Double Dragon: Neon
Introduced to arcades in 1987, Double Dragon quickly became the standard for beat ’em ups everywhere. Pretty soon there were arcade games popping up left and right with identical siblings pounding hundreds of samey street thugs that had absconded off with their girlfriends. WayForward has taken a crack at remaking the classic series with mixed results, focusing on nostalgia more than thinking up ways to improve upon the formula.
Double Dragon: Neon opens up in classic format: a gang of street punks punch Marian in the gut and take off with her while the Lee brothers give chase. While Neon follows the original Double Dragon closely, it does veer off in an entirely different direction early on with odd sci-fi elements including a completely different bad guy—Skullmageddon, a sort of parody of Skeletor and other ’80s cartoon villains that are perpetually annoyed by the incompetent idiots they use for henchmen. Those expecting a beat-for-beat remake of Double Dragon are going to be disappointed.
Even so, Neon sticks close to the proven formula: light attacks and heavy attacks, going left-to-right and beating up incalculable thugs, including tough bosses. To change things up there are mix tapes that give the Lee brothers new abilities such as hurricane kicks, fireballs, and so forth that can be equipped at any time, provided there’s enough energy left in the power bar. Other mix tapes acquired affect stats somewhat, though the effects aren’t immediately noticeable during normal gameplay. These can be upgraded either by getting more copies of the stance tapes or by upgrading the techniques at a tapesmith shop.
Beyond that, the Lees can pick up any dropped weapons and use them on enemies, such as knives, baseball bats, and whips, while a dodge mechanic serves as a poor substitute for a block button. Dodging can lead into two other attacks, but its primary purpose is to avoid damage and gain ‘gleam’ so that counterattacking does more damage. You can mix up the attacks, but in the end the most effective means of dispatching enemies is to start with a punch and go into heavy attacks until they’re stunned, at which point it’s possible to throw them. Only being able to grab and throw bad guys once they’re dazed seems counter-intuitive, especially considering it’s 2012.
Like its forefather before it, Neon can be a difficult game. There are pitfalls to be avoided, artillary from helicopters to be dodged, and massive Abobos to deal with. Players start each level with only two lives and any extra ones that have been stockpiled through the level or bought in the store don’t carry over to the next level. Coupled with a total lack of any checkpoint systems, it makes for a frustrating experience to do so much work only to be dropped back to the start.
Neon clearly wants to keep the experience unquestionably old-school, and WayForward has decided to keep things rooted firmly in the ’80s. From the bright colors, the bad one-liners, and big hair, everything screams 1980’s. Even the soundtrack is packed with tracks that wouldn’t sound out of place on a radio station from the decade of Reagan. The game constantly skirts the line between fond remembrance for the era to comedic parody, but the tone is always lively and it’s unquestionably the area Neon shines the most in.
Playing Double Dragon: Neon with a second player is the only way to truly appreciate the game. Going it alone only ends in frustration and boredom. It’s unfortunate that there is currently no way to play online, and only those with a bro of their very own will be able to experience Neon the way it was meant to be. At a time when anybody can fire up Castle Crashers and get a party of four players going in no time, Neon’s lack of basic functionality is a particularly glaring oversight.
Double Dragon: Neon is fun in small doses, but the lack of online play greatly diminishes its appeal along with its strict adherence to the same annoying aspects of the genre that have since been done away with. Mechanically, it lacks much of the complexity found in other brawlers, even the Double Dragon remake on the Game Boy Advance years back. Its refusal to get with the times is both an endearing quality and off-putting trait at the same time, but beyond its nostalgia for all things ’80s there’s nothing to really recommend it over its now twenty-five year old sibling.