I remember renting Double Dragon for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) growing up. It was a 2D side scrolling beat em’ up and also had a couple sequels. They were tough games that had no qualms with having you restart the game completely after you lost all of your lives. I remember enjoying the games quite a little bit and was intrigued when I saw that it was being rebooted. Even more so when it was going to be a free game for the PlayStation Plus service. This reboot is called Double Dragon Neon and is both very similar to the game that it reboots and is not at the same time.
This is one area where it is very similar, the story isn’t really much of a story. The game begins with Billy’s girlfriend Marian being kidnapped and you play as Billy, and a second player can play as his brother Jimmy, to set off after the kidnappers.
At its core Double Dragon Neon is a throwback to the original game. It is a 2D beat em’ up, with a lives system and an overall slower pace than many games today. The game does include some modern touches though.
The most significant of these is probably the upgrade system. During the game you can obtain cassette tapes of two types. One of these will upgrade your base stats while the other type will give you a special move that uses a separate energy meter. The more cassettes you obtain the stronger their effects and you can increase how many you can use to level up by spending mythril at the “Tapesmith.” You either obtain these cassettes by defeating enemies or by purchasing the tapes at shops that you can find in certain levels.
There are other modern touches as well. There is a stage select that allows you to choose any level that you’ve already finished. The game also has a dodge mechanic that if timed right causes you to “gleam” which increases your attack power. You can also unlock different difficulty levels after defeating the game which helps you gain more money, cassettes, and mythril than lower levels.
Another aspect of the game that can’t be missed is the 2 player co-op. It can be a lot of fun to play with a second player and take out bad guys with a friend. You can also give high fives to each other to cause a gleam, split health between the two of you, or just fake out your co-op partner and watch them get a face full of dirt.
As usual a game with limited story has limited themes. You can take a negative or positive view on the quest to rescue your kidnapped girlfriend, but honestly that is just a setup and probably serves to connect it to the original Double Dragon than anything else.
- Puntacular – I really enjoyed the humor in the game. To appreciate it you either have to have a knowledge of the 80s and/or a love of puns. There are so many puns in this game. From “brodacious” to “terra firmative” after landing back on earth from a space dojo, to the skeleton boss yelling “Bone voyage!” after beating him for the first time only to have him escape. If you don’t like this type of humor you’re probably going to struggle.
- Neon Extravaganza – I remember the original Double Dragon being a bit more serious, but you will not find that here. Everything is tinted through the lens of the 1980s. While part of this is the humor, it is beyond that. The use of cassettes as the main power up, the music, the using a pencil rewinding a cassette as the revive animation, and the references show that this game is not about taking itself too seriously. It is a bright, wacky, quirky game and I think it is all the better for that.
- Better with Two – Co-op really does add a good degree of fun to this game. I say this with one caveat, the game is somewhat difficult so the skill of your partner could influence your enjoyment. It’s not enough to move this to the mixed category, but it needs a mention.
- A Not Quite Retro Challenge – I wouldn’t say that Double Dragon Neon is as difficult as the old NES beat em’ ups, but it isn’t an easy game either. The controls, while rather simple, take a bit of getting used to in terms learning how fast and what the range of your attacks are. It also takes learning the attacks and patterns of the variety of enemies that you’ll face. One thing that does help is the level up system which allows you to gain a bit of strength if you’re struggling to get past a point.
- Lives Flash Before My Eyes – I’ll be honest the way they set up lives can be a bit frustrating. You can buy extra lives during a level, but at the end of the level you lose any extras you may have had, on the other hand you also gain any lives under the default number. If you had a great stockpile of lives, then this is frustrating. If you passed a level with no lives left this is a sigh of relief. This is probably done to make it so you can just stockpile lives to tackle some of the more difficult levels, but can be kind of frustrating especially upon entering levels that have no place to purchase extra lives.
- Short, but Sweet – There are only ten levels in the game and it doesn’t really take that long to get through the game if you are just going for beating the last level. That said there is also more to do if you want. It can get to be a bit repetitive and grindy, but more often it is a lot of fun even considering these things.
- Picking the Nitpicks – Honestly, everything I’ve thought of here is so minor that I hardly can consider it a serious negative. What nitpicks do I have? The biggest is the co-op life steal, because typically if you’re using it, it means you’ve been burning through lives. Another nitpick is the whole Linda enemy type running around in corsets and lingerie I mean really you’re fighting martial arts in the streets and even stranger locations wearing that? Ahem, anyhow beyond these things there is nothing too major I can think of here.
Double Dragon Neon was a lot of fun to play. The humor, the art style, and the music create a great setting to play in and the gameplay retains some of the old beat em’ up feel while adding some modern touches. It’s a fun game all the way around, but it can be a bit difficult. It is also a bit short and the replay value may vary from person to person, but it is also only $10 on the PlayStation Store, so it isn’t the most expensive game out there in the least. Given all this I’d recommend it quite strongly. It has flaws, but these flaws pale in comparison to the fun I had with this game.