Review; Double Dragon: NEON

WayForward, I apologise for doubting your skill to treat us a good Double Dragon game. Still, I believe most of you can understand my initial stand. Double Dragon was a big part of my own childhood to the extent that it was probably the first game I ever played on an Atari 520ST. Having a completely new game of Double Dragon doesn’t just have games to stand up against, but immense amount of nostalgia as well.  Now that’s out of the way, let’s move to the review proper.

Double Dragon is a well established franchise that has been dead for some time now. I say dead because it really never got a completely new game since the 90’s and the GameBoy Advance game was just another remake, thou its tweaked fighting mechanics makes it one of the best DD gamesout there. The franchise has good games, and games that should just be forgottenaltogether. Just like that horrible cartoon that I never saw for better or worse. I kinda liked the movie, thou it had nothing to do with the games and was only good for the same reason ascertain Korean cartoons; a reason to chug down whiskeywith certain apple lemonade to forget what you’ve just seen. Granted, I really liked how the film began with the village burned down, but everything just went downwards from there. Not enough down to get things up thou.

So yeah, there’s twenty five years of history behind Double Dragon series, so WayForward had a pressure on their neck. It’s far too early to see whether or not DD NEON has sold enough to warrant a sequel, but the other fans I’ve already talked to have found this game extremely enjoyable on many levels.

Making this game asks for something special. It’s not enough to take the core template and shove it into a new code. You need to watch at the core idea, the spirit of the game if you will, and recreate it with care. If you go too far from the idea and try to implement something that’s not true to the original core, then you’ll lose something vital and bury that under everything else. DD NEON walks on a very finely sharpened edge, and does slightly waver to the other side of the two.

Double Dragon NEON starts in the way it’s always supposed to; Marian getting punched in the baby maker and taken away. From now on it’s Billy’s and Jimmy’ job to save her from whoever snatched her. The first impression is very good, and the pace game kicks in is very good. I originally showed high concerns on the pace of the game, but I can now say that they were completely unnecessary. The gameplay speed is pretty spot-on. Because of the more lax speed it runs on everything can be observed with haste. However, because none of the moves are canceleable like in fighting games, the player needs to take care when to attack and when to avoid attacks. Some of the enemy attacks can’t be distracted, so it’s not uncommon to find yourself getting knocked back in the middle of your combo. Then again, all attacks are indicated pretty clearly and there’s quite a lot of time to react to them, if you pay enough attention. The pace as a whole might not seem fast, but actually it’s rather hectic in its own lax way.

In your use there’s the normal punch, kick and jump buttons. Grabbing has now itsown buttons, as does ducking/evading, Special Moves and Running. This is where DD NEON falters the most; there’s just too many damn buttons for this kind of simple game. Running could be accomplished with double tapping forward, and grabbing should have been combined with the punch button. Y’know, the traditional way of doing things. Special moves could’ve been done with both punch and kick at the same time. I guess ducking/evading is the only one that is needed… no, not really. Evading can be combined with he jump button; pressing jump and any side at the same time would make the character evade. You’d lose the ability to duck, but that wouldn’t change the game at all. Then there’s the High Five function in the Right Stick. Yes, you can high five in bro-cop mode and that’s awesome. Press all three together near your bro, with combination of directions and hey presto, you have a three button system that has an immense amount of use. Actually, we need to discuss how many buttons are needed in a game at a later date.

Combining the pace and the buttons creates pretty damn satisfying experience. While the enemies are reused, they’re always in something different. There’s Elite Williams, who wear commando gear whereas normal Williams are just your normal 80’s street punks. There’s multiple colour variations of Linda, who’s smoking hot in this game. I mean, her new look knocks socks off. There are also female ninjas, and few different types of Abobos. They never really get old, because there’s always something new in them. Punching these bad guys is immensely satisfying as you practically feel the weight of your attacks being delivered. However, there’s certain levels of floatiness in the jumps and the controls are rather rigid. They’re not really tight because you can’t cancel the attacks as previously mentioned. Having evasion canceling your attacks would’ve been a welcome addition, but it works well without that as well.

Special moves are a nice addition, and the way they’re integrated works with the core of the gameplay without messing with it. There’s two kind of skills; Stances and So.. Sosetsu… Moves. You gain Mixtapes from enemies, from where you gain levels. Every move can be levelled up to level ten, and every move has its own theme in the selection window. After all, the player learns them from Mixtapes. And yes, they looks like actual tapes (C-cassettes to be exact), and that’s just pretty damn nifty.

