Final Thoughts on Double Dragon Neon

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.

Double Dragon NeonStory

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.

Gameplay

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.

Themes

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.

Positives

  • 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.

Mixed

  • 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.

Negatives

  • 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.

Overall Impressions

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.

Final Thoughts on Rogue Legacy

Growing up playing video games in the NES and SNES era of video games, side-scrolling platformers were a common type of game to find released. Over time as technology improved 2D games became rarer and 3D games began to become the norm. Today with the upsurge of independent developers 2D games have become very popular again. Some would argue that there is an over abundance of these type of games, and they may have a point. Regardless of that larger argument, I’m looking at one of these type of games today, Rogue Legacy.

Rogue Legacy Title

Story

There isn’t too much story here. The King is ill and one of your ancestors, the Knight Johannes (who you play as for the tutorial/flashback), goes to the Castle Hamson to find the cure for the King. You wind up playing as the descendents of the King and Knight Johannes to unravel the mystery of the castle and to try regain the previous fortune of your family that was decimated upon entry into the mysterious Castle Hamson.

Really there isn’t too much story to the game though. You’ll run into journals throughout the game that talks about the journey of Johannes through the castle, and it’s interesting and changes a bit of the implications behind going into the castle in the first place, but doesn’t really alter your actions at all.

Gameplay

Rogue Legacy is considered a roguelike platformer. The roguelike elements come out in two prominent features of the game. First, the Castle Hamson is randomly generated, the setup of the castle will not be the same unless you use the architect NPC to keep the castle the same for a fee. While this doesn’t change the types of monsters you’ll find it changes the layout and traps that make up the castle. This can make quite a bit of difference sometimes on how far you can get in the castle.

The second feature that draws from roguelike and is a backbone of the game is permanent death and the heir system of the game. When you die in the game, and trust me you will die, your character is dead for good. You then have to pick a son or daughter of the character that just played.

These potential heirs are random and come from a pool of different classes like knight, mage, or assassin. In addition to picking from various classes each heir will have certain traits. These traits could be useful like ADHD which increases your move speed, negative like Alzheimer’s which removes your ability to look at your map, or purely cosmetic like color-blind which changes the colors of the game to greyscale. There are a number of combinations and can make the game easier or more difficult depending on what you get.

Rogue Legacy UpgradesWhen you pick your character you have the chance to purchase upgrades, new weapons, armor, or enchantments with the money and blueprints you found in the castle on your last play through. You then have to waste all remaining money upon entering the castle paying the gatekeeper Charon.

Once you’ve entered the castle your goal is to stay alive as long as possible, collect money, blueprints, and enchantments, and defeat the four bosses of the castle so that you can proceed to the final boss and conquer the castle. You do this by attacking people with your sword, magic spells, and the special abilities of your class. This may sound simple, but it will be a difficult task as you face difficult bosses and harder enemies as you proceed through the castle.

Rogue Legacy Gameplay

Themes

The game doesn’t really have much of a story so the themes again are sparse. You can extend the gameplay mechanics of heirs into a woeful tale of family duty and mystery. One could ask why do the descendants of Johannes continue in their quest to unravel the mysteries of the castle after so many members of the family have met their demise, but it’s really a question the game doesn’t answer and is left to imagination.

Rogue Legacy Boss

Positives

  • Cruise Control – I found that the game had some very good controls. I played it on the keyboard for the PC and was able to do fairly well with the game. I can imagine that playing with a controller would be an even better experience. This isn’t a game you die from because the controls are tough.
  • Progressing on the Journey – There was always a good sense of progress through Rogue Legacy. A new weapon or piece of armor to find, the need to collect money for the next upgrade, or a new enchantment to unlock. All this allowed for a good sense of progress. Yes sometimes this involved some grind, but it was a lot of fun to do in my opinion.
  • Legendary Cameos – Okay this is just a bit of a nerdy point, once you find out the plot centers around the fountain of youth it is interesting to note that the bosses all are names of people who are connected with the legend of the fountain of youth. Nothing that really improves the game directly, but I thought it was a nice touch.

