Double Dragon Neon
by Seth Robison
Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Modern media enterprises messing around with fond childhood memories is a risky venture if the goal is to get those now-grown and disposable-income-having fans to drop a few bucks for the chance to return to a more 'innocent' time. That was clearly the thinking behind the development of Double Dragon Neon, available now as a downloadable title on PSN and XBLA from WayForward Technologies (A Boy and His Blob) and published by Majesco Entertainment. A side-scrolling brawler in the franchise’s tradition that instead of mocking the original game's in retrospect cheesy 80s aesthetic, embraces it wholeheartedly and delivers an enjoyable, if compact, arcade-like experience with a fair amount of depth.In a familiar sequence, one of gaming's first damsels-in-distress, Marion, is kidnapped by the forces of darkness, and it’s up to Billy Lee and his brother Jimmy to brawl their way across the world to save her from the evil lich Skullmageddon. In their way is a legion of goons (including that break-out star: Abobo), but at their side is a light/heavy attack system that is augmented with weapons, dodges, dashes and jumps. A 'mix tape' power-up system lets you choose the combination of special attack and stat boosting tunes to fit your play-style/situation. Level up these powers via pickups, or spend cash at the unfortunately hard-to reach shops to upgrade them.
Co-op play is strongly encouraged, as the Lee brothers not only play off each other and their situation, but also have a 'High-Five' system for sharing health or a temporary boots to attack power in exchange for the risk of leaving yourself open to attack while you time it right (a positively essential factor for any quality high-five). Fortunately, outside of some issues of lining up/dodging attacks and hit detection, Double Dragon Neon controls very tightly, characters move with a certain deliberateness which holds the game back from reaching a pace that is too frantic and bestows a dependable level of consistency.
There are a lot of things about the 80s that are easy to mock, but the writing in Double Dragon Neon largely plays them straight; for instance the Lee brothers seemingly endless supply of words that end in -tastic and Skullmageddon's over-the-top supernatural menace that is cut by his chuckle worthy proclamations about how hard it is to be an over-the-top supernatural menace would be funny enough even if it wasn't delivered in a voice that recalls The Monarch from Adult Swim’s animated series The Venture Brothers. Finally the game is littered with in-jokes to not only its own past but clever, lawsuit-skirting 'homages' to other great franchises of the arcade and early console era.
Visually if you ever enjoyed the work of the UDON comic book studio and wanted to see it come to life, you'll be glad to hear that one of their bright stars, Gonzalo Arias of Chile, aka GENZOMAN, was the talent behind the overall 'look' of Double Dragon Neon. His impressive version of the Double Dragon logo is only surpassed by his large, detailed renderings of all the characters, imbuing even those which might have just been simple palette swaps in other games with distinct looks if not move sets.
Double Dragon Neon also took the time to satirize the music of the era in its eclectic yet totally 80s soundtrack that features over two dozen pieces that run the gammut from synth-pop to disco, old school rap to rock and roll power ballads thanks to veteran game music composer Jake Kaufman (Red Faction: Guerrilla, Contra 4). The forty-five item soundtrack, complete with remixes of the classic Double Dragon theme and the twenty short pieces that accompany each power-up, is available now for download on the game's website.
Veteran gamers, in pairs, can do a run-though of Double Dragon Neon in just about two hours, and while there are two levels of difficulty after that and fifty levels of power-ups for each of the 20 powers, it would take a completionist’s dedication to stick with it once you've basically seen and heard it all. A promised patch to add on-line co-op to its current local only drop in-drop out system will let you give distant friends a high-five, but its availability is unclear.
Held back by only minor technical issues, Double Dragon Neon is a fantastic entry into the Double Dragon canon and to the new array of arcade-style brawlers that have found success as downloadable titles.