On retro throwbacks

Double Dragon is one of those classic game franchises that a generation grew up. Not just on the NES, but in arcades and whole slew of home computers as well, including the likes of Atari 520ST. With time other franchises came along and did things better than Double Dragon, namely Final Fight and Streets of Rage, not to forget all the belt-scrolling-action games Konami put out. There is a huge legacy for Double Dragon, which has been tapped on an occasion after the disaster that was the 1990’s. These range from extremely poor to absolutely incredible. In hindsight, Double Dragon Neon is a terrible game, only beaten by that Korean Double Dragon II title nobody ever played. The best game in the franchise, and one of the best games on GameBoy Advance no less, is Double Dragon Advance. That game didn’t just aim to push the game to its possible peaks without compromising much with what the series had already built up, but also expanded what the series could be. Every game that have upheld the Double Dragon name since then have been utter trash in comparison. Oh yes, this’ll be one of those more personal posts again.

So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that ArcSys was going to release Double Dragon IV early next year. What possibilities had opened up. ArcSys could do even better than what Million did in 2003.

Of course, if I had not just taken triangle pills to kill down my fever and chugged down a bottle or two, I would have remembered that ArcSys has been milking the Kunio-kun franchise as a retro dot graphics throwback for number of years now. Even the opening text announcing the 30th year anniversary looks lazy and thrown in there by a six years old.

These throwbakcs work once in a blue moon when there has been sufficient time between releases. Hell, people flocked New Super Mario Bros. because it was a new 2D Mario game decades and New Super Mario Bros. Wii outsold Super Mario Galaxy just by the fact Nintendo brought back the Koopalings. However, the main reason why these two titles succeeded was because consumers fucking love 2D Mario boatloads more than 3D Mario. The same happened with Mega Man 9 and 10. Mega Man 9 saw some success because it was the original Mega Man back in action in a title that was based on a survey… that the hardcore fans had filled out. No wonder the game played into perceived tropes the series has instead to the ones it actually has. Mega Man 10  didn’t just have worse design overall, but at that point these dot graphics games were dime in a dozen. Hell, most indie titles seem to go for faux-old school look or use Minecraft‘s voxels.

The Kunio-kun warm ups were fun little games, I can’t argue against that. Nevertheless they still feel disappointing in how they look and play, because the cutesy dot graphics don’t carry the impact the game should have. It’s playing on the nostalgia of the consumers while ignoring to advance the game franchise further. Even the silliness the new Kunio-kun titles had worked for their favour, because those games were inherently silly… after the first arcade title, at least. Nevertheless they had an air of seriousness about them and each new title in the franchise tried to push a little bit farther.

Double Dragon Advance is still a retro throwback on its own rights, utilising pretty much the same overall visual design, just upgraded to be more detailed and fluid than the original games, whatever system you want to pick Double Dragon from. Perhaps this has been deemed to sell less than using the same fucking sprites they made thirty years ago. Who am I to judge a business decision that’ll make a company more money? Well, everything really, as it’s my damn money I want to spend that hard-earned cash for something else than just another rehash of 8-bit sprites with a new overlay.

Even 2D Mario saw declining sales with New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi  U, partly because nobody owns a Wii U, but mostly because the New Super Mario Bros. had run its course. There was nothing new in the games and the production values were laughable compared to its 3D sisters. If the same care would have been put in the 2D games, given the same orchestral treatment and not the WAH WAH music, Nintendo wouldn’t bat an eye at a suggestion of a new 2D Mario game. At the surface, it would seem the same thing happened with the new Kunio-kun titles, except the nostalgic cashgrab element they had going on. As mentioned, Mega Man met the same faith.

I don’t expect anything major from Double Dragon IV and no way in Hell I’m willing to put money down on it. Personally, I’m sick and tired of 8-bit graphics on old franchises. I would have expected game developers to want increase the potential of their games with new hardware and find ways to breathe new life franchises of bygone years. All I’m getting now is sprites from thirty years ago with terrible remixes. Somebody tell ArcSys to hire Vertexguy to remix their music rather than using shitty synth.

Perhaps the current hardware and retroware worship has made developers lazy, and kids and nostalgia blinded forty years old still eat up these titles. Just gimme new entries in these old franchises that aim to be their own thing with the aim of pushing the envelope.

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.

Twice as much dragons from the 80’s in neon colours

After few weeks of deadlines and working my ass off on few projects I was met with a bunch of good news. First of all, The Avengers film are coming to town, the new Super Robot Wars game is pretty good and Shunjou Shuusuke does good art.

