Tag Archives: Brawler

Black Belt Review

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Throughout the history of video games, we’ve seen many cases where the same game can look markedly different between regions of the world. Probotector is one of the most memorable of these, as censorship in Germany saw Konami replace the soldiers in Contra with robots. Other than that, same game. Probotector was released in its robot, and non robot state throughout Europe on many computers as Gryzor.  But there are countless other examples. Today’s game was originally an anime tie-in.

PROS: Cool sprite effects. Solid controls.

CONS: Strange changes.  Poorer artwork than the alternate game.

LAZY: The box art. At least draw an entire character!

Hokuto No Ken, (more famously known as Fist Of The North Star) is one of the most recognized anime franchises of all time. But it wasn’t always so. Centering around a warrior in a post-apocalyptic future, it was widely known in Japan. It started life as a manga, and was later adapted into an anime. When anime became huge in the US in the 90’s it was one of the most popular shows newcomers gravitated to.  But in the early 1980’s it never officially came stateside. Only the most die-hard American anime fans knew about importing shows. Beyond that, the handful of shows we did get, were heavily cut, edited, or combined with other shows to make new shows.

Anyway, in Japan Fist Of The North Star would see a few releases across multiple platforms. It wasn’t until 1989 when we would see an official game by Taxan on the NES. But, believe it or not, we did see one before 1989. We would see Sega bring us a Fist Of The North Star game in 1986 on the Sega Master System. Albeit without the license intact.  In Japan it would retain all of the likenesses to the show it was based on. But since we wouldn’t get the show until 1989, Sega reasoned we wouldn’t know what was going on. Which is weird considering we got Zillion in all of its anime glory a year later.

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Be that as it may, they gave us the game under the alternate title Black Belt. Black Belt is the exact same game, except that nearly every piece of artwork has been altered, or replaced. Enemies. Background art. Our main character. The bosses. Everything. But this is still something you may want to check out. Whether you’re a fan of Hokuto No Ken or not.

Black Belt is a lot like early beat ’em ups like Irem’s Kung Fu Master. You’ll move in one direction killing, or avoiding enemies until you get to the end. What makes the game a bit different is the addition of mini bosses, bosses, and some violent imagery to boot. Granted, the original version is darker. But Black Belt’s grunts still explode when punched in the face, or kicked in the stomach.

So you’ll continue along blowing people up, and occasionally super jumping into the air to catch sushi, and kanji symbols for health. Every so often you’ll come across a mini boss. These guys are 1 on 1 match ups, that rely on memorizing patterns to win. Start going at them all fists blazing, and you’ll probably lose a life. But taking some time to learn when to strike will make these fights more manageable. A couple of stages have several mini boss fights in them. After defeating them, you will continue fighting waves of  grunts until you reach the boss.

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Boss fights change the game play a bit. The perspective in these matches is zoomed in, so the action resembles a tournament fighting game rather than a brawler. Just like the mini boss fights, each of these has a bit of a pattern to figure out. Boss fights are a bit harder though, because they won’t always use the same attacks in the same sequence. So there is a bigger importance on patience. Some runs through the game, you may take down a boss quickly, but other times you’ll be doing a lot of hit, and run tactics. Keep in mind that you’re also on a time limit too, so you’ll have to work smart.

Visually Black Belt isn’t half bad most of the time. Backgrounds are bright, colorful, and detailed. Most of the standard enemy characters have really cool designs too. The mini bosses are pretty awesome most of the time, with only a couple of them getting rather silly. The Bosses are a different matter. All of them pale in comparison to their Japanese counterparts. Garish, and corny these guys are some of the silliest bad guys you’ll ever see in a game. Things fare better on the musical front with some honestly catchy chip tune melodies in the soundtrack. Not all of it is great, some of it is banal background noise. But when the music is good, it’s good.

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It’s a short 5 stage run, but it controls well through it all. I still recommend using a Genesis pad or the Sega Control Stick over the stock Control Pad. Everything feels pretty solid, and responsive. The stock controller will sometimes have you going in the wrong direction or crouching when you don’t want to due to the mushy directional pad. But not often enough to ruin the experience either.

