Pull out your bandanas and day-glo aerobics togs, because Double Dragon: Neon on PSN and XBLA is just one big flashback to the 80s. And I have to admit, I really like it. While not exactly a direct remake, Neon plays out more as a really faithful homage to the original arcade button masher and its ports to the NES and Sega Master System.
WayForward, the folks behind such other fan favorites as Contra 4, brings Double Dragon and the beat ’em up genre it led the charge for straight into the digital millennium. As in the original Double Dragon, you take on the roles of brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee. Billy’s girlfriend Marian has been sucker punched in the gut, then kidnapped by some particularly vicious thugs. Now it’s up to you to save the damsel in distress from the clutches of the evil yet effeminate Skullmageddon, who steals more than a few frilly items from the same closet Skeletor inhabits.
The graphics have been updated for today’s gamer, and look rather good overall. The whole screen and its characters come across in vivid colors, with a respectfully accurate retro style to the art and animation that is well suited to its origins as an 80’s platformer. Similarly, the soundtrack is quite well crafted for that 80’s feel, with hints of Stacey Q, Survivor, and 80’s R&B ala Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, just to name a few I picked up along the way. It’s loads of fun on numerous levels (remember when even pop music was actually good?) and really sets the mood for the proceeding at hand. Each stage is different, and the music follows suit, changing style to match each new scenario. Even little things like how you can throw a hair pick at an opponent, only to see it get stuck in their hair for the rest of the fight show how much WayForward was into this. Sure, you could argue that these are all small details and soft skills, but this sort of loving attention to even the minutest of applicable associations and references is exactly what makes the difference between a merely “good” game and a great one.
Like the original Double Dragon, Neon is best played with a friend (or if you prefer, “a bro”). The co-op mode is actually renamed “Bro-op” (insert bemused laugh here), and this is where the game really shines. Playing with a partner allows you to share health, increase attacks or just to steal health from your partner by giving each other high-fives, which are accomplished by simply pressing your right stick towards your partner. Another advantage of playing with a partner is that they can help revive you when you get taken down by the many enemies strolling across the mean streets of Double Dragon’s unnamed city. This can be done as many times as needed, so long as you can get ‘er done within a specified time frame. It’s amusing just to see the process, where that hallmark of 80’s music trading, the C-60 cassette tape, appears onscreen and a pencil is used to help rewind both it and your health (anyone else remember those days?). Sadly, online multiplayer is not available at the moment, but WayForward has stated that it will patch this into the game in the near future.
In addition to the countless weapons and assorted debris which you can make use of to throw, swing, or crack over opponents’ heads, you also get to upgrade your abilities via the use of “mix tapes”. Tapes can be collected from defeated enemies or purchased in stores and are used to confer special abilities or improve stats. Tapes are also stackable, which will upgrade a given ability to a higher level and more powerful attack. The tapes similarly can be upgraded by paying off a tapesmith with mythril, which is obtained after defeating bosses. You can also travel back to previous stages in order to collect extra tapes and items to increase your abilities.
Fans of the Double Dragon series should pick up on a lot of in-jokes and situations in the game. I was laughing within the first minute, as Billy lamented about having to rescue Marian yet AGAIN. Oh, the fun to be had.
Anyone who feels any fondness towards the Double Dragon series, the 80’s, and side scrollers in general should simply love Double Dragon: Neon. WayForward did a truly stellar job at bringing the series back to life in all its retro-styled glory. It’s fun, exciting and has a rockin’ 80’s style soundtrack. If this sounds like your cup of tea, don’t hesitate another second, you really can’t lose with this one.
Cooperation is good and Double Dragon: Neon shows you just how much more can be accomplished by working together. I could see a bit of myself in this, like how I work with my sister and friends to get things done. Because as strong as I may feel I am on my own, we’re so much stronger together. Plus I love all the brilliant colors and vibrant graphics. If it weren’t for all the violence, I could say that I feel right at home.
I don’t need anyone to help me out, screw that! I’m a star, I can do anything! Although, I admit, it is a little easier with someone to help. You know, carry the bags or whatever. Not that I need anyone for the important stuff! I will say, I do love the fashion sense of some of those girls in the game. “Hurt me!” Will do!
Best song to describe the game:
Outta My Way from The Beginning and Beat This from The Talent Search Part 2.
Overall Score: 9.0