“Marian? Not again…”
It’s been a while since gamers have played a new Double Dragon. Not since 2003′s Double Dragon Advance have Billy and Jimmy Lee punched, kicked and body-slammed every member of the Shadow Warriors clan in a quest to save their girlfriend Marian. This series, however, has remained popular since its initial release in one of America’s most unique cultural times: the 1980s.
Now, in honor of the series’ 25th anniversary, prolific developer WayForward has brought the cultural landscape of the 80s into the series’ newest installment. Double Dragon Neon starts out like every other Double Dragon before it: Billy and Jimmy see Marian get snatched away — again. And, for the first two levels, Neon has much in common with other Double Dragons: the classic level start music, generic martial arts enemies, the occasional dominatrix and the mighty Abobo. However, once level 2 sets in and a boss named Skullmageddon shows up and whisks you off to his spaceship, you can tell one thing: Neon is not your ordinary Double Dragon game. It’s a hilarious, over-the-top revival with many tricks up its sleeve, and while not without its faults, fighting game fans can do much, much worse.
In Double Dragon Neon, there are ten levels split across six different areas with three difficulties, ranging from hard to begin with (Normal) to downright God Tier (Double Dragon). Besides the aforementioned punks, S&M girls and Abobos, the game also introduces enemies in the different stages to keep things fresh. I doubt that most of us have seen, say, Amelia Earhart-esque ladies attached to rockets. While the enemies do repeat, there’s more variety here than in many beat-em-ups nowadays.
Speaking of variety, the game’s skill sets thrive upon a special “song” mechanic. Both special powers, called “Sosetsitsu,” and perks, called “stances,” can be used to your advantage. From the classic burning dragon to the one-inch punch, there’s a power for everyone, and you can even go to a so-called “Tapesmith” and level up your songs for a small fee.
This mechanic is one of many ways that Double Dragon Neon embraces the 80s in its atmosphere. The environments and character designs in the game look quite nice, with a 2.5D landscape and a pleasant cel-shaded aesthetic. That doesn’t help here, however, unless all the bad guys have mullets, leather jackets and the like, and Double Dragon Neon has tons of style in that regard. It also helps that Skullmageddon is basically a carbon copy of Masters of the Universe‘s Skeletor, and Kurt Russell would be proud with the numerous allusions to Big Trouble in Little China throughout the palace area. But the music, composed by WayForward favorite Jake Kaufman, is far out. Beyond the stage music, the power-up tapes you get play 30-second loops that parody the likes of Rick Astley, N.W.A, Marvin Gaye and others in hysterical fashion.
Even with the fresh coat of paint, Double Dragon Neon is still a classic beat-em-up at heart. It’s still punch-kick-punch-evade, for the most part, but is still as fiendishly difficult as the original. The platforming sections, in particular, can be quite brutal. For those who can’t quite take the single-player game, however, Neon‘s amazing co-operative play offers numerous combos and the ability for the second player to jump in at any time. Unfortunately, the game itself is about three hours long, but the levels themselves are quite lengthy, and there are very few checkpoints. Fortunately, the autosave feature keeps your progress intact at the end of each level. The collision detection is a bit wonky, too, as with other beat-em-ups of the era. In the end, however, Double Dragon Neon is not a game for the faint hearted to begin with, and criticisms such as these extend themselves to quite a few games of its genre – including the original Double Dragon. This is a game that harkens back to a time where gamers were tested, not coddled.
Like Contra 4 and A Boy And His Blob before it, Double Dragon Neon works because WayForward went by the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The core gameplay and characters in the series – Billy, Jimmy, Marian, the Shadow Warriors – are left alone, but at the same time, they’re updated for a new console generation. Plus, the retro quirks throughout give beat-em-ups, and downloadable games in general, a much-needed kick in the pants. If you don’t mind some minor problems that most games of its ilk suffer from anyway, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more humorous and awesome game experience for $10 than Double Dragon Neon.
This review is based on the PS3 version. A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Editor’s Note: This review covers the single and local co-op campaigns; however, online co-op was still being patched in at the time the review copy was received.