Also On: XBLA
Wayforward, the developers behind Double Dragon Neon which launched this week on PSN and XBLA, certainly seem to know how to do classic franchises a bit of justice. Their previous efforts, with titles like A Boy and His Blob, have sort of made them the go to company for retro revivals. And that certainly holds true with Double Dragon Neon. The game absolutely reeks of classic Double Dragon, from presentation to gameplay, but manages to feel fresh enough that you’ll certainly have no trouble mistaking it for a modern game. It’s not without faults, some of which are buried a bit in Double Dragon itself, but overall, it’s a helluva retro-themed follow-up to a classic, arcade brawler.
The game is infused with 80’s glam rock style, from the brightly light stages to the guitar rocking remixes of classic Double Dragon tunes. The art style is way upgraded from the pixel based brothers featured in the original arcade game and its sequels, but you’ll have no trouble recognizing Billy and Jimmy as the lead heroes. And while the game certainly starts off in familiar territory, with near remakes of the first couple stages from the original game, it branches off into new territory, taking the brothers into space and beyond, all while retaining some very tongue in cheek humor that actually works well with the game.
The gameplay is also pretty familiar, with standard punches and kicks that actually feel pretty representative of the original game. Because of that, the combat feels a bit sluggish, but true to the game that spawned this creation. That might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and it took a bit of adjusting to, but there’s a pretty deliberate pace and flow to the combat that doesn’t take much time to pick up on. And while you’ll face multiple enemies on screen at once, they’re not quite your typical beat ‘em up foes, and won’t tend to interrupt your attacks that often while focusing on another enemy, at least on normal mode.
Also like the original, weapons play a key role in Double Dragon Neon, which features dozens of weapons that are either dropped by enemies or found in breakable objects and containers scattered throughout each level. Familiar tools of destruction, like baseball bats and whips are introduced first, but more pop up later on, like throwing fans, shurikens, swords, 2×4’s, and more.
One new element introduced here is a two part upgrade system. Both brothers can equip two skill slots, one of which presents a permanent stat boost that tends to focus on a particular area, like attack strength or defense. The other skill is a power-up that you can unleash once you fill an on-screen meter. Think of this as a super-move, which starts off a bit limited, but can be upgraded throughout the game by cassette tapes dropped randomly from enemies and breakable objects. The same upgrade system is in place for the skill that’ll enhance stats as well, and from the onset each skill can be upgraded 10 times. A Tapesmith found on some levels can extend the amount of tapes you can upgrade each skill by, seemingly maxing out each skill at 50. It’ll take a whole lot of playing to reach that number though, as a single playthrough only netted about 14 or so tapes for one particular skill. There are a lot of skills available in-game, so mixing and matching to find skills that complement one another is a good idea.
There’s very little in the way of major negatives I can level at Double Dragon Neon. The framerate occasionally takes a hit when there’s a fair bit of action on screen, which is kind of surprising to see in a modern 2D game, and also disappointing. I also wish that the shop/upgrade systems were available in between stages, but they’re only available via shops/merchants found in the stages themselves, meaning you’ll either need to backtrack through a previous level to visit a shop, or wait a couple levels until a stage comes up that features one again. And some of the shops are a little out of the way, which seems needlessly convoluted for the system.
The final boss is a gigantic pain in the butt also, especially in comparison to the rest of the challenge provided by the game. It’s not so much that the boss is hard to beat, as his patterns aren’t particularly difficult to figure out, but he’s an absolute damage sponge. Seriously, unless you’re pretty well upgraded going into the fight, prepare for the grind of your life if you hope to beat him the first time you encounter him. It’s just largely unbalanced and frustrating, which I guess is true to the genre, but it’s not particularly fun to play against.
The final point of contention is the lack of online co-op. The game definitely should be played with a second player in tow, after all there’s a whole hi-five system in place to help boost damage, along with giving and stealing the other players life. It seems like something that should have been present at launch.
Regardless of these issues, I still think Double Dragon Neon is worth checking out. It’s a pretty faithful follow-up to a series that hasn’t seen much love as of late, and manages to evoke the style and gameplay of the arcade classic without feeling too out of touch with modern audiences. I find myself having a fair amount of fun with it, and I think you will too. Also, it’s kind of hard to say no to a free download if you’re a Playstation Plus subscriber.