Even though the shift to generic characters, and backgrounds makes for a less exciting environment, Black Belt is still one of the better early brawlers. It manages to be interesting even though it looks uninspired. There isn’t much of a story outside of rescuing your girlfriend from a street gang. The usual B movie plot device of most brawlers. Be that as it may, if you’re collecting for the Master System, pick it up. It’s inexpensive, and has an interesting history behind it. Especially if you’re a fan of the anime that inspired its original Japanese release.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

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Bayonetta 1&2 Review

Hideki Kayima has a number of traditions present in his games. Viewtiful Joe,  The Wonderful 101, even Devil May Cry share many of them. Bayonetta, and it’s sequel, both recently released on the Wii U continue many of them, and then some.

Bayonetta is probably his most refined series. At least on a technical level. The games run brisk, have very responsive controls (except on the PlayStation 3 which was ported by a completely different set of developers), and look great. Bayonetta, and Bayonetta 2 are action games, through, and through. They celebrate all of action’s subgenre’s and various styles. You’ll spend most of your time in them brawling through hack, and slash gameplay. But you can also expect to have your share of on rails, arcade shooting, and of course, over the top bosses.

Originally , on the Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, Bayonetta hit the Wii U as a pack in with Bayonetta 2.

PROS: Both games for the price of one. Increased performance/features in the sequel.

CONS: Bayonetta 1 may drag for some.

MUSIC: Someone at Platinum Games has great taste in it. Climax & Moon River anyone?

In the game you play the role of Bayonetta. A powerful witch, she can use her hair to conjure up all sorts of monsters, and other abilities. She befriends a demon named Rodin, who also happens to own a bar called the Gates Of Hell. There is also her comic relief friend Enzo, who is for all intents, and purposes a parody of Joe Pesci’s Mafioso characters. After a group of monstrous looking angels get into a firefight with her, Bayonetta embarks on a long journey when Enzo informs her of an artifact of interest on the other side of the world. She travels to a city called Vigrid, and along her journey encounters a mysterious witch named Jeanne. Who she ends up fighting several times. As more of the story is uncovered we learn of two ancient factions of Witches, the Umbra, who follow a darker path, and the Lumen Sages who are said to follow a light path, are warring over two artifacts called “The eyes of the world”. Bayonetta is caught in the middle of this war as she slowly gets her memory back as the story progresses.

As I’ve said before the game is a sheer action game. Building on features found in Devil May Cry, and Viewtiful Joe, the game runs the gamut of spectacle fighting. Bayonetta has punch, and kick attacks in addition to a jump, a dodge, and the ability to use a gun. As in many other games of its ilk, Bayonetta allows you to do combination attacks. Players can mix up the various attacks to witness some very powerful, and flashy action. Topping off the action are her climax attacks, which can be executed by pressing punch, and kick buttons simultaneously once, one has built up enough of a meter. These allow for some visceral, and gristly finishing moves to be performed via quick time events. She may kick an enemy into a spiked coffin, or crank the wheel of a medieval torture rack, or any other number of gruesome finishers.

The game follows the pattern many of the other spectacle fighters you may have played set up. You’ll go through a small section, talk to an NPC or go mildly off of the beaten path to find a secret chest with an item in it. Walking into the next area will spawn in a bunch of new enemies for you to do battle with.  This is one of the things that sets Bayonetta apart from other action games. The characters not only have a distinct look that really helps set the atmosphere of the game’s world, but their introductions seamlessly flow into the combat.  As you’d expect, there is also a dossier book with entries for each of the enemies, and other characters you come into contact with. Other times, you’ll find pages strewn about the stages, which allow you to add them to the dossier to be read later.

Keeping with the witch theme, the game also allows you to create potions with many of the items you find. Crafting potions results in these lollipops that you can assign to the D pad on your controller. Holding the assigned direction buttons during gameplay will allow you to use them. Some of these restore health, while others boost attack power, or give you temporary invulnerability.

Levels are broken up into sections. Like Viewtiful Joe, and Devil May Cry you will be rated at the end of each depending on how many continues you used, how fast you defeated swarms of enemies, and so on. Around mid way through the stages you will also find circular patterns on the floor that take you to Rodin’s bar which acts as a shop. Here you can add new moves to Bayonetta’s arsenal, buy lollipop spells, new weapons, and upgrades that you can later assign to Bayonetta’s hands, and feet. The game lets you put in two load outs that you can switch between on the fly. There are guns, swords, and more. Some of the weapon upgrades can be unlocked by finding albums in levels that can be then given to Rodin in the shop. In the Wii U version you can also sport Nintendo themed outfits based on Nintendo characters. The most fun being the Samus Aran costume which replaces Bayonetta’s handgun attack with an arm cannon attack that can be charged.

