Thursday, 11 October 2012

REVIEW - Double Dragon Neon (XBLA / PSN)

For many, Double dragon will be the definition of 1980's arcade gaming, it was another coin-guzzler that captured the imagination of young boys everywhere with its colourful graphics, rad music, 2-player co-op, and of course lashing of violence. In fact, it is probably still one of the most brutal side scrolling fighting games to this day, thanks mostly to the wicked headbutts, elbows to the face and knees to the groin that the enemies receive from our heroes, Billy & Jimmy.

There were numerous sequels but, with the exception of the marvelous NES version of Double Dragon 2, they never captured the same magic as the original. It didn't help that there was never a decent home port of the arcade game, strange considering the machines of the 16-bit era could easily have hosted an arcade perfect port.There was a respectable sequel on the Super Nintendo in the form of Super Double Dragon (which many argue to be the best game in the franchise), but other than that we Double Dragon fans have been pretty short changed. Until now.

Double Dragon Neon arrives in a period where the scrolling beat-em-up has laying dormant for some time now. Various 3D efforts such as PS2 & Xbox  title The Warriors offered a decent fighting experience, and for the old school 2D affairs we have had an HD update of Final Fight, the excellent Castle Crashers, and a Scott Pilgrim game, but we are yet to see an original beat-em-up similar to the 80's games. Double Dragon Neon realises this, and aims to bring back the spirit of the original, while adding it's own twist on the franchise. 

Visually, the game will divide fans of the original into two camps. Those who love the new revamped look, tongue in cheek style, and over the top nods to 80's games and movies, and those who feel this doesn't really resemble the Double Dragon they know and love. I can see where they are coming from as, apart from the two main characters and some remixed tunes, there really is little here to connect this to the original Double Dragon. But in a way this is a good thing. Free from the shackles of having to stick closely to the original, WayForward have made the game in their own style. The graphics have a real flare about them, the garish neon colours and character costumes screaming 80's cool. The music is deserving of special praise as it is fantastic. Well produced tunes that could have been released in the 80's to a great reception, elements of comedy that evoke a wide smirk, and of course neat remixes of the music from the original. The soundtrack is also available to download for free from the artist's bandcamp page, and I urge you to do so. It really brings the game to life.

As for the gameplay itself, well you know what to expect. Walk from left to right, engaging enemies and pummeling them senseless, repeat ad infinitum. The thing is it never becomes tiresome. Moving your character around is a joy, and the attacks feel solid when they connect. There are multiple weapons to be found such as a whip, baseball bat, knives, shurikens, grenades, and a plastic comb (yes really). There is a throw move, along with a fabulous attack where you grab two stunned enemies and bash their heads together (complete with comedy bowling strike sound), and a great move where you can administer a sound beating to a fallen foe. It's a shame you can't just grab enemies by walking into them (a la every other beat-em-up game) instead having to stun them first. But you get used to this and it soon feels natural.

The game really comes into its own in 2-player 'Bro-Op'. Find another willing participant to play alongside you and you will have the time of your life. Tag teaming enemies is great fun, and you really feel you are dishing out the pain as a combined effort. Add to the mix the ability to high-five one another for extra damage or to share your life bar, and it becomes one of the best local 2-player games on XBLA. We are promised a forthcoming patch that will allow online Bro-Op, but it hasn't surfaced yet, so one wonders if it will actually appear at all.

The game's main antagonist is a, pretty obvious, ripoff of the 80's cartoon villain Skeletor, here named Skullmageddon. At first he feels slightly out of place in the game, especially as he looks like a relative of Tekken's Yoshimitsu, yet sounds like a camp 60's Batman villain. He does grow on you though, and as the game progresses and he continues to taunt you, he becomes almost endearing. There is added depth to the game in the form of 'mixtapes', which you collect from vanquished foes and can also be purchased from the few shops scattered throughout the levels. There are 20 mixtapes in total, 10 special moves (One inch punch, spinning kick etc) and 10 that affect your stats (high attack but low defense for example).

Bosses deserve special praise as they are creative and a joy to fight. From Skullmageddon himself (3 times), to the Mega Man-alike cyborg (with a fantastic nod to the terrible artwork adorning the western game boxes on the NES releases), to the Little Shop Of Horrors inspired man-eating plant battle. Defeating them gives the player Mithril, a metal used as currency to increase the level cap of the mixtapes (up to level 50). This means that there will be lots of repeat boss battles in order to level up your character to stand a fair chance on the harder difficulty levels (unlocked by beating the game).

Personally I loved every minute I spent on it. It is an unpretentious game that knows it's core gameplay is from a much simpler gaming era, but it adds enough sparkle and flare to make the experience seem new and fresh. I think critics often knock these types of game because they haven't brought anything particularly new to the genre, but sometimes they don't have to. The scrolling beat-em-up is a genre on life-support and Double Dragon Neon is the defibrillator that will bring the genre kicking and screaming back into the limelight.

An absolute must-buy for those who love arcade beat-em-ups from yesteryear!

The Good:
  • Amazing Soundtrack
  • Great graphical style captures the 80's vibe
  • Solid and enjoyable fighting
  • Varied levels
  • Mixtapes add depth

The Bad:

  • No online multiplayer
  • Could have done with more grab moves

Developer : WayForward
System Reviewed : XBLA
Also available on : PSN
Price : 800 points / 7.99