Mixed

  • Patience is a Virtue – This is a difficult game, if you try to rush right through it unprepared it will not be nice to you. At times it will be very difficult to progress without properly upgrading your abilities. This will mean gaining money and finding equipment. I did find it tough at certain points to gain enough money to progress further, but eventually you do break through these points as you get better at the game and get sufficiently upgraded.
  • Just One More Try – Rouge Legacy is one of those games that can keep you coming back for one more round. This is a good thing as it means the game is fun and keeps you coming back for more. It’s not good though because it means it can be hard to pull yourself away trying to chip away at the challenge.
  • Now For Something Completely Different – The traits that this game include for characters are pretty interesting. Having ways to incorporate traits like ADHD, Dyslexia, Near-Sightedness, and many others is an interesting way of approaching character traits. It also can be quite funny how some of traits are displayed in the game. Some of these traits though get old and you find yourself looking for your favorites at times and sometimes you don’t get any good setups when choosing your heir.
  • Class Division – It could just be that certain classes in the game are suited towards certain play styles, but I found that some classes seemed to do much better in the game than others. While I don’t think this detracted from the fun of the game, it did cause me to play certain classes more than others unless you got a particularly poor draw.

Negatives

  • Did We Need to Make Things Harder – The only real negative I can think of comes from the super hard Remix bosses that were added to the game later. I was initially looking forward to them quite a bit, I mean more Rogue Legacy is a good thing, but I found myself disappointed. I found them very difficult, and since you have to use a set character there is no way to make things easier. I’m sure they can be beat, but it just wasn’t the more Rogue Legacy I wanted.

Overall Impressions

I’m sure by now you’ve realized that I thoroughly enjoyed Rogue Legacy. It is a challenging game, but it is doable with patience and a willingness to collect money and upgrades. I found it to be a fun, well done platformer that kept me coming back. You may be turned off by the 15$ price tag, but I honestly think the game is worth it. If you don’t I know that you can find this game on sale at various points for the PC. This game is also coming out to the PS3, Vita, and PS4 later this month so if you’d rather go that route you’d be able to as well.

Final Thoughts on DLC Quest

One of the fairly recent developments in video games is DLC or downloadable content. It has been a development that has been met with mixed reviews to be certain. You can find games that charge absurd prices for cosmetic changes to the game, games that leave out content from the initial release to release DLC shortly after release, and you can also find reasonably priced DLC that is well done and worth purchasing.

What does this have to do with the game I’m looking at today? How about the fact that DLC Quest is a parody game pointed directly at the idea of DLC. In fact it goes pretty much as far as having every element of the game needing to be “purchased” including sounds, the ability to turn left, animations, everything. You don’t have to use real world money, but these “DLC packs” are purchased using in game coins.

DLC Quest TitleStory

Well let’s be honest, DLC Quest‘s focus is not story. It introduces itself as a basic go find the bad guy and rescue the princess kind of game. Story is not the focus here, it’s game with a joke about DLC and perhaps a grim vision of a potential future where every part of a game needs to be unlocked by some kind of DLC.

Gameplay

DLC Quest is a platformer, you jump and explore levels to collect coins in order to unlock more of the “DLC packs” so that you can continue on to the next portion of the game. That’s pretty much it. It’s not very complex. It’s running and jumping and finding enough money for the “DLC” you need to get past the most recent obstacle in you path.

DLC Quest Gameplay

Themes

With a threadbare story one would not expect this game to have any significant themes. Largely the only theme present is the joke that the game centers around, the idea of DLC being abused. It’s not that significant really, but it is the theme that this game is built around. You could potentially walk away from the game thinking about healthy and unhealthy business practices in regards to the gaming industry or in general, but I doubt that would be most people’s take away from this game.