Oh and WayForward is developing a Double Dragon game. HOTDAMN I screamed as I clicked the Play button.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myYb8XA5hHk]

What is this? WayForward, what is this? This isn’t like you.

Jeremy Perish’s article at 1UP pretty much sums up my reaction and explains why all of this are the way they are. It seems that the game has been in development for some weeks now, and that mostly just tells how good the guys at WayForward are at this. 3D isn’t their forte at all, but it looks like they’re giving good amount of effort to pull the game off.

However, let’s take a look at the trailer as it is now and let’s forget everything else.

First of all, the style is pretty damn nice, even if I’m not going to be a big fan. Visuals are filled with neon colours, even if they’re washed out and lack details. I hope both of these will be rectified later on. You got your basic peons; the afroguy, the hot chick with a whip, and so on. The car in the garage as they steal your woman is still awesome thou. Overall, the visuals hit the 80’s so well that it’s almost shameful, as Jimmy and Billy are palette swaps as are bulk of the enemies you’re going to mow down. WayForward, I know things were like this in the 80’s, but please add more enemies and make Billy and Jimmy their own characters with different models. It just looks cheap when you’ve got dozens of palette swapped hi-res 3D models doing the exact same things on the screen.

There’s also the thing that the visuals do not meet with the setting of the game. Originally, Double Dragon is set into a post-apocalyptic world, where twin brothers were sweeping the streets with their martial arts skills thought by their master. Basically, Hokuto no Ken with two Kenshiro’s, and it’s awesome. You don’t see any of this in the game and you wouldn’t know about the story behind if you didn’t read the manual… or watch the intro of Double Dragon Advance. The neon colours going on, and the overall clean 80’s doesn’t really scream post-apocalypse, but perhaps this time New York has fared much better than originally. Still, while overall visuals do their intended job, I need to ask as a fan if these are the visuals I want from my Double Dragon.

The music, while it really is the Double Dragon theme for all intents and purposes, feels rather lacking in the oomph department. Vertexguy’s take on the music is still one of the best versions out there. He has this nice striking electric guitar there, while everything seems to subdued and silent in Neon’s case. It’s not a bad piece and would be perhaps the best rearrange if it didn’t have competition. I hope DDNEon’s track will get at least same level of treatment, if not even better, as DD’s music score is up there in video game music. Before you come in and start spouting how Final Fantasy has better music I want to cram this fist into your mouth and tell you to shut up. We’ve been over this before.

The gameplay is slow, downright muddy. The original Double Dragon isn’t the most speediest game we know, but there’s no reason to speed things up here; all the later Double Dragons are faster than the original. Or it might be that I’m imagining things as PAL region does run on 50Hz as opposed to NTCS’ 60Hz. Nevertheless, the slow gameplay we have here is next to unacceptable. While in the trailers it seems that the player characters can jump, according to Parish they couldn’t in the test version. This begs the question why to showcase DDNeon at this early age at all? The game’s clearly in an early alpha build… hopefully.

I wouldn’t put my money into this game, even if I’m big on DD. However, if I know WayForward even the tiniest amount, they’ll listen to the critic given by their audience and make the game play much better. If not, then the industry’s really screwed.

If I may overanalyze Double Dragon Neon for a bit, I’d say that it is WayForward’s way to criticize the current industry as a whole. The industry has an unhealthy obsession to make all in 3D even if doesn’t add anything or doesn’t fit the game itself. The industry’s method of reskinning old games into new ones without much thinking also shines though. As of now, WayForward has just done that. There’s also the matter of being cheap. All of industry’s worst sides are shown in the trailer… and if this really is just an early alpha, what does that say of the industry at large?

Perhaps it would work for the best if WayForward had done the game in 2D. However, it might’ve been that they were given the task to do it in 3D, a choice that I don’t feel with. In most cases 3D games have been slower than 2D games, but that’s mostly dependant on the programming and game design. Double Dragon, while even originally rather slow, had fast action. The Game Boy Advance remake is still the best version out there because of this; it balanced the gameplay’s speed for the system and it was extremely enjoyable because of that. Neon looks this slow because there’s so much empty space on the screen that doesn’t have anything there. Back in the day when you got five characters on screen you had to play well and fast to survive. Nowadays five characters on screen means that you need to walk around a lot more just to punch them. What about giving more options to the players, like a dash attack or the like to speed up the gameplay? Or simply make the characters walk and punch a little bit faster?

I agree that I’m going far too much into things just based on one very early trailer, but I want to raise questions in the readers’ mind, not just on Double Dragon Neon, but on the industry at large and the quality of games we have; is the latest new game you bought worth your time and money?