While you don’t need every possible move, or item to beat the game, getting as many as possible is recommended. Especially for boss fights which can be insanely hard at times. It’s also recommended you try to master the game’s witch time mechanic. Right out of Viewtiful Joe, and The Matrix, dodging an attack at just the right time puts everything into a slow motion state, where you can land huge combos on temporarily defenseless bad guys. This comes in especially handy during the boss fights. Bosses will deal huge damage to you if their attacks land, and the higher a difficulty level you select, the harder they are to anticipate.

The game also breaks up the hack, and slash brawler levels with some really fun rail shooter stages. In between the levels there is also a mini game called Angel Attack where you can shoot at bad guys with secret bullets found in levels to win points. The points can be converted into Halos to be spent in Rodin’s store.

Visually Bayonetta is pretty great. Admittedly, the backgrounds don’t quite hold up as well as some of the other games from 2010, but the character models certainly hold their own. The Wii U re-release looks slightly better, certainly nothing that will make you need it if you have already played it before.  Audio is a huge win, as the music, the sound effects, and voice acting come together very well.

There isn’t really much to be upset with in Bayonetta. While some may decry the innuendo it’s actually pretty tame in the grand scheme of things, and the character has a personality of bravado. There’s a sense of cockiness that says ” I kick ass, and look good doing so.” In reality the main problem the game has is that it’s almost too long. Players who easily tire of formulas may find they feel they’re slogging through the last few stages instead of enjoying them. People who enjoy action movie stories in games, might also find that this game’s gets a bit convoluted at times, with blink, and you’ll miss it details that are needed to understand everything. The PlayStation 3 version does have some technical problems that hinder the performance of the game. Slowdown, a lower frame rate, are commonly reported problems with it. Overall though, the game is crafted well, and is a fun ride.

Bayonetta 2 starts off with a bang, as you’ll actually play the game during the opening cinematic. In this scene you even get to pilot a pretty cool looking mech. There’s a grand stage feeling to the whole thing with suspenseful music, imposing enemies, and awesome design. Upon completing this section the game picks up right where the first game leaves off. Time has passed, and we are reunited with our heroine while she is shopping for some new clothes, and some presents. But a few minutes in the angels show up, and the game begins.

Right away you will notice a significant graphical leap from the first game into this sequel. Bayonetta 2 looks beautiful. Improved lighting effects, textures, character models, and nearly everything else look amazing. The game has a much grander sense of scale even though the game play isn’t much of a stretch from the original. You’ll find yourself in the air battling hordes of enemies, then immediately fighting off a huge dragon. This is right out of the proverbial gate.

Once again Bayonetta finds herself caught between light, and dark forces but this time not only are there angelic themed baddies, but demonic themed enemies as well. This time around Bayonetta meets a mysterious boy named Loki, who also has an axe to grind. With a familiar masked character from the first game.  The story fills in a lot of the details you might have possibly missed in the original game, as well as attempts to fill in some holes. By the end of the story things come full circle, and everything is wrapped up pretty nicely.

Hellena Taylor reprises her role as Bayonetta, and once again brings depth to the character, nailing the biting sarcasm, and confidence that makes Bayonetta compelling.  Likewise, most of the rest of the cast returns to play key characters. Some major shifts come into play with the storyline presented here as well. Some enemies become friends, while major events are revealed to the cast, and they have to adapt. All while you go about slashing, slaying, and shooting.

Bayonetta 2 gives you more of what you loved about Bayonetta, while streamlining or repairing things you might not have. Combat is even more fluid, if you can believe it. It runs smooth, with very rare instances of any slowdown. Animations stream into one another near flawlessly, with pretty great hit detection. It’s uncommon to get hit by something in the game, and not know exactly why. Difficulty has been culled a little bit, in that there are three difficulty levels rather than five.

The game’s formula is pretty much untouched here. Brawler stages will have you exploring for a few secrets, and items. You’ll then fight a bunch of enemies, and upon doing so will be graded based upon your speed, and performance. Enter the next section, and so on. Once again, around half way through any given level you’ll find Rodin’s store. Rodin’s store section is pretty much identical to the one found in Bayonetta. The difference other than the slicker textures, and lighting is that some of the stuff you had access to in the first game, now have to be purchased. Most notably the Nintendo themed costumes. Each of these will set you back around a hundred thousand halos. So if you want to don the mantle of Samus Aran, you had better start saving.

