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XBLA Review: Double Dragon Neon

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Double Dragon Neon Cover

I was very excited to finally get my hands on Double Dragon Neon, a game that I thought would bring back great memories of the old days. However, after playing Neon for only a few minutes, I realized that those memories may not have been as great as I thought. Double Dragon Neon isn’t a bad brawler game; it’s the brawler genre as a whole that needs some serious reimagining.

A couple months ago a friend and I sat down to play Streets of Rage 2 on the Sega Genesis Collection. I remembered really enjoying the game as a kid, but this time I wasn’t having any fun while playing it. Streets of Rage simply didn’t withstand the test of time.

Brawler videogames come out of an era when you would do much of your gaming in arcades, feeding quarters into a machine with some friends. The ability to play on the same screen with a buddy, working together to conquer mutual enemies, was what lead to much of the appeal of the brawler genre in the first place.

Fast forward to present day, and none of that is really all that appealing now—we’re too used to it. So, what else does the brawler genre offer? Well, not much. You roam around a small game area, punching enemies in the face, and occasionally there will be a terrain hazard or new foe to change up the action.

Sadly, this type of game just isn’t fun anymore, and it’s all we get from Double Dragon Neon, a title which fails to change up the classic play in a significant way. Granted, there are certain gimmicks that attempt to add some depth to the face kicking, but none of them are particularly interesting.

The main new feature involves cassette tapes. Yes, cassette tapes, you read that correctly. Enemies you knock out will drop glowing cassette tunes, which stack to boost up finishing moves or change the way your character deals and receives damage. I was told by the tutorial that having a good “mixtape” is the key to success, but I’m not actually sure there’s any strategy to Double Dragon at all.

You want to make yourself believe that there’s some skill involved in this game, but any idiot can move forward and press the punch button. In reality there’s no skill required here, though the game is very difficult. The old model of play, originally designed to eat quarters at an arcade, hasn’t gone away. There’s plenty of cheap death that’s designed to suck up imaginary quarters and play time.

Double Dragon Neon Screenshot 1Our heroes, Billy and Jimmy, will be plodding along, very slowly kicking some ass, when all of a sudden there’s an enemy they can’t hit for some reason. Then, in the next zone there may be a girl with a whip, who seems to be able to automatically hit them, or a new boss that’s impervious to damage. None of this is fun, and none of this should exist in videogames.

I guess you can argue that Double Dragon Neon is designed to recreate the experience of the original arcade brawler—and it succeeds. But I can’t believe for a second that there are too many people who really want to play a game like this anymore.

The only thing I really like in Neon are the graphics and art style. The 3D effects add an all new look, while still maintaining the feel of the original Double Dragon. Graphically this game is well polished, with very few technical hiccups of which to speak.  Everything has this updated ’80s feel to it, and it actually looks pretty cool.

There is also a great soundtrack to compliment the graphics, with lots of power pop ballads, and shredding metal guitars. The voice acting is another story—it’s all terrible. Every word of dialogue is loud, poorly written, and appears to be recited by a pimply intern. The evil laugh of the villain, Skullmageddon, is truly one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. I almost muted my damn television.

Cassette tapes and glam punks aside, Double Dragon‘s core gameplay is what’s really trapped in the ’80s. It feels as though time has passed over the series completely, like some elderly man with dementia. Double Dragon Neon is an old dude at a college bar trying to fit in, still rocking his denim vest and greasy mullet. This game is for only the most hardcore of fans, and likely even they will only pretend to enjoy it.

It is hard for me to recommend a better brawler because, sadly, it may just be time for the genre to bow out gracefully. If this is the best that developers can do when trying to update classics, I’d prefer they just leave the leave the originals in a museum. People can stop by and look at the Double Dragon exhibit, all the while wondering how we old people ever played such primitive games.

Double Dragon Neon is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Suggestive Themes, Partial Nudity, Fantasy Violence. This game can also be found on the PlayStation 3 Network.


 

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About Chad Michael Van Alstin

Chad is an award-winning libertarian opinion columnist. He's done with that now. Having earned himself a B.A. in Mass Communication, Chad now spends most of his time as a wage laborer, killing the pain by consuming as many video games and movies as possible. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadVanAlstin
  • http://www.doblu.com Matt Paprocki

    There’s a tremendous amount of timing skill required to play Neon. The duck/dodge is absolutely critical to play the game. It’s poorly explained in the the limited tutorial, but once the timing is down, it’s a superior defensive move. It charges up attack strength, and combined with a bolstered cassette, the attack set comes alive. It’s a radical departure for the genre which traditionally values reflexes.

    The genre itself has plenty of life left. Depreciation of the genre’s attributes is no reason to discredit Neon, and certainly not the voice work which is meant to be as cheeky as possible. All of its elements combine as a love letter to the genre and the ’80s in general. Neon takes some bold steps to revitalize the beat-em-up by focusing on technique, style, and tight combat. Skullmageddon’s power ballad during the closing credits is one of 2012’s finest gaming moments. This is a game with space dojos and “anti-tank” martial arts. I don’t know how the tongue-in-cheek aspects go without notice.

    But really, if Streets of Rage 2 doesn’t click with you, this just isn’t your genre. Games haven’t passed them by so much as they’ve become overloaded in complexity.

  • http://www.doblu.com Matt Paprocki

    Oh, and the reason those enemies seem impervious is because you’re supposed to be rolling. That’s a sign they’re in an attack. Some moves need a duck, some need a full roll. The whip is ridiculously easy to counter with a roll, turn, then execute double damage with basic attacks or cassette strikes.