Double Dragon Neon is the latest in the 1980s arcade beat-em-up series staring brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee. While the gameplay, characters, and music give a nod to the game's forefathers, Neon still continues to be innovative and give players something new. The controls have a classic feel, and even the difficulty seems appropriate.
In the classic NES game, there were only two buttons to use for attacking, punch and kick. These could be used synchronously to perform jumps and other special moves as the player's score increased. Now, with the PS3 Sixaxis or the Xbox 360 controller, the button combinations are no longer neccessary. A separate button is dedicated to jumping. Grabbing an enemy has its own button too. But using a combination of the different commands is what gives this game such a diverse system of combat control. The trusty spin kick is available as either a special move, or part of a standard combo. Ducking can still allow the player to dodge enemy attacks, and can be paired with directional buttons to roll, or attack buttons for a counterattack. With a small aresenal of controls, the combat system remains relatively simple and easy to master.
But the controls won't be the first thing a player notices. The most obvious nod is to 1980's culture. From the neon lights to the costumes to the soundtrack, Neon allows no subtlety in its over-the-top 80s style. Plus, the introduction to the game features a familiar scene: the red-skirted Marion standing outside the Lee brothers' garage as the thugs approach and kidnap her. The game freezes in a moment of black & white, introducing Level 1 as Marion takes a shot to the gut from an a-shirt wearing baddie.
The enemies are very similar in appearance and combat style to their 8-bit predecessors. Williamses enter the screen doing cartwheels, just like they used to. Sometimes they carry knives or baseball bats, just like in past titles. Imposing though they may be, Williams is still the easiest opponent players will face.
The sadistic, whip-toting Linda also makes an appearance early in the game. Like past games, she proves to be considerably more challenging than Williams because her attacks are faster, she has more hp, and is more difficult to stun. The whip she swings makes it difficult to approach her since it has such a wide range both in front, and in back of Linda. She can even hit a player who is on the ground. In later levels, Lindas will begin carrying grenades as well. Just like in past titles, these grenades explode soon after they hit the ground, so picking them up may prove disastrous.
Abobo, the oversized hulk of a man makes a grand return in Neon, complete with spiked wristbands, and an oversized belt buckle proudly displaying his name. He is slow, but packs a wicked punch, just like before. Another bit of continuity takes place with Abobo since punches can land on him with quick succession, allowing him to be stunned. This takes Double Dragon fans back to DD2's first encounter, in which repeatedly punching Abobo was the easiest way to bring him down. Kicks were to slow, allowing him to counterattack. The same continues to be the case here.
Some of the music will sound familiar to fans of the series as well. Newly remixed songs were pulled right out of the previous titles to give the new levels a familiar feel. When DD2's Secret Island song comes on, players will be taken aback.
Now, one can scarcely discuss Double Dragon Neon without bringing up its humor. The antagonist is a giant living skeleton named Skullmageddon. He's your worst nightmare. Just ask him. While fighting him, he will make wisecracks such as Damn, I'm 'humerous', or my pelvis! After defeating him the first time, he says Time to make a 'marrow' escape! 'Bone' voyage! In reality, much of the game's humor revolves around Skullmageddon. As the Lee brothers battle their way through their enemy's rocket dojo, they can break the flatscreen televisions mounted in the background only to hear Skullmageddon scolding them, That's a plasma screen! Its expensive! or quit breaking my stuff! At the end, he even performs a musical number and breaks the fourth wall.
Another side of the humor comes from the protagonists themselves. Their over-the-top bro-love is comical as well. When one player is ready to move on to the next area, the character yells to the other hurry up, weiner! Not to mention, a click of the stick allows the brothers to high-five, sharing life, initiating the gleam bonus, or psyching each other by retracting the extended hand. The most hilarious instance of the Lee brothers' antics is when they are captured by their enemies and imprisoned in the lab. Its worth making a friend IRL just to play this game in coop and listen to the comments.
In truth, the only reason I couldn't give this game a 10/10 was the unbalanced upgrade system. Special abilities are attained by collecting songs that are dropped by the enemies. Additional songs can be purchased in shops. The abilities get more powerful as the player collects more songs of the same name. But there is a limit to how powerful each ability can get. At first, abilities can only be upgraded to level 10. In order to raise this level cap, players must visit the Tapesmith and exchange mythril for song upgrades. This will raise the song's level cap by 10 levels. Each time the song is upgraded, the cost increases. The first upgrade will cost 2 mythril. The second will cost six and the third costs 10. The problem is in the rarity of mythril. It can only be collected after defeating bosses and bosses only drop a few pieces of mythril at a time. This means that players will have to go back and repeat stages to collect the mythril needed to upgrade abilities. While the cash to buy songs is easy to come by, mythril is time-consuming to earn, which results in tedious grinding.
In truth, the game's humor, gameplay, and nostalgic feel make it worth playing, although younger gamers may not fully appreciate all it has to offer. But for an oldschool gamer who remembers pumping quarters into arcade cabinets, this game is going to be a blast from the past (in hd).
Double Dragon Neon is available at the Playstation Store and Xbox Live Arcade.