The 80s, one of the greatest decades that comes to mind. Great music, awesome cartoons and the start of certain game franchises that, to this day, still stand tall. Double Dragon was one of those franchises born in 1987 via Arcade and then made its way to the NES. For years, the series had continued to grow, but by the mid-90s, it slowly faded away. Fast forward to 2012 and the series returns to the PSN/XBLA as Double Dragon: Neon, courtesy of WayForward Technologies, for its 25th anniversary. Is this 80s revival the proper homage to series/brawler fans or are you better off dusting your NES carts?
Upon booting up the game, you’ll be treated to the Double Dragon remixed theme song and if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll definitely be cracking a smile at the pure sense of nostalgia. As you initiate a new game, you’ll find a similar intro to the original Double Dragon. Marian, your girlfriend and damsel in distress, gets nailed right in the chest by a thug and then kidnaps her. Ironically, Billy and Jimmy will actually say, “Oh man…not this again!” when she’s taken away, somewhat breaking the fourth wall. From here, let the beat downs commence.
WayForward Technologies definitely studied the history of the franchise as it shows in the game’s mechanics. The characters control very similar to their 8 and 16-bit days, stiff movement and all. Normally something like that sounds more negative than positive in today’s standards but let me assure you, it’s not. It gives the game that same “feel” to the originals that fans will truly appreciate while newcomers will still be able to grasp after a few minutes. Combat is handled with your light and strong attacks, as well as grabs and special attacks. Light attacks mainly resort to your fists while strong attacks will focus on your kicks. Every time you critically damage an opponent into a stun state, the screen will freeze for a split second, giving you a sense of the damage you’re dealing. It’s a nice little touch but one that’s gratifying and effective. You’ll be able to pick up weapons such as baseball bats, 2x4s, switchblades, explosive canisters, and of course the most badass weapon in the game, the hair pick. You can switch up the button presses to mix up your combos, but to further add some complexity, there’s a duck/dodge mechanic that can change up your moves as well. Ducking and dodging is one mechanic that you better get used to…a lot. The game reeks of old-school mechanics and the only way to complete that “feel” is to make the game tough-as-hell. While nowhere near as difficult as Double Dragon III on the NES (you know, the one where you only get a single life to get through the entire game), this game will definitely test your skills. You’ll get three lives at the start of every level but once you run out of those, it’s back to the very beginning of the stage, no checkpoints here. To be honest, the only time you’ll ever get a checkpoint is at the final boss…and thank goodness for that because the final level is lengthy and the final boss poses a steep challenge.
While the game is a brawler at heart, you’ll have to do a slight bit of platforming. While it’s not the smoothest platforming, Double Dragon always felt stiff when jumping over chasms, and the case remains the same here. Again, purely a design decision to make the game feel as close to the originals as possible. At the end of certain levels, there’ll be a boss battle awaiting you and these are cleverly designed. Every boss will have a specific strategy for you to learn so that you can find the right moment to rush in, attack and dodge. Oh, and Mega Man fans, there’s a boss that pays an homage to that franchise as well and you’ll chuckle when you witness it.
As you progress through the levels, you’ll earn cash which can be used at the shop you’ll find in a few levels. The shop allows you to buy extra Cassette Tapes (which I’ll explain their use soon), health and energy, and extra lives. Strangely, if you buy a ton of lives, none of them will carry over into the next level so just keep that in mind when spending the dough on that. There’s also a “Tapesmith” that allows you to upgrade your Cassette Tape capacity, which will enable your abilities to keep increasing in the particular stats that it pertains to. Cash won’t be your currency for these upgrades however. Instead, you’ll need to trade in Mythril that you earn after boss fights. You won’t upgrade much on your first playthrough but it definitely gives the game some replay value to go back and keep upgrading.
Now I mentioned about Cassette Tapes, which really helps change up the game’s mechanics and strategic approach. Cassette Tapes will be broken up into two categories, one particularly for Sosetsitsu (specials), the other for Stances (stat enhancements). Sosetsitsus will range from shooting fireballs and lightning, to the infamous Spin Kick that was a staple in the series. Stance cassettes will vary from increased offense but decreased defense, recover health from every hit but have a smaller health bar, or even an all-around stat setup so that everything is balanced. The Cassette Tapes add a good amount of depth to the game’s mechanics that can make all the difference in succeeding in a level. By simply pressing Select/Back, you’ll access the menu and will be able to switch up your tapes at any time. Tapes are easily obtainable from enemies as they’ll be dropping them often.
When it comes to brawlers, co-op (or “Bro-Op” as they call it) is always essential and naturally, Double Dragon is synonymous for it. That feature is fully intact here, with a drop-in/drop-out feature incorporated. WayForward went the extra mile and added an option to shut off “Friendly Fire” so that you and your buddy aren’t getting in the way of each other. However, if you’re hardcore, you can always stick to the old fashion style of dealing damage to each other. Unfortunately, the one odd omission is the lack of online co-op. While I understand WayForward may have chosen this direction to truly retain the game’s old-school style, it’s still a bummer to not have the feature here.
When it comes to visuals, WayForward really has an amazing art style and their talent still stands here. Combining their astonishing 2D artwork with solid 3D models, all full of colorful detail, Double Dragon Neon is just a nice looking game. The game runs at a silky smooth 60fps the whole time, never stuttering at any moment no matter how intense the action gets. Jake Kaufman (known for his BloodRayne: Betrayal composition) returns once again to give Double Dragon a proper soundtrack and fires on all cylinders. Double Dragon has an energetic, pumping soundtrack filled with remixes of classic tunes from the original installments. Interestingly, the names of the Cassette Tapes are actual songs from the 80s that will play when highlighting them in the menu. Sound effects are exactly what you’d expect from a brawler and gets the job done. The voice acting on the other hand is incredibly laughable, intentionally so, making it reach that “so bad it’s good” quality. It’s incredibly cheesy dialogue but completely fits the nature of the game.
WayForward Technologies has continued to provide something that very few developers have achieved; a nostalgic experience that brings me back to why I got into gaming in the first place. The game isn’t perfect, but it’s a great game that must be played by any Double Dragon fan, as well as anyone who digs a solid brawler. If you never dug the Double Dragon series before, there may not be too much here to convince you. This game is clearly a love letter to fans of the originals and it clearly shows. Double Dragon Neon is a great example of an old-school revival done right.
Overall Score: 8.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!