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Double Dragon Neon review: Rock me, Amadeus

David Hinkle
David Hinkle|@davehinkle|September 10, 2012 4:30 PM
Developer WayForward Technologies has been able to carve out a niche for itself in the gaming industry through its careful reboots of select series. A Boy and His Blob, Contra 4, BloodRayne: Betrayal and now Double Dragon Neon show the developer's knack for paying respect to the source material, while simultaneously updating it with interesting new gameplay mechanics and systems.

Double Dragon Neon is yet another jewel in WayForward's crown, unmistakably a Double Dragon game but with just the right amount of new flavor to make it something distinct, all wrapped in a brilliant '80s motif. Neon, for those who don't know, was so bad to the bone in the '80s.
%Gallery-152707%Double Dragon Neon starts in much the same way as the original game from so long ago. The riff-raff come into town, punch Marian in the gut and kidnap her. Brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee show up moments too late and must punch and kick and high-five their way through countless thugs to save the babe. It's a story as old as time itself.

The only difference in Double Dragon Neon is that after the first stage – each stage has that pre-roll with the sepia filter and iconic pre-stage fight music, a nice throwback to the original – things get decidedly more crazy. Like "going to space and fighting an evil alien skeleton dude named Skullmageddon" crazy.

Gameplay in Double Dragon Neon is largely unchanged from series predecessors – you can do everything you've been able to in the past. Combat in this sense hasn't progressed or evolved in Double Dragon Neon, but new enemy types are consistently introduced, each with their own attack patterns, strengths and weaknesses that add variety to the combat. This variety helps Double Dragon Neon from ever feeling too monotonous and stale.

Playing Double Dragon Neon with a friend is the suggested path, though only couch co-op exists right now – WayForward will be patching in online co-op at a future date. Still, going it alone is hardly a lacking experience, and even with the new art style, '80s tone and fancy 3D graphics, Double Dragon Neon is one big love letter to the past.

Billy and Jimmy have all of the classic moves at their disposal, dispatching countless cronies through a flurry of punches and kicks, grabs and air moves. Billy and Jimmy kick guys into pits, high-five each other as they watch stunned baddies get helplessly jettisoned into space, and send goons flying with baseball bats, tazers, knives and even hair picks. The formula still holds up after all these years. It's still a treat to pummel waves and waves of bad guys, robots and Abobo, bolstered by an enhanced set of bad guys with their own move sets and tactics aimed to catch you off-guard.

The soundtrack really is my favorite part of Double Dragon Neon ... a charming score that made me pine for the days of pastel denim shorts, Rubik's cubes and keytar solos.

As you beat up random dudes and dudettes in Double Dragon Neon, they'll drop cassette tapes, the weapon of choice for every '80s music aficionado. Each tape falls within one of two categories: stances or sosetsitsu. Stance tapes passively affect Billy and Jimmy's base abilities, augmenting things like health, magic points, attack and defense. Sosetsitsu tapes offer different special moves, granting the ability to throw fireballs, heal each other with a touch, summon the spirit of the dragon or whip out the iconic whirlwind kick.

Tapes can be upgraded either by collecting them from fallen foes or visiting Tapesmith shops found littered around the levels of Double Dragon Neon. Every ten of the same tape collected will boost it to the next level, while using the Tapesmith's powers will cost mithril, an ore that's pretty hard to come by. It's not the most complex system, but it adds some depth to the admittedly simple (yet satisfying) combat.

The brilliant thing about each tape in Double Dragon Neon is that an audio loop that plays when hovering over it in the menu screen. Each diddy is appropriate to its name – the Healing Touch tape is accompanied by a sensual slow jam where the singer declares that he "wants to be your crutch, with the healing touch." The Training Wheels stance tape is an upbeat number that sounds innocent enough until the singer says she fell and smashed her teeth out ... then fractured her jaw because she took the training wheels off her bike.

The soundtrack really is my favorite part of Double Dragon Neon. It sets the tone (sorry!) for the game, presenting a charming score that made me pine for the days of pastel denim shorts, Rubik's cubes and keytar solos. But like all WayForward games, it's just one piece of the puzzle that makes Double Dragon Neon so great – a dash of old-school gameplay here, a smidgen of new mechanics there, all lovingly added without losing that classic feeling.

Double Dragon Neon is a fantastic game, one that's carried on a simple premise: it's fun to punch stuff. Admittedly the activity could get a stale over time, but that concern is alleviated here through diversity, namely a stable of consistently different enemies waiting to jump in and challenge Jimmy and Billy. Meanwhile the pursuit of upgrading tapes to customize attributes and special attacks keeps Double Dragon Neon from being a button-mashing bore.

This review is based on final code of the Xbox Live Arcade version of Double Dragon Neon provided by Majesco Entertainment.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no."Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.
Double Dragon Neon review: Rock me, Amadeus