Double Dragon Neon is mostly 80s fluff with little substance, compromising the spirit of its renowned source.
Marian's been abducted yet again by the Shadow Warriors---this time under a new leader, a strange-looking Skeletor wannabe named Skullmageddon. (REAL catchy.) As the massive garage door of the English Tear opens, the Lee Brothers step out to once again enter the fight and save her from whatever Skullmageddon is planning to do with her. Through 10 missions, you'll engage in derivative button-mashing fisticuff against a host of bizarre enemies, including mainstays Williams, Linda Lash and Abobo. You'll do battle in familiar streets before travelling to outer space on a dojo that doubles as a rocket before crashlanding in a countryside, invading a bio laboratory, fighting a huge plant straight out of "Little Shop of Horrors", exploring a huge Asian-themed palace and entering the shadow realm using the power of Marian's "love". I'm seriously NOT kidding.
As I alluded to earlier, Double Dragon Neon suffers from a glaring problem – it doesn't really play like Double Dragon. It plays like any other sidescrolling beat'em up. Double Dragon was a first of its kind when it smashed the arcades during the rip-roaring 80s (when arcades were radical) and it had a unique gameplay engine that has yet to be emulated by its numerous imitators---even Final Fight. Many of the traditional Sou Setsu Ken moves like the hair pull and the elbow smash have been taken out of rotation, leaving you with a usual array of generic punches, kicks and uppercuts. This compromises the integrity of its source by making it a generic brawler with not a whole lot to show for it. And what limited variety there is in the attack repertoire is hampered by the fact that single-player sessions only allow you to play as Billy, while a second player takes the reins of Jimmy. Of course, this hardly matters since it follows the rules of the arcade game, and both brothers play exactly the same anyhow. Likewise, you have the option of playing a "Shadow Bro" version of the Lee Brothers when you fulfill certain conditions. There's no online coop play to speak of, severely limiting the game's appeal in an online-heavy market, but for purists who don't mind getting together with friends on a couch with their 2-liter sodas and five boxes of Papa John's pizza with all the anchovies they can handle, local co-op serves its purpose well. And hey, you don't have to worry about lag spikes AND you can put your rage quitting so-called friend of yours seated next to you in a headlock until his brain numbs, right?
The only notable combat maneuver the Double Dragons have at their disposal is a defense move that activates a Gleam mode, which temporarily ups your attack parameter as long as you're glowing red. It's a tricky maneuver to master, but well worth the effort when you need that extra edge against the hideously cheap Abobos and their multi-colored cousins. You might also activate Gleam if you've got a buddy in tow when you press the analog stick and perform a "high five". Yes, the Lee Brothers are decidedly "bro" and aren't afraid to show it. The brotherly mannerisms these guys pull off put the fist pumping Jersey Shore dudes (and Snooki) to utter shame. Having played the Double Dragon games in my heyday, I can't recall ever hearing either of the brothers coin the term "tubular" or shout out ridiculous phrases like "Oh, I dare. I DOUBLE DRAGON dare!" Double Dragon purists might be put off by all the silliness and think the developer Way Forward deliberately made a joke out of their beloved franchise. Others might take it with a grain of salt. The rest of us will be relieved that it's not as horrible as the Double Dragon movie with Scott Wolf and Mark Dacascos. (I can't believe I remembered that.) All intentions considered, Double Dragon Neon uses the legendary arcade series to spoof the 80s culture and even makes a reference to other video games like Mega Man. (Keep your eye out, you'll see it.)
Furthermore, the Lee Brothers can get tougher through use of …. mix tapes. Yes, mix tapes. You know, those little plastic rectangular thingys with the two holes on each end that went into an oversized machine they used to call a "boom box". Mix tapes not only give off ridiculously cheesy fake 80s tunes that blatantly rip from cultural icons like Rick Astley (inventor of the Rick Roll), the Cure, the Beastie Boys, and Marvin Gaye (Yes, Marvin Gaye!) they also benefit the Lee Brothers with character buffs such as increased defense and special attacks like fireballs and magic bombs. Yeah, magic bombs. Who knew, right? Mix tapes are often found by defeating enemies, purchasing them in in-game shops that are few and far between, and destroying receptacles. Collecting them all (while supplies last! I'm only kidding) will earn you an achievement/trophy. Even more hilarious, mix tapes can be upgraded at a "Tapesmith" using special "ores" that only bosses drop. This is incredibly annoying because the requirements for upgrading mix tapes are ridiculously high, forcing you to replay the game over and over again from the beginning of each stage just to collect more of the precious resource.
As for the music? It's actually quite good. I've long admired the work of Jake Kaufman, and his soundtrack for Double Dragon Neon is cheesy and knows it. Shockingly, some of the songs are even accompanied by vocals. They're like the best radical fake 80s songs you've never heard in your entire life, dude! But seriously, they're a perfect compliment to the intended vibe.
Double Dragon Neon manages to barely hold its weight as a decent brawler, and the campy 80s references are good for a few laughs. But, speaking as a fan of the Double Dragon series, I'm a little flabbergasted that it had to come at the expense of one of the greatest arcade beat'em ups ever made on the eve of its 25th anniversary. In short spurts, Neon is pretty good fun, but repetitive after a while, especially when you have to grind for the particulars. Anyone looking for a good beat'em up to pass the time will find some enjoyment here, but fans and purists of the arcade game may be insulted enough to have little to no reason in giving Neon game a chance. And that is truly a bummer.