Speaking of saving, you will once again be collecting components for magical lollipops, along with some records, and other items. New to the bevy of potential collectibles are pieces of hearts that can extend your life bar, and moon orbs that can extend your magic casting abilities. Eventually you’ll be running into some mid level challenges that task you with collecting a certain number of pieces under a certain amount of time. If you succeed in these endeavors you’ll find super secret chests that have some of the rarer items in the game.

In addition to the brawler sections, the game brings back rail shooting sections. These have also been refined, so already impressive twitch shooting is even more responsive. Again, you’ll have a healthy mix of attack options here, with punch, kick, jump, dodge, and load out buttons ready to go. You can perform all kinds of crazy, over the top attacks, as well as hitting up Rodin’s store for new weapons, new moves, and item upgrades.

Again, you’ll be able to read the journal entries you find throughout the campaign, as well as logs on every kind of enemy, and character in the game. Creating lollipops is also easier, and less of a hassle as now you only need to rotate a thumb stick. Bayonetta 2 also implements two new things. Crows, and cards. These are pretty much what they sound like. Throughout the game, hidden in backgrounds are small crows. If you see one, and you have enough dexterity you can catch them. Catching them opens up stamps you can use for posting messages in the Bayonetta 2 community on Miiverse. It’s not a big deal, but some of the stamp art is pretty impressive, and you may find you enjoy tracking all of it down. Cards are a little bit different. Depending on how well you do, at the end of a level the game will grant them to you. These can be used in the game’s online multiplayer mode which we’ll get to later.

Bayonetta 2 also allows you to use the tilt controls, and touch screen controls in the Game Pad. The first game also does this on Wii U. To be honest, this is about the only thing in the game that isn’t well implemented. It does work, but nowhere near as well as the control stick. If you do choose to use it, it lets you steer Bayonetta around during brawler sections, while during rail sections, you can use the tilt controls to steer her. The problem here is it seems to be a bit too sensitive, like having too high a mouse sensitivity setting in a PC game. So she may run when you want her to walk, or go too far to the left or right in a rail level causing you to hit an obstacle. Unless you’re adamant about using the motion controls, I would stick to the traditional layout for this game.

Once again, bosses are grand affairs. They’re mostly, big, and imposing with huge health bars. Don’t be surprised in the least if you have to use a lot of continues on your first play through. Some of these can feel impossible when you first encounter them. Thankfully, they take the old school approach of having a pattern, so if you can memorize the patterns, and train your reflexes to react with witch time at just the right moment, you can master them. But even if you don’t you can change the difficulty during a play through, so if things seem too hard, you can make things a little easier if need be. Equally grand are Bayonetta’s climax attacks which result in even bigger, eerie, gruesome finishers.

There are a lot of little Easter eggs, and references to other Platinum, Sega, and Nintendo titles peppered throughout the campaign as well.  Star Fox, The Wonderful 101, and more await you if you know where to look, or make the right decisions. Ultimately by the end credits you’ll be glad you played this one.

But when you’ve beaten the game it doesn’t end. Completing the campaign unlocks a really cool bonus content section. Not only does it give you the typical concept art many bonus content sections do, but it lets you listen to the records you’ve collected, and analyze all of the character models a la Batman Arkham City. It’s a really nice touch considering what a throwaway gesture many other games make such modes.

Bayonetta 2 also has cooperative multiplayer. Using the cards you collect during the campaign you can unlock different stages,  characters, and settings for it. Basically there are six stages. Each of them change a little bit depending on which cards you’ve used. For the most part these are horde modes. You go online with a friend, and fight off waves of enemies. Sometimes instead of fighting off grunts it will have you fight a mini boss or a boss. During these rounds you do have the ability to revive one another. So if someone is getting their clock cleaned the other player can help them. You can use a few of the campaign’s side characters in addition to Bayonetta in this mode. Each with his or her own advantages or disadvantages.

