In Rene Descartes’ Principles of Philosophy, he explicitly writes, “Double Dragon is freaking awesome.” Show me a person who can refute the quote, and I’ll show you twenty more who don’t care because they know he would’ve agreed. Billy and Jimmy are back in their red and blue apparel, and they’re ready to beat some faces into the dirt in their newest adventure, Double Dragon: Neon. Does this flashy named title live up to the expectations of Double Dragon fans? While the letters ‘N’ and ‘O’ are flickering in Neon, it’s still worth a look.
Billy and Jimmy Lee are enjoying a night out when, with no apparent reason, an evil leader asks a team of poorly trained thugs to kidnap their mutual love interest. While the Lee brothers search for Marian, they travel through city streets, spaceships and science labs. Knee drop and spin kick anything that moves, all the way down to the Neon Fortress.
The slapstick comedy is a bit outlandish at first, but as the game progresses, it finds its groove in between all the ass-kickery. The villain, Skullmageddon (yep), is a perfect candidate of the fusion between action and silliness. For anyone who knows the awesomeness that is Venture Bros, Tekken, and Skyrim will recognize it right away: Skullmageddon is The Monarch with Yoshimitsu’s helmet and Dragonbone armor. His laugh is straight from The Three Stooges, and even the Continue screen plays out like a Larry, Curly, Moe battle. He constantly mocks his henchmen as the brothers thwart their every attempt at defeating them. It gets especially funny during later helicopter sequences. It may be weird for some gamers at first, but it becomes more comfortable when you realize all the overacting is part of the script. At least the plot is better than the Double Dragon movie (though it’s not as funny as Scott Wolf trying to flex).
The henchmen come up with some funny one-liners, too. When scientists die, they whine out things like “my research!” and “illogical”. Sometimes, the enemies themselves draw laughs. As difficult as the boss fights can be (on the first attempt), there’s usually a moment during each that garners a chuckle or two (find out during the Venus Fly Trap). The bumbling giant goons are funny, and two in particular are hysterical in the level Some Kind of Lab.
Feminists should have a field day with the title, but the shameless depiction of women in Double Dragon: Neon should be taken with a grain of salt. The entire game is pretty goofy, with no expenses spared for female characters. It will all be revealed in the first 30 seconds of the game, and it continues on from there. For example, when women die, they moan punish me. They’re usually clad in Rhianna style S&M attire, geisha outfits, and out of left field ninja suits. Rarely does a woman come out with a weapon other than a whip. It’s a wonder how all those Williams’ are able to walk around in their super tight ’80s jeans. It’s probably why they’re all terrible henchmen.
It should be noted the game is significantly easier on two player. However, playing single player will quickly separate hardcore gamers from the pretenders, as many are going to complain about the lack of response, difficulty (for an XBLA), and level length. If you’re the kind of gamer that lives for the checkpoints, this game is probably not for you. In terms of controller response, Neon is highly misleading. It appears, at first, to be a lazy hack-and-slash (or punch and kick, in this case). However, the game has a decent amount of strategy, requiring the player to vary attacks, counters, and special moves. Play it like a hack-and-slash and plan on replaying the same levels over and over. In fact, play it like a hack-and-slash, and guarantee never beating the final boss in Neon Fortress (which was actually pretty awesome).
When I say levels, I mean pretty lengthy sequences without any checkpoints. There is Normal (the only playable difficulty at first), Dragon, and a final difficulty, Double Dragon. The first play through took just shy of three hours, and there was quite a bit of lollygagging on my part. The real length of the game is decided by how many times the level has to be repeated. Remember those days when level progress was earned by blistering thumbs, trial and error, and the occasional lucky break? Enter Double Dragon Neon: a rare opportunity to revisit the days before memory cards. Luckily, once a level sequence is completed, progress is saved (so the player doesn’t have to start the entire story over again). For gamers who can’t stand the heat: stop complaining, and kindly step away from the dragon.
The upgrade system really does encourage a healthy bit of replay. Each upgradeable category is marked by its own cassette on the upgrades menu. Each cassette — 20 full length songs in total — starts off with 10 levels. Beat some cassette tapes out of enemies and upgrade Billy (or that other less cool brother). There are Sosetsitsu and Stances. Sosetsitsu moves are the brothers’ special moves. Ten in all, they range from offensive, defensive, and plain old lethal weapons. Toss around a bunch of bombs, rain down some lightning, or whip out some balls (of fire).
The other half of the upgrades includes Stances. Stances are constant effects, boosting stats, prolonging weapon durability, or provide combat advantages. Absorb bits of health with each hit, and for hardcore gamers confident in their fighting skills, aim for the stance that doubles damage after the 50th consecutive hit. Even when 10/10 is reached for an upgradeable category, find Mythril to upgrade songs at the TapeSmith, and eventually max out each Sosetsitsu and Stance to level 50. There are also shops where items and upgrades can be purchased or forged. The only frustrating moment comes from purchasing 6 extra lives in one level to have them stripped the next. The gameplay becomes a bit repetitive, but the encouraging upgrade system (and challenging achievements) should allow for a substantially high replay value.
Surprisingly, one of the best features in the game is the soundtrack. Between the 20 unique cassette songs and the in-game music, there is a healthy number of tracks. The closing credit theme song, sung by Skullmageddon, is a crack up. A villain after Glados’ heart, I have to quote Mr. S when he sings “…and in my dream, I made Marian, my girlfr-ay-iy-iend.” The cheese in this soundtrack is so thick it comes with a choking hazard, but it sets the game’s goofy, 8-Bit ’80s mood.
Double Dragon: Neon is in an awkward position. It may be a bit too Double Dragon for today’s generation to understand, yet not Double Dragon enough for hardcore fans to eat up. This is far from the long-awaited Double Dragon revival, but it’s a great opportunity to revisit the Lee brothers (or to be introduced to them for the first time). Regardless, Double Dragon: Neon is a challenging, fun game definitely worth looking into.
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360 (XBLA)
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