Double Dragon: Neon is an adrenaline shot to the heart of the long dead arcade scene. Developed by WayForward, a company known for breathing new life into otherwise defunct franchises (BloodRayne: Betrayal, A Boy and His Blob, Contra 4), Double Dragon: Neon provides players with bro-pious amounts of 80s nostalgia without skimping on quality.
The game begins exactly as the original, with busty bro-ho Marian’s brutal kidnapping. Billy and Jimmy Lee then, of course, set off to rescue her, but this time they face a gang led by Skullmageddon, an evil, space-faring villain that comes off as a brilliant cross between Skeletor and The Monarch.
Published by: Majesco
Genre: Side-Scrolling Arcade Brawler.
Platform: Xbox 360 (XBLA) and PlayStation 3 (PSN)
What works: The classic arcade brawler is beautifully complimented by just the right amount of new features, and heavy dose of lighthearted 80s nostalgia.
What doesn’t work: The inconsistent hit detection, cumbersome platforming, and occasionally slow controls can be frustrating at times.
Double Dragon: Neon follows the classic brawler formula of the original series, but this time the bros don’t just mindlessly punch, kick, and throw enemies throughout the game. By dodging an enemy’s attack, players can “gleam” for a short amount of time, allowing them to deal out double damage. Also, like the original, various items can be picked up, thrown, or used as melee weapon until they break. The satisfaction received from the audible knock that comes from clocking an enemy with a baseball bat should be savored by all.
In addition to regular attacks, the bros have both offensive (Sosetsitsu Magic) and passive (Stances) abilities that can be unlocked and leveled up by collecting songs and adding them to their mix tape. Every time a player collects a specific song, they improve that particular ability. Although players are only able to equip one Sosetsitsu Magic spell and one Stance at a time, they can switch abilities at any time. Songs, upgrades, extra lives, health, and so forth are also available for purchase at various shops spread throughout the game.
Neon provides players with three lives and infinite continues to complete each of the ten levels, all of which can be revisited upon completion. If a player runs of out of lives, they must restart from the beginning of the level. This may sound discouraging, but each play through gradually becomes easier as a player levels up their abilities.
In “Bro-op” mode, which can be played locally or (after the soon-to-be-released patch) online with one other person, players can share health, “gleam”, or even steal each other’s health through various high-fives. Furthermore, if one is in the mood to relive rage-inducing, River City Ransom childhood memories, friendly fire can be turned off completely.
While Neon trades pixelated sprites for redesigned characters and hand-drawn HD animation, Neon stays true to its arcade roots. Like the original, each character in Neon is actually only one specific 2D image, so regardless of what direction the character is facing, the image stays the same. While this may go unnoticed by many, WayForward’s inclusion of this subtle detail shows a great love and appreciation for the property.
Much like the 80s, the greatest part of Double Dragon: Neon is its music. Rather than license actual 80s songs however, WayForward provides completely original 80s-esque tunage, with each original track paying homage to a different distinct 80s band.
While Billy and Jimmy’s HD return may be welcome, it’s not flawless. As anyone who’s played a brawler knows, in order to strike (or be struck by) an enemy, they must be on the same plane. In Neon, players can be struck by an enemy that appears to be in front or behind them, but sometimes their own attempts to strike back miss completely. The game also tends to be finicky regarding what actually counts as a dodge, leaving players without that crucial “gleam” even after they avoid several enemy attacks. Furthermore, with their poor jumping ability and slow start to running and dodging, Jimmy and Billy control like hulking bro-hemoths, making platforming areas feel annoying and unnecessary.
Blast Factor: Double Dragon: Neon is well worth its $10.00 price tag. Underneath its 80s glam exterior, Neon’s leveling system, unlockable difficulties, challenging achievements, and “Bro-op” modes will keep players coming back for more. It’s understandable that Neon may appeal more to the NES generation than the PlayStation generation, but the over-the-top 80s references are only partly to blame. The biggest reason gamers in their late 20s and 30s may enjoy Neon more than younger generations is because it cleverly reminds us what was great about the now extinct arcade scene. Double Dragon: Neon seamlessly integrates the familiar with the new, creating a refreshing, yet comfortably retro experience.