Double Dragon: Neon Review: Mullets and High Fives All Day Long

by David Sanchez February 20, 2014 @ 7:01 am

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Double Dragon: Neon originally launched on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network in 2012. The game wasn’t perfect, nor was it for everyone. That said, it effortlessly captured the spirit of the ’80s and offered mind-gushingly joyous beat ’em up action to the point that it was easy to overlook its shortcomings. Just about two years later, Neon is now on Steam, and it’s just as rad and worth playing — partially because it’s so much fun, but also because it’s a hilarious throwback to a bygone era.

The story is classic Double Dragon fare at its finest: Messy-haired, gritty-garbed damsel in distress Marian gets punched in the stomach by a ruffian, prompting Billy (or Bimmy, if you prefer) and Jimmy Lee to give chase. The main antagonist in Neon is Skullmageddon, a hilarious villain with a penchant for theatrics and an awesomely high-pitched voice.

The action is high and deceptively robust. Though most of what you do in Neon is punch, kick, and grapple your way to victory, collectible cassette tapes can be utilized to enhance your abilities. For example, successfully doling out punishment or dodging enemy strikes charges up your energy bar, which can be used to throw fireballs, perform a powerful spin kick, or summon a giant fire dragon. In addition, different sets of cassette tapes can enhance your character, making him a powerhouse, allowing him to steal health with every hit, or making his magic-based attacks more effective.

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This wouldn’t be a true beat ’em up if you couldn’t come across disposable weapons, and Neon ensures that you frequently have access to many a foreign object. Enemies drop bats that can help you hit a touchdown as Billy and Jimmy so eloquently put it. There are also knives, whips, and trash cans for you to take advantage of on your quest to save Marian. These items aren’t exactly durable, but they give you a nice edge for at least a few encounters.

Enemies range from lowly street hooligans to buxom bondage chicks. Hearing these dudes and dudettes talk trash is all a part of the fun, mostly because they spout lines that are cheesy, confusing, or just plain weird. (Those bondage gals are especially strange due to their sexually fueled one-liners.) Other threats include robotic baddies, armed helicopters, and Double Dragon veteran Abobo.

Unfortunately, while taking the fight to the cast of bad guys and girls in Neon is a blast for the most part, it’s impossible to shake the fact that the combat isn’t entirely fluid. Hit detection sometimes leaves a bit to be desired, which is a shame considering beating fools up is the main hook here. It’s not Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game levels of bad, but battling baddies in Neon could’ve been a bit better. Thankfully, it’s not a game-breaking ordeal, and the experience remains joyous throughout for the most part.

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One of the best features in Neon is its shop system. As you adventure through dark allies and eventually space itself, you come across special shops that sell a myriad of items. Using cash found throughout your mission, you can purchase more cassette tapes and upgrades. While the cassettes and shops don’t make for an insane level of customization, they certainly make it so that you can take your own slightly unique approach to the game.

Neon is a tough beat ’em up, and though the first level does a great job of easing you into the experience, it doesn’t take long for things to get challenging. As you progress, you encounter stronger enemy types, bigger gangs of bad guys ambush you, and bosses get a lot more imposing. You start each stage with two lives, and it’s very easy to lose those lives if you’re not careful. The only real tip I could offer to ensure your survival would be to play this game like you’d play a beat ’em up on the NES.

If you need help with the daunting challenge, you can always brawl your way through Skullmageddon’s legions with a buddy. The Steam version of Neon supports local and online co-op, so if you’d rather experience the game with someone watching your back, you can do exactly that. Obviously, there’s nothing quite like playing a game like this with someone right next to you, but you could always go the online co-op route. The main perk in co-op mode is the ability to perform cool double-team moves, which are initiated by a deliciously lame high five animation between Billy and Jimmy.

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The graphics of Neon appropriately emulate (and very obviously parody) the loud style of the ’80s. True to its name, there’s a neon flair prevalent throughout that’s almost like candy for your eyes. Additionally, the characters’ outfits, hairstyles (mullets weren’t out of style back then, ya know), and mannerisms are all throwbacks to the beautifully ridiculous fashion sense and attitude of that era.

Like the graphics, the sound design of Neon is also great. Composed by Jake Kaufman, the soundtrack is rich with themes that sound like they were ripped right out of the ’80s — even though they were created by Kaufman in 2012. As previously mentioned, the quips dished out by Billy, Jimmy, Skullmageddon, and most enemies are also pure, retro-driven gold. They totally say the kinds of things people would say back then.

Like its console counterparts, Neon on Steam isn’t a flawless beat ’em up. Still, it’s hard to focus on the negatives like occasionally iffy hit detection, high difficulty, and a short campaign (you can finish the game in roughly three hours). The reason it’s impossible to dwell on those things is because Neon is such a blast to play from start to finish, and it’s filled with so many memorable and comedic moments, that you’ll be too busy having a genuinely good time. Oh, what the hell: You’ll be too busy having a gnarly time, dude!

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