Double Dragon: Neon Review

By Lexley Ford,
I’m possibly one of the few people that love to see a series get a fresh lick of paint, be completely reimagined or just dusted off and put back into service for another round. The latest series to have received this treatment is one that I and many others may remember from days gone by, and that is Double Dragon. But how does Billy and Jimmy's new XBLA adventure stack up?

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As with its predecessor, Double Dragon: Neon begins with the lovely Marian being severely man handled and taken hostage by a group of men with questionable tastes in fashion, and it’s up to twin brothers Billy and Jimmy to rescue her. This time instead of the Black Warriors taking her, it’s a new villain by the name of Skullmageddon, who doesn’t just resemble one of the 1980’s most memorable villains, Skeletor, but even sounds like him too.

Double Dragon: Neon, as the name suggests, is bright and colourful, WayForward have put a lot into the way the title looks and the updated graphics are simply beautiful. The variation in level design is also superb, moving through areas such as backstreets, a futuristic spaceship, the rural countryside and a strange chaos dimension, each level is uniquely designed and easily distinguishable from the last. Each area also has unique enemies, though towards the later stages of the game many of these enemies are recycled and when coupled with the amount of enemies you may face in any given stage, they become very repetitive, very quickly.

One of the games strongest points is actually it’s soundtrack, many classic tracks from the original have been remastered and given a new lease of life. The game also includes brand new songs that sound as if they actually came straight from the 80’s and fit perfectly with the games setting. The voice acting is also reminiscent of the era and adds much to the game's tounge in cheek humour, though after a few playthroughs the one liners become a little stale.

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Combat very much remains true to its origins and remains very enjoyable, Billy and Jimmy's repertoire of kicks, punches and throws return, though pummelling a grappled foe no longer makes an appearance. There is still a large variety of weapons to use such as knives, baseball bats, whips and cattle prods as well as many other and defeated enemies will still occasionally drop health pick-ups, but they now also drop other items including batteries that power special attacks and Mix Tapes, but more on those later.

While the combat retains the majority of the features that made the original so memorable as well as a few extras, it also retains many of the problems that plagued so many games of its generation, on many occasions poor hit detection will mean you end up swinging a miss, more often than not this will leave you open to being ravaged from all directions. Thankfully, there is a dodge button which lets you duck or roll out of harm’s way, and as a bonus a well-timed dodge will grant you double damage for a short period of time. Dodging becomes vital to surviving the waves enemies and learning the timing of enemy attacks will make the game far easier.

One of the most obvious issues is the lack of checkpoints. During the 80's, when arcades still ruled the gaming world, levels were designed in such a way that you would die, a lot, in order for you to keep putting your hard earned money into the machine. Double Dragon: Neon seems to stick to that model and suffers because of it, there is nothing more frustrating than fighting your way to the end of a stage, only to be narrowly beaten by a boss and having to restart the stage from the beginning.

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A new addition to the game is the Mix Tape system which allows you to customize your abilities. Mix Tapes are split into two varieties; Stances and Sosetsitsu. Stances are passive skills that affect your health, defence, attack and special bar and may also grant you abilities like gaining health with every successful hit you land or receiving a damage boost when your health is critical, while Sosetsitsu Mix Tapes allow you to perform special attacks such as the Spinning Kick and Fireball. Only one of each can be activated at time, which allows you to change your play style depending on what types of enemies you are facing.

To upgrade a Mix Tape you can either pick one up off a defeated enemy or you can buy one with your hard earned cash at one of the shops in the game. The trouble is that these shops are few and far between and only located in certain levels, so when you actually want to buy an item or upgrade you have to replay one of these levels, which does become very tedious the more you have to do it. Once a Mix Tape has reached level 10, you will need to purchase the next level of the Tape from the Metalsmith, again these are only located on certain levels and require mithril, an ore that is only dropped by bosses, to purchase so expect to play through stages with bosses on many occasions if you intend to upgrade all of the Mix Tapes to their highest level.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be double dragon without co-op play, unfortunately the game currently doesn’t feature online co-op, but that is due to be fixed in a later patch. So, for the moment, if you’re looking to go through the story with a friend, that friend will have to be in the same room as you. An extra feature of the co-op mode is the ability to high-five, these allow you to do a variety of different things such as sharing health, boosting attack power, or just stealing health from the other player if you feel like annoying your partner.

On the achievement front, Double Dragon: Neon is fairly daunting as many of the achievements will require you to have unlocked Double Dragon difficulty first which requires completing the game on the other two difficulties first. All of the achievements should be earnable in three or four playthroughs but be prepared to sink a lot of time into replaying levels to upgrade your Mix Tapes. The most difficult of the achievements, Double Dragon, requires you to complete every stage cooperatively on Double Dragon difficulty with friendly fire turned on, without online co-op this achievement may seem near impossible for the moment.

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In summary, there are plenty of references to the original game and a lot of the gameplay is rather similar but this isn’t the re-imagining that it truly could have been. While the graphics have been polished up nicely and the music could have come straight from the 80's, it’s the gameplay that lets the title down. Many of the problems we faced in games of the 80’s, and triumphed over, are still ever present in Double Dragon: Neon, and while the game’s roots and influences are from that decade, the gameplay didn’t need to be and a few small tweaks would have made the title far more enjoyable. Upgrading Mix Tapes does extend the life of the game and helps to justify the game's 800 MSP price tag, but with only 10 stages, you will end up replaying a lot of the same stages many times over.

The reviewer spent eight hours across single player and co-op modes unleashing their inner dragon
Lexley Ford
Written by Lexley Ford
Lex has been gaming for nearly three decades and has been a Newshound for TrueAchievements since 2011. When he’s not writing news he can normally be found immersing himself in a good story, both written and in-game, or just blowing stuff up (only in games).