Sometimes when you talk about video games from your childhood, you start the sentence with a certain phrase: “Hey, remember…?” Oftentimes, it’s with games that, although they were popular, have sort of faded out of the gaming public. There’s always been one game, however, that never needed an introduction of this sort. Just mentioning the Lee brothers can elicit huge grins from any gamer worth their weight in cartridges. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we’re talking about the beloved Double Dragon, the arcade game that took more quarters from me than bullies and laundry machines combined.
The decision to reboot a popular, yet aged, series in HD is always a risky one. Just because it was popular in its time doesn’t mean that flashy graphics can make up for a bastardized classic. But luckily, WayForward Studios learned from most of their peers’ mistakes, bringing the spirit of the classic to the modern age with Double Dragon: Neon, pitfalls and all.
Just like always, Jimmy and Billy Lee are on the hunt for the jerk who stole their girlfriend, Marian. The unlucky baddie this time around is the appropriately named Skullmageddon, and his legion of goons provide themselves as punching bags for the brothers. As with most arcade games, the story is hardly worth mentioning, as the beat-‘em-up action is the meat and potatoes of the series.
The simplistic controls really stand up well, giving the game an authentic feeling despite the glammed up graphics. Just like the original, there are strong, weak, and throw attacks. Add in some special attacks, like the ever-powerful spin kick, and you’ve got a great arcade experience translated as best as possible to a clunky controller. Running has been relegated to the R2 button, which is strange considering that the double tap forward system has always worked best.
Hectic action is the name of the game, and Double Dragon: Neon satisfies on all fronts. In true arcade form, the fights are padded with waves of enemies, and battles become increasingly tougher as the game goes on. However, also in line with arcade classics, some deaths feel cheap and unavoidable. Of course, fans of the genre are more than used to high difficulty and cheap deaths, but every game over screen is marred by one ugly holdover. There are no checkpoints, and dying at the very end means going back to the very beginning. Stages only take about ten minutes each to beat, but it’s still a pain knowing a cheap boss can put an end to your efforts.
Many additions were made to the core gameplay and, surprisingly, they all work. The graphical overhaul, which lives up to the word neon, gives the game a distinctly retro ‘80s vibe, and it works perfectly. From the jamming soundtrack to the corny one-liners and breakdancing, Double Dragon: Neon is irresistibly goofy and charming.
Jimmy and Billy can both receive some pretty sweet upgrades, and these come in the form of mixtapes. Side A is made up of various special powers for gamers to switch in and out whenever they please, ranging from fireballs to knee drops. Side B contains various stances that affect your health, magic bar, strength and defense. All of these can be interchanged with ease, giving gamers the chance to play with a style of their liking.
This system gets a little more complex when you add in the fact that you can have multiple tapes for each power. Each new tape powers up the abilities, making them more useful and devastating. It all sounds goofy and cumbersome, but the system actually works very well. New moves come in the form of high fives, which give the brothers different advantages, such as sharing health or adding some power to their punches. Yes, they really high five, and it’s as awesome as it sounds.
Utilizing the high five ability is almost essential for surviving many of the later levels, and beating the game is a difficult task that absolutely requires two players. The game is called Double Dragon for a reason, and it’s because two Lee brothers are better than one. Playing “bro-op” with a buddy makes the experience infinitely better, as single player is only for masochists. When playing with a partner, it’s possible to resurrect each other without using any lives, which is a huge leg up in comparison to going solo.
Since it’s based off of an arcade game, it’s easy to understand why the game is so short. A solid two hours is all it takes to rescue Marian and, after that, the only reason to play again is to go through the campaign one more time. Unless you have a friend who really enjoys beat-‘em-ups, there’s no incentive to play over and over again. If your bro-op loving buddies don’t live near you, you’ll have to wait a little while for online co-op. Local is the only option as of now, but it’s more fun anyways.
Even though this is a near-perfect return to beat-‘em-up goodness, it makes sure to bring back the flaws that keep arcade classics from translating to consoles. Fans of the original, of the genre, or of some great co-op should do themselves a favor and hang out with the Lee brothers. Although there are a few issues barring this version from being pitch perfect, Double Dragon: Neon pays homage to its source material in the most brilliant way, creating a reboot that fans will love and newcomers shouldn’t miss.