Positives

  • Keep it Simple – DLC Quest is a simple, but fun game. It may not have the complexity of many games today, but it was still surprisingly fun.
  • Priced for What it is – Steam has this game for $2.99, which compared to a lot of the indie games that I’ve given my thoughts on here, is actually a price that fits well with a game of this length and complexity. It probably even goes on sale cheaper than this at times and would then even be a better deal.

Mixed

  • Over and Over Again – DLC Quest’s joke is funny. Poking fun of the video game industry and particularly DLC is an area ripe for some mockery. However, crafting a whole game around that one joke can get old. It keeps it interesting with amusing extra “DLC packs” like Canadian dialog, but it’s really the same joke over and over again. The developers certainly aren’t hiding this fact, but just be aware.
  • Where to Go – There are points in the game that what you need to do next isn’t entirely clear. These are rare, but I remember at least one point where I wasn’t sure what I needed to do. I eventually figured it out and all it took was being willing to explore a little, but it just reminded me of a part of older gaming that I don’t miss, the wander around hoping you’ll figure out what to do.

Negative

  • What Big Eyes You Have – I’m not one who nitpicks graphics too much. However, the characters in this game are pretty ugly. Don’t take this as I just don’t like retro graphics. I like them just fine. They can be done rather well and look nice even today, but this game doesn’t do it. The eyes of the characters are almost larger than their whole head and it just makes them look very strange. A minor gripe to be certain, but they are still ugly looking characters.

Overall Impression

DLC Quest is a fun little time waster. It’s a one joke pony, but executes it well enough. You are not getting a complicated game with an engrossing story or well developed themes. Instead it is focused on the main joke and trying to find as many ways to poke at the joke throughout the game, which can get old or annoying. The game is short and fun, but lacks in substance.

At $2.99 or cheaper it’s priced better than some games this length, but still may be one that lacks the pull to make you purchase. There are better platformers out there and plenty of other avenues to get the humor. I enjoyed it, but not enough to give it a glowing recommendation. It’s not a bad game, but just understand what you’re getting before jumping into it.

 

 

Final Thoughts on Hotline Miami

Have you ever had a game, movie, or television show that you enjoy, but you feel bad about enjoying? A guilty pleasure if you will. This game is one that fits that description. It has led me to putting off giving my thoughts on it because while I like the game, the violent and gruesome content leaves me feeling rather guilty about enjoying the game. So with that mixed introduction let me give my thoughts about the game.

Hotline MiamiStory

Before I get to the story it should be noted that this is a violent game. It is rated M and is definitely not one for the kids. Also to try to explain this story I’ll be presenting some spoilers. I’ll try to mark where major spoilers start.

The story of this game is both simple yet very complicated at the same time. How is this possible? Well you start out the game as a nameless character, whom players of the game have started to call Jacket, due to the jacket he wears.  This character is one of the two characters that you can play in the game. As events go on and particularly as you play the second character, you learn that you may be dealing with an unreliable narrator in Jacket. What you’re seeing in Jacket’s story may not be exactly what happened, but you aren’t really sure what is real and what isn’t. This starts even at the beginning as you start off the game with in a dream like sequence where you’re talking to three masked characters about who you are.

After this sequence you start in Jacket’s apartment and he has a message on his answering machine. It’s saying that a package of cookies has been dropped off for him. This package contains a rooster mask and instructions to go to a certain location, eliminate those there, and recover a briefcase. After you complete this mission, you start each level at your apartment getting a new message on your phone to do a new job. In the process you learn that the people you’re killing are connected to the Russian Mafia.

Over time you rescue a woman from the Mafia and you take her back to your apartment. You appear to start a relationship with her and she continues to live with you while you continue to get the random phone calls and eliminate the members of the Mafia. This sets up the basic story for the game, but thing get complicated.

