Fight for right with the might of the Dragon
Even after 25 years, few games have done more for a single genre than the original Double Dragon did for beat-em-ups. But the franchise has lain dormant now for years—content in its status as an all-time great, releasing some iOS ports, and enjoying its seeming retirement.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. And in the hopes of reeling in a whole new generation of gamers, Double Dragon is showing there’s no school like the old school in its first new chapter in more than 17 years—Double Dragon: Neon.
As the story goes, Marian has been kidnapped—again—and even after all these years, she clearly hasn’t figured out if she wants Billy or Jimmy Lee, as both chase after her assailants. But aside from this tribute to the original series, the story quickly takes a different turn, as a new foe known as Skullmageddon rears his skinless head soon afterward, with Marian strung up à la Kim Cattrall in Big Trouble in Little China.
And from that moment on, this goes from just a Double Dragon game and becomes a tribute to everything that was awesome about the ’80s. Whether it’s making your own cassette mixtape that changes both the soundtrack and your powers or bosses that spoof classic franchises like Mega Man, Double Dragon: Neon’s jokes may go over younger gamers’ heads, but those of a certain age should eat this up—and will be compelled to keep playing just to see what gets spoofed next.
Staying true to Double Dragon’s original key strength, Neon also adds some unique aspects to co-op—specifically the High Five. Another tribute to the 80s, the High Five is an over-the-top, flashy maneuver that you can perform with your buddy to share health, your special-move meter, or just boost attack power—but it does leave you wide-open for attacks if you time it poorly.
Billy and Jimmy Lee also learn some potent new powers this time around, as they finally look to harness the full power of the Dragon. Fireballs, super spin kicks, shadow elbows, and more are all waiting to be learned and mastered as you collect mixtapes. Not only do these special moves keep the action fresh—many beat-em-ups have a bad habit of becoming dull quickly if you’re just mashing one or two buttons—but they offer a variety of strategies to overcome your foes. And you’ll need to mix it up against your enemies as much as possible, as the AI’s worthy of an old-school brawler. In other words, you’d better save all those extra lives while you can.
There’s one small flaw to Double Dragon: Neon, though—and I’m not sure if it’s just another part of trying to instill ’80s gaming charm into a new-look title or an actual flaw, but it irked me enough that I find it to be a negative. The hit detection in the game is, well, hit-or-miss. Much like many other side-scrolling beat-em-ups of the ’80s, the depth of field is usually difficult to judge, so you’ll think you’re about to wallop that pipe-wielding thug in the face with a devastating spin kick…only to miss completely. And when you think you’re out of range of Linda’s whip, she whales on you with a lifebar-punishing combo.
Double Dragon: Neon is still a ton of fun, and if you grew up with the genre or the franchise, then this’ll hit every sweet spot in your gaming core. If you’re not as familiar with the ’80s, lack a sense of humor, and have difficulty appreciating classic gameplay, then Double Dragon: Neon may give you some trouble. When you also consider this is a downloadable game with a fitting price tag, though, it’s an absolute must-have in my book.
SUMMARY: Some hit detection problems can’t hide the fact that Neon’s an awesome tribute to a bygone era—and it’ll bring a smile to the face of anyone who grew up playing beat-em-ups in the ’80s and ’90s.
- THE GOOD: Classic brawler action with tons of charming references to a bygone era…
- THE BAD: …but poor hit detection straight outta the ’80s is not one of those charming references!
- THE UGLY: Highly detailed digital ’80s hair
Double Dragon: Neon is available on PSN (PS3), and XBLA (Xbox 360). Primary version reviewed was for PSN.