People long for the games of their childhood to be remade on modern consoles, but when it happens, they don’t usually live up the hype. Double Dragon: Neon is a high-definition re-make of the original Double Dragon, the 2D beat-em-up of the 80s. However, as a child of the 90s with a gaming background that starts at the end of that decade, a lot of the nods to the 80s are lost on me. With the time I have spent with the game, I feel that they should have left it alone and let people thrive off of their memories.
The game opens with your girlfriend being punched in the stomach and dragged off, and it’s up to you, as either Billy Lee or Jimmy Lee, to battle thugs through dirty streets, in space, through the countryside, and even in a haunted forest. Your goal is to ultimately take down the vicious Skullmageddon, and save your loving girlfriend Marian. The developers have added some more locales to add longevity, but I am still stuck on the final level, as the unforgiving aspects of the gameplay still stand in my way.
Even after all this time, Double Dragon: Neon’s beat-em-up roots still hold up in some aspects, as stringing together amazing combos and wailing on opponents is still fun. However, it falls apart quickly because a lot of the hit detection is horrible. Getting caught in animations is incredibly annoying. Combine this with an attempt at 2D platforming, and you have a recipe for disaster. I have played a few beat-em-ups here and there, and this seems to be one of the worst in terms of getting caught in an animation of attack, and either dying from an enemy combo or falling to your death.
To add to the list of negatives, the checkpoint system is atrocious. There are simply no mid-mission checkpoints. Double Dragon: Neon sends you back to the beginning of the level when you run out of lives. This could happen with a sliver of health left on the boss of the level, and you are sent packing, having to re-do the whole thing again. This is a very archaic design, and one that drives me nuts. I got to the point where I would be on edge for most of the level, just because I did not want to die and have to restart the whole thing. I also feel this wouldn’t be so bad, but there are random difficulty spikes that make parts of the game a chore to get through, and make you want to stop playing and never finish it.
They have added some elements to spice up the gameplay in an attempt to make the experience stand out. First, there are the mix-tapes. As you progress and fight off enemies, you collect mix-tapes that will add special moves to the gameplay, with the only cost being sections of your magic bar. These include a fireball, a spinning heel kick and the absurdly named “bro-dozer.” There are also other mix-tapes that can be implemented, which change up stats, such as your attack power and how much health you have. As you collect more of the same tape from fallen enemies or visit the tape deck shop (which only appears in some stages), the mix-tapes are upgraded to make them more powerful and/or helpful. Finally, to add variety to the gameplay, you can use weapons like baseball bats, fans and knives to more easily take down your opponents.
The in-game store also sells health items and extra lives (which don’t carry over from stage to stage). Money is earned by dispatching enemies, but the in-game store doesn’t show up too often and can be hidden. It would have been nice to be able to visit it between levels.
The game is still best played via local co-op, with drop-in/drop-out being the flavor here (online co-op will be patched in later). There are combos that are unique to having another person there, which does spice up how the game is played, and adds to the fun. It’s nice to have a buddy sit beside you and help annihilate the enemy.
Presentation wise, the game looks pretty good. The environments are well detailed and colorful, and the character models are now in 3D on the 2D plain. The animations can be pretty interesting, despite being hard to break out of. It is not hard to see what is going on, but on some levels, it doesn’t graphically match the wonderful environments we have seen in similar games. The music is excellent and shines through, as guitar ballads mark the cherry on top of an 80s nostalgia-fest.
The levels that the game offers can get pretty lengthy, but I still feel that ultimately it was difficult to drive myself to finish the game because frankly, I didn’t have that much fun playing it. Overall, it’s a game that can easily be passed over by folks who have not played the original. Those with the drive for nostalgia can see for themselves, as I suggest trying the demo out. I feel Double Dragon is a game that should have been left alone, and Neon proves it by showing that 25 years later, the beat-em-up genre just doesn’t have the chops to cut it anymore with current expectations.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.