Developer: WayForward / Publisher: Majesco Entertainment / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: 800 MSP ($10) / ESRB: Teen [Suggestive Themes, Partial Nudity, Fantasy Violence]
You might remember Billy and Jimmy Lee way back on the NES when they were delivering knees to the faces of countless Lindas and Abobos. Playing with a friend in the original Double Dragon and its sequels was many gamers’ first introduction to cooperative gameplay, but for as fun as those now retro games were there’s been very little of the Lee brothers for the past few generations of video games. WayForward is here to remedy that lack of ass-kicking with a brand new game for the series, Double Dragon: Neon. With enough new features and nostalgia to please any fan, Neon ignites a future for the series as bright as the title implies.
Neon is not a remake of the original game, but a new entry into the series with brand new levels and gameplay. But fear not, Double Dragon masters, Neon is the same basic Double Dragon game at its core. The main objective still revolves around Billy and Jimmy Lee trying to save their abduction-prone girlfriend Marian. As you make your way through each of the game’s 10 levels you’ll punch, kick, throw, and otherwise beat down everyone in your path, just as you would back on the NES. The characters you encounter are the even the same bad guys from the first games, right down to the afro-sporting Williams and the whip-cracking Linda. And there’s plenty of beefed up Abobos to dish out the pain as well. In short, the basic mechanics and gameplay of Neon feels very similar to the original Double Dragon games.
It’s everything else that is different. The biggest addition in Neon is the use of mixtapes. There are two types of mixtape: Sosetsuken and Songs. You can have one of each type of tape equipped at any given time, and there are a total of twenty different tapes (10 of each type). Sosetsuken tapes give you magical attacks that use a special power gauge to execute, but can be devastating. I preferred a traditional hurricane spin kick, but there are other attacks to use like summoning a giant fire-breathing dragon or a more powerful aerial attack, among others.
Songs are passive traits that increase base stats like damage and defense. There are some songs that focus on magical damage, for example, while others lean more towards specific conditions like doing double damage when your life is below 50%. Defeated enemies will sometimes drop these cassette tapes on the ground. Picking up copies of a tape increases the tape’s level, and a song/Sosetsuken at a higher level does more damage. It’s a very simple RPG element that gives a good amount of variety to an otherwise straightforward brawler. Finding what combo works for you and collecting/upgrading each tape adds a tremendous amount of replay value to the game.
Other changes are more subtle than the mixtape system, but are still noticeably different from past games in the series. Quickly dodging an enemy attack grants you double damage for a short amount of time. You can run at enemies, roll away from attacks, and grab enemies out of the air. If you’re playing with a partner you can high five each other to regain health or increase damage for a short while. These improvements to combat keep things feeling fresh and blend well with game; gameplay feels new while still feeling a lot like Double Dragon. It will take around three hours to get through the game’s 10 stages on normal difficulty, but two additional difficulty levels as well as completely maxing out your mixtape collection add a lot more time onto the game’s length. Neon hits all the right buttons in terms of fun gameplay and new additions while retaining the feel of the glory days of Double Dragon.
It wouldn’t be Double Dragon without co-op, right? Called “Bro-op” in the game, teaming up with a partner is the best way to experience the game. Having a friend tag along not only lets you use the aforementioned high fives, but you can also better deal with masses of enemies and revive one another should you fall in battle. And just like the original games, if one of you really sucks and loses all your lives you can steal a life from your partner. The highest difficulty setting almost requires you to play with a partner due to ridiculously powerful enemies, but the added challenge (and co-op specific Achievements/Trophies) should entice gamers looking for a solid multiplayer game.
Neon feels almost identical to playing the game in the arcade or on home consoles back in the early 90’s, which will appeal greatly to today’s retro gamer. A huge omission for the game is online multiplayer. Neon is a shoe-in for an online supported game, with the drop-in/drop-out functionality of local multiplayer, and the character progression and RPG elements set up the game for multiple playthroughs. The developers have stated online multiplayer is coming this should have been a feature right out of the gate.
As the name suggests, Double Dragon: Neon is full of bright florescent colors. It’s obvious from the beginning of the game that the developers were going for a campy 80’s feel with the visuals and overall style: there are neon signs everywhere, when you are first introduced to an enemy their name flashes on the screen in big pastel colors, and each location is one extravagant locale after another. Highly detailed and equally colorful backgrounds range from haunted forests’ to a ninja dojo in space and are gorgeous to look at.
Characters themselves are big and bright as well. The Lee brothers sport a look similar to their reimagining on the Game Boy Advance a few years back. I was very impressed with the game’s visual style. WayForward was going for a cheesy feel to the game and the visuals nail it. I encountered a handful of visual performance issues though, causing my game to drop in frame rate dramatically when a lot of action was happening on screen, as well as freeze my game on a single occasion.
Neon’s soundtrack is a mix of old and new. Familiar songs from the original game have been remixed and fit the gameplay perfectly. Beating up countless Williams enemies to the tunes you remember from the past makes me feel like a kid all over again. The handful of new songs doesn’t have the same staying factor as the old tunes, and I personally would have liked to see a soundtrack containing nothing but remixes. Sound effects and dialogue are also hit or miss. The intentionally (or at least I hope intentionally) bad puns like, “I Double Dragon dare!” are funny the first couple times, but can get annoying after the tenth time. Bad guys will usually say something when they appear on screen or hit you, and unfortunately they only have one or two sayings each. So be prepared to hear the same phrases repeated a lot, especially if you play the game through multiple times. The main antagonist is a nasally voiced lich called Skullmageddon who you’ll either love or hate for his voice and sense of humor. Basically, if you like the cheesy dialogue though you’ll enjoy the game the more for it.
Double Dragon: Neon achieves everything it set out to: reinvigorate the Double Dragon franchise while adding new elements and retaining the core gameplay that made the original games popular. The addition of mixtapes and minor RPG elements give the game a high replay value, while the added diversity in combat keeps repeat playthroughs enjoyable. A few performance issues and a hit-or-miss soundtrack and sense of humor may turn off some gamers, but Neon is a great co-op game that accurately recreates the feel of the original arcade and NES games.
7.5 / 10