Review: DOUBLE DRAGON NEON hopes to recapture the fun of an old-school ’80s beat-‘em-up, but is the game simply stuck in the past?
To its credit, at least Double Dragon Neon has stuck right with the ‘80s theme. However, like games back in the olden days, it feels and looks like an arcade title on a budget, but not exactly in a cool, retro way. It’s the same old thing you’ve played countless times before: you go from left to right beating up thugs and over-the-top enemies with punches, kicks, throws and weapons like 2x4s, lead pipes, swords, bats, whips, and ninja stars. Pretty standard stuff, but thankfully, there are other things that make the combat a bit more interesting.
Usually in beat-‘em-ups, you just walk up to enemies and pummel them until they’re down, but in Double Dragon Neon, I found myself doing a lot more than that. I dodged frequently, which when done at the right time temporarily makes you stronger – although the window of opportunity to activate this seems a little off. I took advantage of the environment by knocking enemies into a spot where a bunch of kunais rained down or next to a door that can suck them out to space. I also found myself paying attention to enemy movements and patterns, executing quick but weak punches or slow but stronger kicks depending on the situation. It’s nothing major, but the strategic element ensured I felt like I was doing more than I usually do.
Elsewhere, another new addition to the format can be seen in the game’s character-enhancing mixtape system. Throughout the game you’re able to collect mixtapes that either boost your stats or grant you special powers. Some give you higher attack and defense stats, for example, while others give you the power to summon a dragon or shoot fireballs. There’s a good variety of mixtapes on offer, which not only give you more of a fighting chance in a genre that’s typically difficult, but also add a layer of depth and replayability.
In a neat touch you can upgrade mixtapes to make them more powerful or collect mithril to increase the upgrade capacity. The only downside is that in order to upgrade or buy mixtapes you have to visit a store and the only way to do that is to inconveniently play through a level every time you want to shop. A minor issue, but it does get frustrating.
Not so rad
Other problems include some enemies that take too long to kill – and some bosses take even longer. The biggest offender is the game’s main antagonist, Skullmaggedon, who takes far too long to defeat and is extremely difficult (even on the game’s easiest difficulty). If it wasn’t for the mixtapes, I probably would’ve never beaten the game.
I lost a ridiculous amount of lives during my entire playthrough too, which wouldn’t have been so bad if there were checkpoints in the game. Yes, as if it was designed for quarter-sucking arcade cabinets, Double Dragon Neon will make you restart an entire level all over again if you die and run out lives, adding an unnecessary layer of punishment.
Double Dragon Neon is probably more fun when playing the game’s two-player local co-op mode (or as the game cheekily calls it, “bro-op”). While I only played single-player, co-op includes a “high-five” mechanic, which lets you and your bro high-five each other to split lives, deal double damage or steal each other’s health. Unfortunately, though, the game doesn’t have online co-op, which is difficult to comprehend for a classic title trying to reach a modern audience.
One good thing that can be said about the old-school nature of Double Dragon Neon is the delightful ‘80s theme and era-appropriate music. The latter is great, especially the short original songs that play when browsing mixtapes. Additionally, its purposefully campy attitude brings some funny moments here and there. My favourite came when I paused the game during the last boss fight and heard Skullmageddon taunt me with: “Did you just pause the game during our final battle?!”
Double Dragon Neon isn’t a terrible game, but it does feel like a rehash of countless beat-‘em-ups that have come out in the past 30 years. The ’80s theme is cool, but the brawling is far too old-school and it doesn’t live up to today’s standards. It was still good fun beating up goons left and right, and while some additions, such as the character-boosting system try to introduce a modern touch, it’s seems silly that there’s no online co-op. Coupled with the game’s dull visuals Double Dragon Neon is a forgettable, mediocre game and a real struggle to recommend, even if you’re hankering for an old-school beat-’em-up.
Double Dragon Neon, by WayForward Technologies and Majesco, is available now on Xbox 360 (reviewed) and PS3.