It’s not going to be the main reason you play this, but you might want to pop it in for co-op those times when you’re looking for something a little bit different. One of the nice things it does, is let you spend halos you’ve won in the single player mode. So basically, if you trounce your friends, you can spend the points you win on things to make the game easier, or on higher priced items. Wagering more halos will make the enemies more difficult too. But if you can defeat the harder enemies, you’ll actually win even more halos for the shop. So it does try to incentivize the difficulty spikes in an almost gambling sort of fashion.

Bayonetta 2 is certainly worthy of some of the hype, and praise heaped upon it. What could have been a generic hack, and slash ends up being a lot of fun thanks to the insane number of different enemies, potential weapon combinations, and a storyline that is a step above other ones of its type. Combos feel fun, and rewarding. Bosses are soul crushingly difficult, but fair so long as you’re willing to learn their patterns, and how to use your tools. The game will make you cheer, and laugh for the right reasons. The visuals will wow all but the biggest of nitpickers. Plus, at least for now, it includes the original game.

That isn’t to say these games are for everyone. If you prefer more cerebral games, or more competitive ones it isn’t going to tear you away. But if you love action games with an old school flair Bayonetta 2 is a really great game you should add to your Wii U library. Especially if you’re someone who longs for more traditional action experiences on the system. It looks great, it’s challenging, and it’s fun.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge Review

The director’s cut of Ninja Gaiden 3 attempts to rectify some of the criticism levied at the original release. Does it succeed? In some ways yes, in others not so much.

PROS: Fluid animation. Takes strides in connecting the series to the NES Trilogy.

CONS: Streamlined gameplay means some will find it repetitive after a while.

WHY: Do the villains send out so many German Shepherds to be slain?

Ninja Gaiden 3 saw a mixed reception upon its release. The director of the first two games left Tecmo after a heated dispute, and the person with the porting duties was given the reigns for part 3. The resulting game had the flashy, animation, and gory fights of the first 2. But it was more linear, and easier. So what is different about Razor’s Edge?

For starters, Razor’s Edge started out as a launch window title for the Wii U. So it features some touch screen functionality like changing weapons on the fly, casting Ninpo arts, or seeing your current unlocked combination attacks. It also tries to rectify the difficulty situation. One of the reasons the game is easier than Ninja Gaiden, or Ninja Gaiden 2 is due to its karma system.

Ninja Gaiden 3’s karma system grants players points for killing enemies. Long chain combos, or flashy executions grant more of these points than base moves. There are also a fair number of weapons one can use throughout the game, and some of these will display even more gruesome deaths. Limbs are torn off, heads are decapitated. Curse words are shouted as the score rolls up. When one gets to a section that isn’t wrought with enemies they can enter an in menu shop to spend the points on upgrades. Some of these extend the life bar, while others give you advanced moves, weapons, or arts (some of which are only in Razor’s Edge) to use in battle.

The problem is that the game doles out points like water, so hoarding points early on makes getting the more powerful moves easier than it should be. This in turn makes many of the lower level enemies a breeze to blow through. Block, dodge, and button mash them to death. The game attempts to remedy this by adding a higher difficulty level that artificially makes the campaign harder. On its highest difficulty setting enemy health, and attack power is doubled or tripled. The number of enemies at any given time is also doubled or tripled. Karma points are also reduced. So instead of being more challenging, it’s simply being a lot less fair.

Razor’s Edge is essentially NG3 as far as the base game goes. The campaign is an 8 stage run with in engine cinema sections. The main storyline is actually a pretty good one as far as Ninja Gaiden games go, and even makes more attempts to bridge the current series with the original trilogy from the NES. Ryu Hayabusa is contacted by the Japanese government to investigate a terrorist event in London. Led by a mysterious man known as The Regent Of The Mask, the Lords Of Alchemy threaten the end of the world to the world’s leaders if they fail to comply in giving them Ryu. When Ryu meets the Regent, a battle ensues, and at the end he is left cursed with a disease that feeds on blood lust. Ryu must then find a way to stop the terrorists, and find a cure before he is killed by the curse that plagues him.

Along the way the plot throws out swerves, double crosses, and surprises in the same vein as the NES games. The reason for this is due to it being written by Masato Kato, the man who wrote the original series’ story. This game also brings along some cameos from Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword Of Chaos, as well as ties to that game’s story.

