Phillip Huynh from Retro Domination’s Sister Site Console Domination, Show’s us that This Retro Reboot is all cracked up to be.
Released in 1987, Double Dragon ushered in a golden age of beat ’em ups. In many ways it was an archetype for the genre, containing the urban setting, gameplay mechanics and co-operative multiplayer that would become commonplace in the years to come.
Now, with the release of Double Dragon Neon, everything old is new again, boasting a return to classic side scrolling beat ’em up gameplay and a delightfully tongue in cheek 80’s feel.
The story, as it always is in these sorts of games, involves criminals and vigilantes. In this case, you play the martial arts brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee, whose love interest Marian has been kidnapped by the supervillain Skullmageddon. Obviously what follows is a one (or two) man war on an entire criminal organisation as you battle on the streets, into space, through haunted forests and into Skullmaggedon’s neon futuristic/traditional Asian palace. Cheesy perhaps, but in the best traditions of the genre. Add to that the deliberately exaggerated 1980’s feel and its made a whole lot more ridiculous. The heroes have mullets, sleeveless leather vests and singlets, to show that they’re ‘bad’ (they’re probably bad enough dudes to rescue the President). The girl looks like she just walked out of a glam rock video clip. The villain, in the vein of classic 1980’s cartoon villains, is a shrill, whiny coward with a penchant for skeleton related puns – “Looks like its time for a marrow escape! Nyahahaha!” – and who sounds a hell of a lot like Skeletor from He-Man. The entire thing is tragically 80’s and a glorious tribute to that utterly bewildering and insane decade.
The gameplay itself is at its core a classic beat ’em up. You, ten linear stages, a wealth of enemies, bosses to fight, health items and weapons to pick up, and the odd environmental hazard. The controls are: Light attack, heavy attack, grab, jump, duck and special attack, and these are largely as you’d expect. There are some modern design elements though. Ducking at the right time gives you a temporary attack boost. The right thumbstick allows you to ‘high five’ your teammate and gain health or attack buffs, and finally you can upgrade your character. Stances change your stats and grant passive abilities. Balanced gives you a mix of health, energy, attack and defence. Absorb lets you get health back for every attack you land, but your stats are considerably weaker than they would under other stances. Weapon Up makes your weapons stronger and longer lasting, and so on. Sosetsitsu grant you a special move and come in a variety of flavours, from shooting fireballs, to spinning hurricane kicks, to summoning dragons. Each special move does something different and has different energy costs.
Throughout the game there are cassette tapes to pick up or buy and getting these will either unlock new stances/special moves or strengthen your pre-existing ones. Doing so is vital as later stages and harder difficulties will be unbeatable if you don’t keep increasing your power. While this does greatly increase the replay value of the game, it also means quite a bit of grinding is involved as you replay stages to earn cash, cassettes and metal to upgrade your character. Whilst I didn’t mind the repetitive nature of this and enjoyed powering up my character (I like the genre after all and it’s not exactly a varied and wide ranging one), others might find it very annoying. Moreover while there is drop in and drop out co-op, there’s no online co-op, although they are reportedly working on it.
The presentation as I said before is tragically 1980s and I mean that in the best way possible. The art style, the character design, the voice acting and the music, all of it is a deeply entertaining throwback to a bygone era. With crisp, brightly coloured 3D graphics, the entire game pops out at you. Meanwhile the 80’s pop rock inspired soundtrack and frankly hilariously dodgy voice acting (the bad guy sounds like Skeltor, the heroes are like Bill and Ted) adds to the nostalgia. Some of the music is irritatingly memorable though and I’ve got the pop song from the second stage stuck in my head. Double Dragon Neon is a love letter to a bygone age and to classic genre. While it has gotten a bad rep, I can assure you that if you’re a fan of beat ’em ups and 80’s pop culture then you’ll definitely find a lot to be charmed by. With its combination of retro gameplay, striking presentation and tongue in cheek nostalgia, Neon is following in the best traditions of its predecessors, although the lack of online co-op and need for grinding may put off some gamers.
Score: 8.0 out of 10.
Double Dragon Neon is available now on Playstation Network and Xbox Live. Playstation Plus members can currently get it free for the month of October.