Double Dragon Neon flickers with signs of life

The first time I laid my hands on Double Dragon Neon, I was not impressed. The bright '80s colors weren't doing it for me. The character models for protagonists Jimmy and Billy looked hunched and unnatural. Their attacks were stilted and limited. The enemy designs were silly and altogether over the top.

The second time I played it, however, I slipped on a pair of headphones and something happened. The classic Double Dragon music washed over me, reworked with 80s synth and electric guitar, and I saw something I hadn't noticed before: potential.
%Gallery-152707% Everything I'd witnessed before remains true, of course. As the title implies, Double Dragon Neon is dripping with bright colors. Enemies are appropriately garish, from the shirtless, afro-sporting thug to the ridiculously jiggly, whip-cracking mistress. And yes, Abobo is definitely in there. The backgrounds are equally colorful, though they don't quite match up with the smooth character models, and seem primarily composed of flat, hand-drawn two-dimensional objects.

Initially, combat is limited to a string of punches or kicks along with crouching, jumping and dash attacks. Enemies can also be thrown if they are stunned. Dashing is initiated with a trigger button, as opposed to the tried-and-true double tap. Punches and kicks mixed with the occasional throw were more than sufficient during my brief play session. Every hit connected in a satisfying way, and weapons like baseball bats delivered equally definitive punishment (though the whip still isn't worth picking up).

You might think that none of this sounds particularly thrilling, and you'd be right for the most part. That brings me to "potential," which is really just a euphemism for "stuff I didn't get to see." Double Dragon Neon features a high five system that, in addition to the general satisfaction of slapping some virtual skin, delivers buffs to each player. Only the health boost was working at the PAX East demo, though more effects will be added to the final version.

The other promising element is the character customization system. Each player will be able to create a "mixtape" (like in the 80s geddit?) of various special abilities and moves. These can be purchased at in-game shops and players will be able to rearrange their mixtapes at any time for different situations. Unfortunately, the mixtape system wasn't enabled in my demo, leaving me with only the standard move set.

There's a good foundation underneath Double Dragon Neon, and I'm sure it would knock young Fred Savage's socks clean off, but what I saw won't lift it above its modern day competition like Castle Crashers. Here's hoping the mixtape system and the promise of drop-in/drop-out online co-op will lift the franchise back up to its once great heights. Maybe without the movie this time.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.