Double Dragon Neon review: samurai bro-down

Game Info
Platform 360, Win, PSN
Publisher Majesco Entertainment
Developer WayForward Technologies
Release Date Sep 11, 2012

Double Dragon Neon hasn't evolved much, but it is a radical look backwards.

Double Dragon Neon is as much a memorial as a rebirth for its namesake. While everyone with an NES remembers Double Dragon, time has been unkind to the series, and it's laid largely dormant for years. But Shantae andBloodrayne: Betrayal developers WayForward are committed to reminding players that the series exists.

WayForward's strategy: set Double Dragon Neon back in time and clothe it in more nostalgia than any game I can easily recall. WayFoward's attempts to stay true to the Double Dragon series' aged mechanics don't do Neon any favors, but a reverence and sense of humor about the game and the era that spawned it serve to give Double Dragon Neon more character than the series has ever had.

Double-dragon-neon-review-screen-1-405x600

Double Dragon Neon's basic play is what you'd probably imagine it to be. You control Billy and Jimmy Lee, walking through levels from left to right, encountering a variety of enemies and beating the ever-loving crap out of them with your fists, feet, or the weapons you take away from them. It sounds simple because it is.

In this respect, Double Dragon Neon takes after its namesake. As you make your way through the game, you'll kick the hell out of a variety of Williams, Lindas, Abobos, and more. There's not much more to the fundamentals than that. You hit things.

YOU HIT THINGS. THERE'S NOT MUCH MORE TO THE FUNDAMENTALS THAN THAT.

In a nod to the modern character action title, Double Dragon Neon's controls are a bit more complicated than before. The punch, kick, and jump buttons are joined by a throw button, which is more practical than revolutionary. But Neon also adds dedicated buttons for ducking, running, and special moves, which is where WayForward has attempted to add some depth to a 25-year old formula.

By finding mixtapes dropped by defeated enemies - I'll get to that in a minute - Billy and Jimmy learn new special moves. These range from a souped-up version of the original Hurricane Kick to fireballs or lightning attacks. Other mixtapes yield different stances, which nudge your stats toward offense, defense, or the middle ground between. Other more specific styles give the player more life for every hit they land, for example. Each special move and stance can be leveled up by finding more of the same mixtape, or by spending cash earned from defeated enemies at specific stores scattered throughout the game.

Double-dragon-neon-review-screen-2

It all makes for something more interesting, at least at first. After about 20 minutes, I poured money into my Hurricane Kick and Fireball, and the balanced stance and ... pretty much never looked at the menu again. There are basic practical differences between a more powerful Hurricane Kick - a more mundane version is part of the default set of combos available at all times - and a fireball, sure. But I never felt a need to experiment with the other abilities or stances until the very end of Double Dragon Neon. There, you face a boss that will hit you, bounce you off the edge of the screen, grab you, and kill you. At least you still have multiple lives, and extras aren't hard to come by.

There are even achievements and trophies for finishing Double Dragon Neon without using the special moves at all, underlining their nature as a sort of bolted-on addition. Save for the final boss, you won't even need the help, until, you start a new game on the harder difficulties. These only unlock after completing Double Dragon Neon'sdefault mode. At that point, you'll be forced to grind on the easier difficulties, banking money and mixtapes in order to level up your characters enough to have a fighting chance against more aggressive (and more cheap) AI opponents.

Underneath that grind lies stage design and combat that function but don't achieve much more than that. Perhaps due to WayForward's efforts to remain "faithful" to the basic structure of an arcade game from 1987, Double Dragon Neon's controls feel stiff, its combat system underdeveloped, and shy of some minor gameplay wrinkles added during each stage and a few clever bosses, things play mostly the same for the 3 hour-ish duration of the game.

NEON EVOKES MUSIC VIDEOS FROM PRINCE, MICHAEL JACKSON, AND QUEEN, OF ALL THINGS

It's then left to Double Dragon Neon's radical presentation choices to hold it up and inject some sense of vibrancy to the game. In this, Neon succeeds. The art design evokes a sort of magical '80s blend of music videos from Prince, Michael Jackson, and Queen, of all things. While I could've lived without the needlessly salacious touches here and there - girlfriend and damsel-in-distress Marian's breasts are practically falling out of her top, and Linda, the whip-wielding badass chick, is now a leather-bound dominatrix - I was compelled forward to see what was next. Double Dragon Neon has some great bosses and inventive setpieces, to say nothing of some pretty excellent music, including a second stage track that sounds lifted directly from a phantom sophomore album from electro duo La Roux.

Double-dragon-neon-review-screen-3-405x600

Wrap Up:

DOUBLE DRAGON NEON'S PRESENTATION SAVES IT FROM FEELING MUCH TOO FAMILIAR

Double Dragon Neon's throwback sensibilities cut both ways. The basic play isn't particularly evolved from 8- and 16-bit brawlers — even the NES Double Dragon had experience levels. But the nostalgia and goodwill for '80s specific sensibilities manage to set Neon apart from pretty much anything else in the genre.

Presentation doesn't often count for as much as it does in Double Dragon Neon, but everything is so cohesive and considered as part of its homage/reimagining that it's hard not to get caught up in the in-jokes and cheese, especially as wrapped in something so attractive. For the two to three hours it will take for you and a willing co-op partner to make your way through the first time, seeing the next thing will probably be enough to offset how crushingly familiar everything seems after just a few minutes. But other than the true masochists who plan on grinding through Double Dragon Neon's additional difficulty levels, there isn't much more than nostalgia to mine.

About Polygon's Reviews