Review: Double Dragon Neon (Xbox 360)

9 mins read

A classic gets a synth-rock, neon drenched ’80s revival, as Billy and Jimmy Lee make their return to consoles.

Double Dragon (DD) has had a little bit of an odd history, at least it has from my perspective. I remember DD being one of the hottest games on the NES (and in the Arcades) back in the ’80s and early ’90s; then the series just kind of stopped and rode off into the night on it’s steel horse.

The last game I remember to feature the DD crew was Double Dragon V on the Genesis in 1994/95. It was an okay time, but far and away my fondest memories of the Lee brothers comes from the original Nintendo Entertainment System title. I spent many an hour beating up nameless thugs (although I guess they technically did have names) in the arcade port into oblivion, as well as being beaten into oblivion myself.

Take that mutton-chops!

So it’s with that in mind that I’m happy to report that the latest game in the series, (it might feel like a reboot, but it isn’t. Think Evil Dead/Evil Dead 2.) Double Dragon Neon, continues much of what made the game popular years ago. But Neon isn’t just content with revisiting past titles, because developer WayForward – known for its quality retro titles (e.g. Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Contra 4, etc.) – has also seen fit to revisit the decade as a whole. As a child of the ’80s, that alone puts a rather large smile on my face.

Double Dragon Neon is chock full of acid washed denim, bright colors, mullets and some of the most ridiculous plot-points you could imagine, and it’s awesome.

When the game starts out, Billy and Jimmy Lee’s girlfriend Marion (yeah, don’t ask) is kidnapped by the nefarious Skullmageddon’s (basically Skeletor from He-Man) forces. From there, the Lee brothers will fight their way through the mean streets, as well as other locales (even the far reaches of outer space) to get their gal back and beat up on old Skully.

This is a game that definitely has a fun time with itself, which is something I really like. Neon never takes itself that seriously (occasionally even getting straight out goofy) and it works big time. The humor is well done and really showcases some of the sillier conventions of gaming back in its infancy, as well as the usual trappings of side-scrolling beat’em ups.

ProTip: use weapons as often as you can

Neon plays out in 2D style with 3D modeled characters. As do most WayForward games, it has a terrific look that throws back to the past while keeping things feeling modern and fresh. And yes, there’s a lot of neon lights. Old schoolers will remember a lot of the stuff in Neon too. Aside from the standard things (like the way the game plays), there are little nods here and there to the great brawlers of old that you’ll definitely enjoy… provided you’re old enough to remember of course.

As far as the controls go, simple and easy are the names of the game. Punch, kick, grab, dodge, and jump – simple stuff. It would honestly have been a good enough time with just that, but there’s another 1980s staple that makes an appearance in Neon that really livens things up, and that’s the ‘mix tape’. Mix tapes, if you don’t know, were everywhere in the ’80s and basically were the precursor to the MP3 – albeit with a lot more care and involvement (read: wasted time). Instead of just zipping your tunes from your PC to your iPod, you had to actually sit and listen to every song you wanted to add to a tape. Thankfully there’s none of that in the mix tapes of Neon.

As you progress and start dropping street thugs to the pavement, you’ll collect the tapes they drop. These cassettes can then be ‘equipped’ by the Lee’s to give them special powers and abilities. There are two kinds of tape effects: passive ones that’ll grant stuff like better blocking and health bonuses, and offensive ones that will let you toss fireballs and other projectiles.

You’ll get duplicates as you go, but that’s okay because the more you get, the stronger that individual power will get. This actually adds a lot of strategy to the game as I found myself constantly weighing the pros and cons of adding and subtracting tapes (don’t worry, you can do this at any time and you don’t ‘lose’ tapes) for any given situation. It’s a really cool idea that just flat out works brilliantly. Also, as an added bonus, there are tracks that play to accompany the tape you have highlighted that spoof popular pop music from the era, which is a really fun and a nice touch.

Not all the music is that enjoyable though, the rest of the music in the game is just okay, or pretty forgettable. There’s really nothing stand out except the riffs on the original Double Dragon music – that’s kind of neat. As with most beat’em ups though, you’re not really in it for the swinging tunes, so it’s not really a big deal.

One of the special abilities in the game

If you get the chance to play with a friend, then by all means do so. The game was originally designed to be enjoyed in co-op as much as solo play and it shows. There’s a whole ‘hi five’ system set-up here where you and your bro can slap hands to share health and power. At the time of this review there’s no online multiplay, but we’re told that it will be patched in at some point down the line.

I know I’m probably making it sound like you have to be a Double Dragon fan (or an ’80s buff) to enjoy Neon, but you really don’t. True, you’ll get much more into the experience if you have fond memories of the pool that WayForward is dipping into here, but it won’t break the game if you don’t.

Neon is just a well crafted side-scroller beat-em up that any fan of flying fists and feet could enjoy. It’s a little bit on the short side, but Double Dragon Neon is like a glammed out, hair metal power ballad, that rocks hard and stays pretty at the same time. But if you know WayForward, then you probably figured that much out already – didn’t you?

– Jason M

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