Double Dragon: Neon Review: WayForward Has The Touch

The developers at WayForward have built a career out of resurrecting old franchises and giving them a new coat of paint for these modern times. A Boy and His Blob, BloodRayne: Betrayal (that one didn’t turn out so great), Contra 4… the list goes on and on. They’ve taken another stab at it with Double Dragon: Neon, an I Love the 80s-worthy compilation of the franchise’s best moments.

Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360 (Version Played)
Publisher: Majesco
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Genre: Sidescrolling Beat ‘Em Up (No Quarters Required)
Release Date: September 10, 2012 (PSN), September 11, 2012 (XBLA)
ESRB Rating: Teen

Double Dragon: Neon opens with Marian hanging out on the street (again), when some dude named Williams suckerpunches her (again), and hauls her off to the Shadow Boss (again). Most heinous. But the Lee brothers give chase, kicking and punching their way across eight stages to get Marian back. Just like they did in 1987… and 1988… and once more in 1990. And then a few more times in the Super NES era.

WayForward didn’t just lift the setup from the previous games in the series, they also pilfered the gameplay itself. Players punch and kick with controls that are a bit too stiff and collision detection that is just a tad too imprecise. For fans of the series, the old rhythms will come back over time and, at that point, it’s amazing how authentically old school Double Dragon: Neon feels.

These old rhythms will have to be reconciled with the new tricks WayForward added to the game’s combat. A rolling dodge has been mapped to the Right Trigger, and players will quickly discover that mastering this new move is essential to advancing in Neon, as some enemy attacks will power through your regular punches and kicks.

But what about the classic Double Dragon special moves like the Spin Kick? Those have been filed away under the new Mixtape system. In true 80s fashion, defeated enemies drop cassette tapes, which are actually attribute-enhancing Sousetsitsu Stances and Special Moves mapped to the Right Bumper.

And speaking of 80s fashion, every character is masterfully decked out in their best neon-fringed finery. With character designs from Genzoman and WayForward-penned dialogue that skews towards the absurd, I never knew what to expect. Billy and Jimmy have been given a “bro” makeover, with too-tight t-shirts, slicked-back hair, and a general air of airheadedness. This odd new take on the series has extended to the enemies we all know and love (Abobo is now a wrestler and the Lindas have gone full dominatrix) as well as some… unique… new additions to the cast. First and foremost, there’s the freakish (but hilarious) new Shadow Boss, Skullmageddon. But the great Genzoman has also given us the Mecha Biker (a clear Mega Man parody), deformed Double Dragon clones named Bimmy and Jammy (itself a Double Dragon III reference), a plant/shark/dinosaur hybrid (trust me), and many more.

Genzoman’s graphical choices for Double Dragon: Neon, not surprisingly, bathe the whole game in bright colors. This 180 from the earlier games in the series (which were rather somber and not known for their bold colors) is definitely a surprise. And while the developers may have aped the gameplay of the arcade and NES installments, the story plays out more like a sequel to the lighthearted (and rather ridiculous) Double Dragon cartoon that ran for two years in the early 90s.

The ridiculous atmosphere (Billy and Jimmy were never this entranced with “bro” culture, even during the 80s), coupled with the outstanding level design and character art, continues right up to the end when a possessed Marian uses “the power of love” to turn Skullmageddon and the Double Dragons into robots. And it keeps going right through the end as Skullmageddon serenades you over the end credits. Sean Velasco, WayForward’s Director, does an excellent job with Skullageddon’s vocal duties.

Even when you’re not listening to the velvet pipes of Skullmageddon, the music is pretty good. Each Mixtape powerup comes with its own 30-second clip and they’re all appropriately 80s. Corny lyrics, crashing guitars, and synths come together most righteously. The background music, which features redone Double Dragon tunes as well as a few 80s-inspired originals, is also very well done. WayForward’s in-house composer, Jake Kaufman, has crafted a loving tribute to the days of big hair (and the publisher has even offered up the soundtrack as a free download on Bandcamp).

While single players can enjoy it, Double Dragon: Neon was built for co-op bro-op play. The right stick has been reserved for a quartet of “high fives” the brothers can give each other which will restore health or the special move juice, add a strength buff, or injure enemies. The high five mechanic (and a revive your partner ability) aren’t available in single-player, making the two modes feel very different. And as of right now, co-op bro-op play is only available locally (WayForward says an online multiplayer patch is coming, though). To make up for this, single players will have to replay previously completed levels over and over again to earn enough money/find enough Mixtapes to upgrade Billy’s special moves. As you can guess, it’s a drag.

Double Dragon: Neon’s art design is outstanding and the voice acting is great, but there’s too much 1987 in the gameplay for it to completely work. I can get used to the stiff controls and poor hit detection, but I’d prefer not to. However, if you’ve been a fan of the Double Dragon series all these years, Neon is worth a look just for the thick layer of 80s cheese that covers everything about it.

Review Disclosure: A review copy of Double Dragon: Neon was provided by Majesco for the purposes of this review.

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John Scalzo is Warp Zoned's Editor-In-Chief and resident retro gaming expert. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at john AT warpzoned DOT com.

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