*Spoilers from here on so if you want to experience it for yourself skip ahead.* Things start to get complicated and surreal after an encounter with a character players have called Biker, due to the fact he wears a biker helmet. At the end of one of your missions as Jacket you get a call to go to the phone company and as you do this you find all the workers killed and find Biker who starts to fight you.

After this battle you start to have weird hallucinations after each level and even in your apartment. This all comes to a head after you are almost busted by SWAT at the end of one of your jobs. You continue to do jobs after this, but one day you come home to find your girlfriend shot in the bathroom and her killer sitting on your couch, who then proceeds to shoot Jacket as well.

After getting shot you find yourself in a dreamlike replica of your apartment, where it is revealed that Jacket is actually in a coma at the hospital. After waking up and escaping the hospital. You return to your apartment, assault the police department to get at your girlfriend’s murderer, and eventually go on to take out the boss of the Russian Mafia. So it all seems pretty straightforward right? Maybe a little weird with the whole weird dream sequences and hallucinations, but that can be explained away by the fact the events are being remembered while in a coma right? Well that would be the case if it wasn’t for getting to play as the Biker.

After you beat the game as Jacket you start playing as Biker. Biker has a different disposition than Jacket in that he’s starting to question the phone calls that he’s been getting and looking to find who is making the calls in the first place. You do a few jobs with Biker and eventually you find yourself as the Biker in the confrontation that happened between Jacket and Biker. In this scenario the Biker wins easily and continues on to find who is making the calls. It actually leads him to one of the building that houses the Russian Mafia that you visited earlier with Jacket, however unlike Jacket, Biker notices a janitor and follows him. In doing this he finds out that the janitors are the ones making the phone calls. Depending on if you’ve found the collectible letters in Jacket’s missions you receive different explanations from the janitors as to why they’re doing this. They either say that it is out of boredom or as part of a patriotic group to destabilize a Russo-American coalition (if you find the letters and figure out the code for their computer).

So after playing as Biker you’re left to figure out how much of the game is what actually happened. Did both Jacket’s take and the Biker’s take happen? But then how does one explain the two different accounts of the battle between Jacket and Biker? Are they alternative accounts (like a what if the Biker won story) or did parts of each story actually happen? The game doesn’t give you these answers and you’re left to do with the pieces as you will.

Gameplay

The gameplay could be described as fairly basic, but difficult. The game basically follows a pattern of an introduction to a level that takes place at your apartment. You receive the location that you’re going to go by listening to your phone and can find little story hints and changes to your apartment over time. When you get into your car outside your apartment you’re taken to the location for that level.

In the main level you have to navigate your character through a building and eliminate all the enemies to progress. As Jacket you can pick up a number of weapons to do this job. You can have melee weapons, throwing weapons, and even firearms to take on the enemies that are in a level. You can also use doors and your fists to knock enemies down and finish them while they’re unconscious. In addition to that you wear different animal masks. You can collect more by finding them in levels or by earning a minimum amount of points in each level. These masks will give you certain abilities that makes things easier like making you be able to kill people with one punch or making things more difficult like the mask that reverses your control scheme.

As Biker your options are much more limited. He comes with a knife and three throwing knives. You can’t pick up other weapons and don’t get to wear any other masks. It may sound boring, but it still manages to be pretty fun to try to do things with a much more limited way of going through a level.

Now maybe this sounds pretty easy, but what makes this game difficult is that all it takes is one hit, unless wearing a special mask, to kill you. Miss someone while trying to hit them with a melee weapon, they probably just killed you. Walk too fast and get noticed by someone with a gun, you’re probably toast. When you die, and you will probably quite a bit, you start at the beginning of the floor that you were on. So say a level has three floors, you’ll start on the floor that you died on, and not the beginning of the level. This will still be tough and will potentially be frustrating considering your skill, but it is achievable.

