Only a magnificent Gameboy Advance title was worthy of the name and in fact many gamers consider Double Dragon 3 to be one of the worst beat ‘em ups of all time. A rather unwise detour into the one on one fighting game genre did little to restore the reputation of Double Dragon and so you’d be forgiven for ignoring this addition to the series.
Double Dragon: Neon, as the name suggests, follows the template of the original game but with neo-retro visual stylings. Now I’m a bit of a fan of the neo-retro look. I’m quite happy to have my retinas seared clean off by the likes of Pac-Man CE and Galaga Legions but, despite what you might expect, this game doesn’t really overdo that side of things. The biggest visual change is the fact that game is presented in polygonal 3D, although the gameplay stays true to the four directional 2D style of the original. This is a good thing as eight way scrolling beat em ups (such as the Turtles in Time reboot) are utter cockfodder.
Starting the game, the initial feeling is that it is rather plodding in its pacing. The famous Lee brothers positively saunter their way through the gang-infested streets, but this stops being an issue when you are confronted by your first enemies. The combat feels pretty decent, with the traditional mix of striking and grappling as well as new special moves and a useful countering mechanic. Pulling the left trigger on your controller allows you to duck incoming attacks; time it right and you’ll activate a short period of ‘gleam’ time where your attack power is increased.
For the most part this is a traditional romp through waves of low-level gang members, many of whom you’ll recognise from the original Double Dragon as well as a few robotic enemies, thanks to a detour through space (no reason given, no reason asked for) that happens mid-way through the campaign. It can be a struggle to stop yourself getting swarmed and overpowered at times but thankfully you are able to upgrade your character with special moves and stances which buff you in various ways. This becomes essential, especially when you face off against boss characters who, like most bosses, are pricks.
The upgrades come by way of cassette tapes, each of which has their own wonderfully silly ’80s tune. The game is almost worth buying just for these songs as they are mostly of a decent quality and often quite hilarious. There are also some funny conversations between the game’s characters, especially from Skullmageddon, the game’s final boss, who is an odd mixture of Skeletor and Yoshimitsu. Hearing his take on the game’s events during the final credits is also something you won’t forget in a hurry.
Double Dragon: Neon celebrates its lineage with plenty of in-jokes and fan service and even throws in a few authentic gameplay elements that may or may not irritate you. For example if you die and you choose to continue, it’s back to the start of the level for you. Also, for some inexplicable reason, you start the next level on two lives no matter how many you had. Pretty irritating. Not that the developers particularly care. The ‘Curse of Skullmageddon’ achievement that drops an OCD-wrecking 1GS onto your gamercard as soon as you start the game is proof of that.
As Michael Barrymore once found out, a sense of humour can only get you so far though, and the sexually-injured corpse in Neon’s swimming pool are the clumsy platforming sections that your cumbersome (and slightly too large) fighter has to negotiate on some stages. These aren’t much fun, but again they were in the original so they don’t necessarily feel out of place. It’s not the longest game either but that’s not such a bad thing in this genre.
For 800M$P, this is a tidy addition to the series that provides just enough gameplay to justify the spend. The presentation is gleefully daft and the fighting is pretty solid. Genre conventions such as the cheap bosses and irritating obstacles are an annoyance but not game-ruining (if it was a choice between this or any Streets of Rage game I’d pick this, even if it meant playing the whole thing in a house full of hungry wolves) and what the game lacks in variation, it kind of makes up for in personality. That’ll do in the short term, even if the joke will likely wear thin after a few days.
The main glaring omission is online co-op play, although this is due to be added by way of patch at some point in the future. This is A ridiculous decision that makes you wonder why developers and publishers can’t just wait a fucking while until the game is finished, especially with such a key feature, but I guess that’ll give us another reason to play the game again when we’re all done with it.Pros
- A fairly solid Double Dragon reboot that improves on the fighting mechanics of the original
- Excellently irreverent '80s-style original soundtrack
- Plenty of humour all the way to the end of the game
- 'Neon' graphics aren't nearly as intrusive as you'd think, and overall the varied backdrops and clean polygonal character models are pretty good
- Don't expect any gameplay twists, this is at it's heart a very retro beat 'em up
- Limited replay value
- Platforming sections feel unnecessary
- Boss fights can feel cheap (but not overly so)
- No online co-op at launch (due to be added later on)
Double Dragon: Neon is a celebration of a simpler time and is a good mix of modern presentation and authentic, old-school gameplay. It won't win any awards and will no doubt disappear from the general gaming consciousness until it shows up on a Deal of the Week on Xbox Live in a few months but it could just warm the hearts of a retro gamers everywhere. At least those with a sense of humour.
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