For some players, the story will be the reason to play through the campaign. Because Ninja Gaiden, or Ninja Gaiden 2 on the Xbox, and Playstation consoles over the last two generations were different experiences. The first two games had a little bit more variety in gameplay. There was a little bit more exploration, or sections you could tackle  a little bit differently. Ninja Gaiden 3 instead opted to go for a purely linear spectacle brawler. Much like Devil May Cry, or God Of War. Ryu will enter a section, kill everything the game throws at him, then go into an area with no enemies or pitfalls. Sometimes the game may throw a platforming area where a wall run or wall jump has to be done. But even those are on a path from A to B.

This is indicative of many single player action games in many genres over the past few years. But here it feels like a departure after having played the first two games. For what it is, and on its own merits it isn’t a bad game. Combat is very smooth, and fast. Animations are brisk, and fluid. Some of the carnage is really fun, yet gristly to see, and the length is about right for a game of its type. Enemy variety for the most part is very good, with several kinds of enemy soldiers, monsters, robots, and even terrorist cult members. Character designs are detailed, with a lot of nice touches. Many of them look flat-out cool.

One odd decision many will notice however (or at least I did) is the abnormally high number of guard dogs that have to be dispatched. This game throws a ton of them at you. Pretty much every game in this, and the original series has had them. But this one really loves to use them. It is definitely a very small thing to obsess over, and it is in the grand scheme of things a game set in a fictional world. But one example of what I’m talking about happens in a lab themed stage. There is a long hallway filled with glass case displays with dogs in each. (Spoiler Alert: all of the dogs are real dogs, and will try to maul you to death.) The ratio of dogs to other enemies seems a little off.

Bosses are most certainly designed with an old school focus, involving patterns that have to be memorized, and then solved like a puzzle. These are also accompanied by Quick Time Events. Again like many, many games over the past seven years, QTEs feel thrown in for the sake of being a modern mechanic. While they do add to some of the visual presentation here, they don’t do much for depth in a game that needs a little more variety. However there are sections where the QTEs are welcome like scaling certain walls, or reversing certain enemy attacks.

The game does try to break things up by adding a rail shooter segment,  and Razor’s Edge even adds a couple of sections where you get to use Ayane from Dead Or Alive. She controls different enough from Ryu where this does work somewhat, but the gameplay follows the same structure. As far as her involvement in the campaign story it’s hinted that she is working for Irene Lew. Completing the entire campaign unlocks  other playable characters, as well as another difficulty setting. This one makes the game down right cruel.

Razor’s Edge also tries to give players an incentive to play on higher difficulty settings through its secret areas. Many stages have small rooms off of the beaten path where one can find skulls that open up battle arenas. Touching one of these on the easiest setting will bring up a message telling players they need to play on a higher difficulty setting to see the arena.

Razor’s Edge also adds in online modes. The primary mode allows players to play a co-operative game where two people work together to clear a level of enemies. It essentially works like the horde mode of many other games. There is also a clan battle mode for several players to face off against each other. This mode works like a variant of team death match. The other options don’t really do anything other than compare your stats against other players. So it’s only going to appeal to a small number of people hopelessly devoted to it.

Team Ninja’s engine for the series also seems to show its age here. While characters look rich, vibrant, with really great assets, backgrounds don’t always hold up. Some of the textures on floors or walls are muddy or grainy. There also doesn’t appear to be much in the way of AA or other filtering as jagged lines can be noticed. Not every stage has this level of contrast between the detailed models, and less detailed environments. But when it happens it can be jarring.

Audio is actually one of the high points in this game. Explosions, clashing swords, and other sounds of combat sound really nice. Voice acting is also superb. The cast features many notable voice actors who give some wonderful performances here. The soundtrack compliments the action rather well. It helps give the game have the interactive action movie feel it shoots for.

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is better than the original release of Ninja Gaiden 3. It has since been ported from the Wii U to the PS3, and Xbox 360 extending the number of potential audience members. The added content is welcome, and the co-operative mode does make for a fun time with a second person. On its own though once you finish it there isn’t much to make one want to go back to it. That is unless, you are a die-hard fan of spectacle fighters. In that case the bonus characters, and unlockable weapons may really cater to you. It also has an enjoyable storyline for long time Ninja Gaiden fans. It’s certainly a fun game, and an improvement over the initial version. But it’s still a little too streamlined for its own good.

Final Score: 6 out of 10 (Good but not great)

Double Dragon Neon Review

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