After the main level you’ll get an evaluation of your mission. The game keeps a points total and at the end it totals it all up adding in bonuses that you may have received for speed, kill combos, recklessness, etc. The points you earn give you a rating, can unlock new masks on most of the levels, and the points are also used to unlock new weapons. In addition to the evaluation you typically have a small bit of story after each mission that typically results in talking to a man with a beard and being given something for free, but this changes as the story goes on.

Positives

Hotline Miami Sound Machine – I found Hotline Miami to have some very catchy music. Not only is it catchy, but it just seems to mesh so well with the overall style of the game.

Subtly Beside the Wrecking Ball – A good portion of Hotline Miami is not subtle at all. It is colorful, noisy, violent, and fast paced. Yet despite this lack of subtly in the bulk of the game, there is a certain subtly that serves the game well. Finding clippings in your apartment about the mission you just did and what you really accomplished, the different changes to your apartment over time, and other little details just seem so well thought out and make the game that much more interesting.

A Satisfying Challenge – Hotline Miami is challenging as I’ve said, but I feel that it is a game that ultimately rewards skill and planning. Sure there are times where an enemy will do something unexpected from time to time, but overall having a plan helps accomplish each level.

Mixed

Your Head A’Splode – I found the story of the game rather intriguing. It starts out a little slow. However, it is more the mystery of what you’re doing and why that can keep you going. Then things start to get weird, twists come and it really leaves you wondering what real and what isn’t in the story. At one point in the game Jacket’s head explodes in his dream. That can sum up thinking about the story. It’s interesting, but you’re probably not going to make complete sense out of it without exploding your head.

Violence With a Purpose? – The violence of Hotline Miami is a strange beast. There are those who indicate that part of the game’s purpose is to make you question why you do violence just because somebody tells you to, like when you play a game where you go and kill a bunch of virtual people because the game tells you too. It’s an interesting thought, but I’m not sure if this game is really intending that. If it is, I’m not sure it succeeds. It can make you think about it and I do think that the violence is an interesting aspect of the story, particularly as it parallels with other aspects of the game. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that the violence makes the game interesting, but I’m not sure if it works as some great question about violence.

Negatives

I Rate That Killing Spree “Needs Improvement” – I’ve never been a big fan of ratings at the end of levels or games. They do make sense in some games, but in games like Hotline Miami, Resident Evil, or Devil May Cry I feel they’re out of place. This is perhaps even more highlighted with the violent nature of Hotline Miami. It’s basically like they’re telling you that your killing spree of Russian criminals wasn’t quite good enough go back and try again. It just seems a bit messed up.

I Thought We Were Killing Criminals – Now for some just the violence of this game would make it detestable. I understand that. Most of the enemies are criminals and guys who aren’t too worried about killing others themselves so maybe you can justify things that way. However, one of the levels has you breaking into a police station and killing everyone there to get to the man who killed your girlfriend. This police station hasn’t been taken over by the mafia either, so yeah you’re killing police. Sure it makes sense to the story, but it makes you cross over from being a violent vigilante to crazed man looking for nothing but revenge no matter who gets in your way.

Overall Impressions

As I’ve already said, I enjoyed the game even if I felt somewhat bad by enjoying it. The game is a weird mix of bright, colorful graphics and blood and gore. A mix of simple concept and challenging execution. A story that starts off seeming so simple, but that veers off in unexpected ways. In many ways I feel like this game almost wants you to not know what to feel while playing it.

So what is my recommendation to you? I don’t really know. If you have no qualms about blood and violence in your media then really my main qualm about recommending Hotline Miami is nullified, granted I don’t often have too many problems with violence in media and for some reason this game bugged me a little more than some.  However if you’re not usually bothered by it I’d say go give it a try. If you’re not a big fan of gratuitous violence, then pass on Hotline Miami. There are plenty of other games out there that you can enjoy that don’t have the level of violence this game does. I even have a number of them in the pipeline to give my thoughts on in upcoming weeks.