Speaking of how things look, this game is pretty damn gorgeous. I’m not talking about the graphics, as they’re pretty standard forwhat we’re excepting for modern downloadable titles. What I’m talking about is the design of the world. It’s so over the top 80’s that it makes me laugh. Every enemy has a good flavour of anarchetypical goon in there, and then some. The final boss Skullmageddon is nothing short of Chinese Skeletor, and that’s just awesome as hell. I’m not going to lie; I was still sceptical of this game until I saw a YouTube: video of the final battle and the end credits. The neon colours, the landscapes, everything just clicks properly and works. It’s a cohesive world, of which like we really don’t see much any more. It’s also a damn fun world.

While the game is a parody in many ways, especially when it comes to the tropes of the genre, its really earnest in how it does it all and embraces everything. It’s honest and extremely awesome. It’s honestly awesome. There’s no way around it. There’s some few design choices they could’ve done in the visual department, like the player energy bars; they could have mirrored them to have an even HUD, and the 2nd player bar shouldn’t be there during single player game. Without it you could relocate the flashing PRESS START higher up. There’s also a missed chance to have 1ups as arcade tokens/coins that are inserted in a small animation next to player energy meter. There’s truckloads of references and jokes thrown all around, and…. Well, if I was the bad guy, I WOULD complain in the loudspeaker if the good guys were destroying my helluva expensive plasma TVs on my damn space station.

Yes, this game has a space station level. It’s the second unique area you enter, and it’s pretty damn awesome as well.

I understand if people are complaining because of the selected style, but rather than just wanting yet another serious DD game, this is a welcome change. We need more colourful games midst all these green/brown/grey games we’ve had for some time now. It all complements its parody-like nature very well, even if the game isn’t a parody at all. It’s all rather meta in a weird way, and I hate using the word meta.

I also have to condemn the Game Over screen for being awesome. Just wait ’til you see it.

But what about the sound design?Sounds works very well, voices are awesome and spot on, especially with Skullmageddon (who also sings you the end credits song) and the music is just 11/10. No really, the soundtrack is spot on with everything else in the game. It complements the stages, the designs, and the core. I was so afraid to hear the Double Dragon theme getting a bad version, but we get three different versions of it and they’re all from pretty damn awesome to fuck yeah awesome. Then few songs (no, actual songs) that are so 80’s that I thought I started regressing back into my childhood while hammering a pot stand in the metalworkshop earlier today. You can imagine how my co-workers looked at me when I started laughing like a maniac by myself while having a gas torch next to me and a red hot steel in my right hand and an anvil hammer in my left. For some reason they stayed away from me for the whole day. Their loss, because the soundtrack is just… awesome. You can pick it up from bandcamp for the price you wish, but for this kind of work I’m willing to give some money to the composer.

The version I played was on the 360 because PSN didn’t have it yet and I couldn’t wait enough. Also, I’ve got more controllers in the 360 whereas I just have one proper PS3 controller (and one arcade and the six button one) and I really want to do the High Fives. I’ve yet to see any difference between the platforms.

So, is the game any good?

Yeah, it’s good. I can see why a lot of people really wouldn’t like it, as everything previously said can also be used against the game. It’s Double Dragon alright, and it doesn’t need to be anything more. If it was anything more than it already is, they might as well make a completely different game with different set of ideas and core. NEON is a love letter to the 80’s and to the Double Dragon franchise a whole. It’s well worth the price, especially in this day and age where you pay 60 bucks for a five hour game. NEON is a good change of pace from pretty much every game that has been recently released, and anyone even with slightest of interest on the game should download the demo and give it a go. I doubt you’ll be left emotionless.

Still, there’s things that will bug anyone. For one, you can’t use an arcade controller with it properly. This is an arcade game at its heart, so it shouldn’t be a no-brainer to add support to the controller. You can even remap every button, except the High Five one as its tied to the Right stick. Honestly, the controls are the biggest gripe, but how they work, but they are designed to use majority of the buttons on a controller pad. The controls should’ve been designed with a simpler approach. WayForward always has things like this that hold their games back from being truly amazing. They’re little things, but God lives in he details. It’s not about fine tuning the game, but rather giving attention to certain aspects and not overlooking simplicity. It’s a very Americanized game, if you will. This kind of take on any franchise is welcome breeze, but only once in a while. I wish the next game will be more down to earth and would draw from the original concept art rather than taking its own spin on the whole deal.

Still, because of games like this WayForward happens to be my favourite developer at the moment. They make original games quite a lot, and they all meet the minimum quality quota. Then we have games like Bloodrayne Betrayal and this, which stem from existing franchise, but with a new twist or two while still keeping the heart of the original.

This is one of those games that I’d love to play with my brothers. We haven’t played games together since we were… damn, almost fifteen years ago. Still, I’d believe they’d enjoy this game as well.

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