‘Double Dragon: Neon’ Review

Game: Double Dragon: Neon
Developer: WayForward
Platform: Xbox 360
Achievements: 3/30, 11/300 points

“OH. MY. GOD. I think I just beat a whip wielding dominatrix so hard that her boobs popped out of her corset!”

This got my wife’s attention.

Double Dragon: Neon – A game that is so steeped in the 80s that a Wyld Stallyns-like air guitar virtuoso performance ends each stage. I can only imagine the amount of research that the developers at WayForward did to design and make this game. I’m sure they spent hours upon hours of listening to Van Halen (David Lee Roth era), watching Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, He-Man, Big Trouble in Little China, and perfecting their air guitar motion capture. Double Dragon: Neon is both an homage to an excellent 80s era side-scrolling beat ‘em up (Double Dragon) and a parody of the 80s style and mentality.

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Double Dragon: Neon opens the same way as the original Double Dragon. Marian, described as “love of your life” in the review materials is kidnapped by unknown assailants. This, of course, leaves open the question as to the nature of Marian’s relationship to the twin brother protagonists, Billy and Jimmy. I’m sensing a backstory that’s not exactly PG. Unfortunately, the dramatic potential of this threesome is never fully explored in the game – maybe in the sequel?

Regardless, Billy and Jimmy set across the screen, from left to right, beating up baddies with their fists and feet. My biggest disappointment was realized about 5 minutes into the game. (This was after the whole whip wielding dominatrix thing.) There is no elbow smash move. Let that sink in for a moment. For those of us who grew up on Double Dragon, the elbow smash was the single most powerful move in the entire game. I will always have memories of my brothers reenacting this move in real life. I’m lucky there are no scars. (There’s a lesson for ya – don’t do this at home!) I may have thrown my controller across the room when I realized I couldn’t crash Billy’s formidable elbow into the deserving face of a random baddie.

While they did remove the single most important move in the Double Dragon repertoire (ahem), they did dollop in a ton of new moves and customization options. As you move across each stage, you’ll collect cassette tapes that contain special moves. You’ll then use this to create a mixtape that defines both your active special move and a set of passive abilities. The design tone set by WayForward fairly sparkles here. Each mixtape has a clip of music that captures many popular genres of 80s music. I don’t know how much time I spent just in the mixtape selection screen listening to each clip with a nostalgic grin plastered to my face. It’s a nice touch to the standard beat ‘em formula that makes playing much more enjoyable.

The game is clearly meant to be played in 80s arcade style coop, i.e. with someone in the same room as you. There’s no option for online coop, which I’m willing to forgive. It’s pretty satisfying to have the brothers perform an in-game high-five to heal each other and to enact the move with your gaming partner in real life. (High-five, bro!)

I do need to get back to the scene that got my wife’s attention though. It ends up that the whip wielding dominatrix has her boobs secured with heavy duty fashion tape and that what I had mistaken for a pasty was a bandage. Honest mistake. Let’s be clear, though. The 80s style has also been carried over into the design of every single female character in this game. If you’ve ever watched any Van Halen music video (think Hot for Teacher or California Girls) then you’ll know what I mean. The design is totally in line with the style and tone of the game. While I do think they could have made the same game without the half-naked teleporting geisha and gone with a fully clothed teleporting geisha, I understand their design aesthetic. I feel it’s worth pointing out and noticing the reasons behind these depictions than just accepting them at face value. This entire game carries a certain snarkiness to it and the designers decided to parody a clear 80s stereotype.

This game is hard not to like. Everything from the voices of the brothers, the casual 80s taunts they throw at each other, the character design of the big bad (um…Skeletor?), even the NPC shop owners all seem made with a wink at the 80s. The gameplay embodies the fast and furious button smashing of the original while adding enough new twists that you don’t get quickly bored.

A copy of this game was provided for the purposes of this review.

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Jerry Nguyen loves videogames. He loves playing them, reading about them, and talking about them. Videogames have helped teach him about problem solving, patience, and persistence. In college, he got his BA in English Literature and dabbled enough in Computer Science to get a BS degree too. After college, he decided he needed more letters after his name and went to graduate school to study neuroscience. There, he fell in love, made several new friends, and played videogames. He also waited in line for the midnight release of the PlayStation 2. To actually get his PhD, he had to end his dalliance with World of Warcraft. After graduate school, his life changed with the birth of his first daughter. Now, he and his wife have two bright daughters and precious time to enjoy videogames. He is trying to teach his daughters to love videogames as much as he does and is always on the lookout for excellent games that he and his daughters can enjoy.

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