Redesigning A Classic, Bro – Double Dragon NEON Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360
Ever want to relive the ’good old days’ of gaming, but find classic titles to be terribly outdated? Well I may have a solution for you in the form of Double Dragon NEON – a downloadable rebirth for the Double Dragon series. Offering the traditional arcade-styled beat-‘em-up gameplay wrapped in shiny new controls and graphics, does this 80s themed title have what it takes to make it in a modern setting?
In typical arcade fashion, Double Dragon NEON (DDN) puts its focus on gameplay, sticking with a very basic storyline. The Lee brothers, Billy and Jimmy, return as main protagonists, who set out on an adventure to rescue Marian (Billy’s girlfriend) who has been captured by a new antagonist to the series: Skullmageddon. Aside from this brief set-up, players will only find small snippets of dialogue and text between characters here and there (usually taking a humorous fashion with the word ‘bro’ popping up), allowing for gameplay to take center stage. Bro-tastic!
As with the classic titles, DDN takes the stance of a 2D sidescroller with players moving from left to right across the level, with an overall goal of beating up any and everyone from start to finish. Such violence can be achieved by stringing together combos consisting of light and strong strikes and throws, as well as other techniques such as attacking while ducking, running, or jumping. To help players deal some extra damage, several melee and throwing items can be found littered around the play area. Weapons such as baseball bats, knives, electric prods, and even unlikely tools like hair picks can be used or thrown to ensure you beat those baddies as fast as possible. This method of combat is simple enough to retain that classic arcade feel, while varied enough to keep it from feeling dull or old.
Ducking serves an alternative purpose as well, because when they’re timed correctly players will Gleam. While Gleaming, players will do double damage to enemies for a short time. In order to trigger this brief mode players need to duck when an enemy attack would otherwise hit, dodging the strike. Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult to activate, as it seems most enemy attack animations are very fast, leaving little room for reaction time. On top of this, you cannot duck in mid-combo, leaving them wide open for any foe not stunned by your attack to beat right back on you. Players may get frustrated at this, as trying to dodge powerful enemies while simultaneously dodging attacks leads to either a quick death or a long and drawn out battle.
One of the title’s key features is the Mix Tape, an 80s themed mechanic which essentially serves as your equipment. Players have slots, Side A for Sosetsittsu magic and Side B for Stance, to which Songs are attached – each tune serving as an item with its own stats or powers. The latter of the two allows the gamer to equip a general passive buff, such as augmented attack or defense, while Sosetsittsu lets players use powerful magic attacks, like fireballs, lightning, or even summoning dragons – as long as you have enough energy in your magic gauge of course. Songs are either dropped by enemies, found in random destructible set pieces, or purchased from shops located on certain levels. While this is a mechanic that can be found in just about every game, the use of mix tapes and songs as a medium fits into the game’s 80s theme quite well and gives a degree of freshness to it.
Feeling a little overwhelmed? Then grab a buddy to help you crack some skulls, as DDN supports local two-player co-op. Gamers can team up on the same screen to make the title a little easier, and can utilise special co-op skills, In a tribute to playground pranks, one player can get down on all fours behind an enemy and have the other push them, causing the foe to trip over the prone ally which renders him defenceless against your downward attacks. As well, gamers may offer or steal their health to or from their ally if needed, and can even give the Gleam effect via high five – making strategic communication key. While it’s a bit of a downer that the title has no online capabilities, the couch-based co-op mode makes the game considerably more fun, bringing the nostalgic feeling of you and your bestie hitting the arcade on a Saturday night.
Moving on to graphics, DDN is very pleasing to the eye. As mentioned earlier, the game takes an 80s theme, with friends and foes decked out in fashions from the decade, such as ripped up sleeveless jean jackets, wife-beaters, and tight pants. Environments also follow suit, featuring streets filled with neon lights (as the title suggests) and beat-pounding nightclubs. While a little stereotypical, this design fits in with the humorous aim of the game – although gamers will probably be laughing at it and not with it.
Thankfully, animations and frame rate make up for the silly stylings. While DDN is, in essence, 2D in gameplay, characters and set pieces feature 3D models which are both fluid and beautiful in their movements and actions. Characters move very smoothly, without any ragged motions, and the title’s high frame rate maintains its pace even in busy situations keeping everything flowing without any issue or hiccup. Add in some highly polished and detailed textures and a diverse roster of baddies, and you’ve got one very bro-mazing visual experience. However, the game’s audio doesn’t quite deliver the punch that graphics do. For starters, voice acting is done is such an uncommitted and cheesy way that it’s borderline annoying to hear, such as Skullmageddon’s “nya-ha-ha” laugh. Most of the title’s voice work lacks originality, depth, or care, with actors just trying to fit in the most basic, silly, or copied role they can – Skullmageddon is basically Skeletor in armor and a hat. As for the soundtrack, it is comprised of upbeat 80s-styled pop songs which are actually fairly catchy on their own. The problem, though, is that when put back to back across levels they start to get terribly boring, especially if you’re not a fan of the style. Overall, this is one of those titles you’re going to slap your own personal library of tunes overtop of and totally ignore the game’s audio.
When the damsel in distress is rescued and players can rest easy, they will find that Double Dragon NEON is a lot of fun in terms of gameplay. The blend of old-school co-op arcade action and beautiful modernized graphics makes it a blast to play. Just don’t expect to be wowed by story or audio, as the title just won’t deliver. If you’re a fan of the series, genre, or 80s, then this is a great selection to add to your downloadable library.
Final score: 4.25 / 5.0 and a high five from your bro!
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