It’s really late to the party, but Double Dragon Neon finally makes its PC gaming debut.
PROS: A pretty faithful port from the Xbox 360 with Online Cooperative play added in.
CONS: Frustratingly high difficulty may scare off some. Co-Op isn’t perfect either.
NO SHADOW BOSS: The top villain has been replaced by a Skeletor/Shredder hybrid.
If you were a gamer in the 1980’s you likely played Double Dragon. It set the standard for the Beat ‘Em Up genre of action games, paving the way for Capcom, and Konami to flood arcades with their own entries. Technos Japan created an awesome game in Double Dragon. It was the video game version of everybody’s favorite action films. Two brothers are tasked with saving one of the brother’s girlfriend from a dangerously malicious street gang called the Black Shadow Warriors. Throughout the game players beat up thousands of thugs with a myriad of martial arts moves, even disarming gang members, and using their own weapons against them.
Double Dragon was a smash hit, and saw ports to nearly every console, and home computer format around at the time. Even the Atari 2600 had a version. From there Technos gave us Double Dragon 2, Double Dragon 3 (which wasn’t all that great), and Super Double Dragon (which was all that great) before sadly going out of business. Some years later a company called Million picked up the rights, and made a Gameboy Advance game before finally bringing us an entirely new game on the Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.
Double Dragon Neon was generally well received on the 360, and PS3. So what does the PC version do that those versions don’t? The biggest difference is the inclusion of online multiplayer. Playing the game on the PC gives you the ability to play with a friend over the internet, trying to beat it together. In addition to this feature it allows players to change screen resolution, along with a few other effects, and converts its achievements to Steam.
If you missed Neon when it originally came out, it goes a long way in attempting to revive the Double Dragon gameplay, and the pop culture that was around in the original game’s heyday. The actual gameplay is similar though not the same. If you loved playing the original games in the arcade or on your NES don’t expect the mechanics to translate flawlessly. The game does give you a lot of different moves to use, and many of your favorite characters return.
However, rather than have the hard-hitting impact they had back in the originals, this game instead implements a new cassette tape system. Throughout the game as you defeat enemies, some of them will drop cassette tapes that can be used to unlock or even upgrade the various moves. These moves can be classics like the Cyclone Kick from Double Dragon 2, to newer moves like the ability to throw fireballs. There are also gems you can collect. These allow you to visit shops in certain levels where you can use the gems to buy moves you may not have unlocked yet. It tries to add a little bit of RPG like depth to the game, similar to another Technos game, River City Ransom which was almost as popular as Double Dragon was.
Visually, the game tries to recreate the Post Punk/New Wave subculture of the early 1980’s, hence the Neon subtitle. Everything has a fluorescent look to it with neon shades throughout all of its color palette. Backgrounds include remixed areas from previous Double Dragon games to entirely new ones. In between levels is a map screen that uses the NES sprites of the Lee brothers from Double Dragon 2. WayForward (The guys that made the DuckTales: Remastered game) really went out of their way to pay homage to Technos.
Even the sounds of the game attempt to do the same. From the voices, and sounds of punches, kicks, and weapons, to the music. Tracks include remixes of your favorite Double Dragon tunes to the themes of the cassette tape moves you find. Going into the move selection menu will net you a different song for each move. Some of these will be New Wave, Punk Rock, Hair Metal, Power Pop, Synth Pop, Post Punk, and other big genres of the decade.
However there is one major change that will both please, and upset some players. That is the new villain. The original games featured bosses that fit the serious, dark tone of the series. In Double Dragon, Williams was a high-ranking lieutenant in the gang armed with a machine gun. In Double Dragon 2 the Shadow Boss revealed himself in a hard-fought test of martial arts prowess. In this game we find the Lee brothers fighting a new villain called Skullmageddon, a strange hybrid of pantomime enemies from Masters Of The Universe, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Skullmageddon is heavily influenced by Skeletor, and The Shredder. So much so that his voice is clearly paying tribute to the former, and the dialogue to the latter.
Skullmageddon is an entertaining character, so it is hard not to like him. But at the same time it puts Double Dragon Neon into zany territory, which inhibits it from truly feeling like a Double Dragon game, and instead makes it feel like a fun lampoon of thirty year old pop culture.
As fun as Neon might be, players should know it’s a very difficult game. Like a lot of other games in the genre be prepared to be sandwiched in between enemies, and put into situations where you will take a lot of punishment. You will not get through this game without replaying certain levels several times over. When you finally do see the end it will unlock even harder modes you can play through.
Fortunately the game does feature cooperative gameplay for two players. The game also gives you the option to turn off friendly fire so you won’t have to worry about accidentally killing each other. Playing with a friend does make the game a little bit easier, but not by much. You will still have a difficult time trying to clear stages as enemies double team you, or use other cheap tactics.
Despite the difficulty of cheap A.I., there is a lot of fun to be had here. The inclusion of online multiplayer in the belated PC port is also a welcome feature, as in this day, and age it’s how most people play with friends. However there are presently some netcode issues with the game that will limit some players. One look at Steam’s forums will show you how many players are vocally pointing out time outs, lag, and disconnects. Hopefully Midnight City, the developer behind the port can iron out these issues soon.
Overall, Double Dragon Neon is still a good game. If you love beating up waves of thugs as you have in the days of the original, Final Fight, and Streets Of Rage, you’ll be pretty happy with your ten dollar purchase. Just be cautioned one shouldn’t come into it expecting a carbon copy of the old Technos Japan formula. While WayForward has done a commendable job in making a beat ’em up game in Double Dragon trappings, it still doesn’t have the same feel of the originals. Nevertheless, good entries in the genre are a rarity these days, and it’s still a good beat ’em up in the grand scheme of things.
Final Score: 8 out of 10