We are in a retro gaming renaissance. The burgeoning indie game scene, coupled with the ease of digital distribution, has let developers make the games of yesteryear without millions of dollars in investments. Take WayForward, who made the fantastic Contra 4, A Boy and His Blob and so much more, for example They haven’t always been at the top of their game, last year’s BloodRayne Betrayal had incredibly mixed review scores and it looks like Double Dragon Neon is going to be in that boat.
There are some very redeeming qualities about Double Dragon Neon. The inanity of the 80s hasn’t been fully exploited by the video game scene yet and the garish neon drenched colors, leg warmers and muscle bound men really give the game some identity. There is something charming about the purposely terrible dialog and completely insane ‘plot.’ It attempts to be a celebration of everything that we accepted in the 80s, because that’s just how things were.
Double Dragon Neon (XBLA, PSN [reviewed])
Publisher: Majesco Entertainment
Release: September 11, 2012 (PSN) / September 12, 2012 (XBLA)
MSRP: 800 Microsoft Points (XBLA) / $9.99 (PSN)
They’re not that way anymore, and usually for a good reason. That dumb dialog that was charming the first time you hear it really starts grate after the 20th time, in the same level. It got to the point where I just wanted to turn the sounds off, it was like a small child with a sound effect button or a dog with a squeaky toy, no sense of control or reason. Which is really a shame because the soundtrack is the best part of Double Dragon Neon, everything else though, ugh.
I feel like the Internet has ruined so many things for so many people. Non-sequiturs had their chance to comically shine until the Internet (and Family Guy) got their hands on them and determined that if it’s random, it’s funny. That’s where most of the jokes in Double Dragon Neon reside, random for the sake of being random. Hey, let’s have the Chinese restaurant blast off into space and now you’re in space. Oh look Contra reference. Hey, giant robots. The first time it made me smile, but when I realized that all of the humor was going to hinge on that I knew the gameplay would have to carry the game.
If you’ve noticed a trend here then you know if the gameplay can carry the game. Here’s a hint, it can’t. I’ve always been a big fan of beat’em ups. I remember going to the arcade and pumping quarters into Streets of Rage, Final Fight and Double Dragon. If you’ve gone back to any of them in the past five years you would see how they don’t really hold up. Too many arcade games hinge on being brutal to take your money. Neon could either innovate, like Hard Corps: Uprising, or revel in nostalgia, like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. It tries to do both with such failure.
It both tries to be a pseudo remake of Double Dragon and be its own thing. Either would be great, if I could actually play the game. When it does work, it feels like a completely mundane game. There’s nothing new or interesting here and the actual new mechanic, the mix tapes that alter your skills and special moves, seemed so inconsequential to what I was actually doing and required so much work to make useful it was obnoxious. When it doesn’t work I would find myself simply hitting air while enemies would hit me just fine without moving any closer.
This happened so many times. I could forgive it in the normal course of the game because maybe I just wasn’t aligned correctly. But when the game went completely 2D and I still hit around enemies but they smack me in the face, something is incredibly wrong. Playing Double Dragon Neon just wasn’t fun single or multiplayer. The gleam mechanic that powers up Billy or Jimmy never seemed to last long enough and dodging is a pain. What I wouldn’t give for a dedicated block button. In the end, playing seemed like a chore. It didn’t help that all of the character models are hideous.
I wanted to like Double Dragon Neon, but it wouldn’t let me. Every time something good tried to shine through, I was slapped down by a single missed attack that would result in my death or a hideous boss that was invincible during his animations that would then smack me down during mine. Avoid this and pick up something else, maybe any of the amazing games that WayForward has made, it’s just too bad this isn’t one of them.