You know those nostalgic feelings you get when you see or hear something that makes you feel like you're a single-digit age again? I freaking love that feeling. I've said before that you can't really make nostalgia for yourself, but when others manage do it, it can be a great thing.
So imagine my glee when I sat down to play Double Dragon Neon, developed by WayForward and recently released on PSN and XBLA by Majesco Entertainment. Not only was I treated to a deliciously retro-feeling game with some pretty crude humor, but I also got that deep down warm fuzzy feeling from its deeply-steeped 80s presentation, including (but not limited to) classic Double Dragon themes, bright loud colors, and some fantastic 80s-Pop-style BGM complete with lyrics. It's a kind of “neo-nostalgia” that makes a 30-year-old feel like they're eight again, even though literally none of the game ever existed until now, save for the original themes which existed only in 8-bit form.
Arcade Brawlers, or Beat-'Em-Ups (“Beamps”? Does that work? Maybe?) have been a gaming mainstay since the 8-bit era, but the original Double Dragon was the title that brought the genre into being as we know it today with its 2-player co-op gamelay and enhanced set of martial arts moves. In many ways, Double Dragon kicked off a Brawling rennaissance that included games such as Battletoads, River City Ransom, Final Fight, TMNT II: The Arcade Game, and many more. With over six entries in the series over several different consoles, Double Dragon has a fairly extensive history, though only the first four games and the Battletoads crossover were actually brawlers before the series transitioned to a one-on-one vs. fighting games.
Double Dragon Neon is the official reboot to the series and the first original title since 1992. Not only does it feature the awesome co-op (called “Bro-Op”) varied matial arts moves and weapons pioneered in the original, but it also impliments new moves including a boost system called “Shine” that grants the player more power for avoiding attacks, and even some RPG elements in the form of Mix Tapes. Every now and again, a defeated enemy fighter drops a cassette tape containing either an “A-Side” special move (which requires energy to perform) or “B-Side” stance, which enhances the player's HP, Defense, Attack, and Energy levels. The more cassettes you collect, the stronger your ability will be. You can choose one of each type of enhancement to form your custom mix tape to enhance your foe-crushing skills.
Initially, you can collect up to 10 of any given tape. However, you can increase the number of tapes you can hold at the Tapesmith in return for Mythril, which is collected from defeated bosses. Billy and Jimmy can then tip the scales to overwhelm thier opposition. But at first, it isn't quite as easy as it sounds. Like a lot of brawlers out there, the game is actually pretty difficult and Double Dragon Neon in particular makes you feel very frail on the outset. It's very easy to get overwhelmed -- even with just a few enemies onscreen -- without having played the game for a little while to get used to how your character moves. Once you find a good balance in your A-Side and B-Side abilities, plyers can even out the odds and make serious progress. That said, Neon is seemingly set up for multiple playthroughs to find enough tapes (or money to buy them) to take on the bosses later in the game, so there's a bit of a level grind required to get powerful enough to take on foes in later stages, which enhances the replay value of the game. With Acheivement and Trophy support, and additional unlockable difficulties, dedicated players have a lot to sink thier teeth into.
And what a game to get hooked on. Nearly everything about this title is entertaining, with completely over-the-top writing and dialogue delivered with a super snarky tone that's never to be taken seriously, an amazing soundtrack by WayForward's Jake Kaufman, and, as expected, constant throwbacks and homages that not only harken back to previous Double Dragon games (including references to some notoriously infamous Engrish) but also other completely unrelated games, movies, and music. To spoil any of these would be a complete disservice to anyone who's even remotely interested in this game, so look elsewhere for that nonsense. I will say though, that the edning theme is on the same level as Portal and 'Splosion Man. Epic stuff.
Visually, the game combines both 3D character models and very detailed 2D environments. The 3D models do feel very uncharacteristic for WayForward. And while they lack some of the charm of WayForward's 2D sprite work, these visuals work very well throughout the game. There's no slowdown to speak of either, so the Neon is very smooth the whole way through. Great character design, creative 2D backdrops and foregrounds round out the visual presentation extremely well.
The single player mode is pretty great, but then there's the Bro-Op mode. Bro-Op can be accessed both Online and off, and makes for a very entertaining experience, given the crude humor and brolicious shenaniganery that will surely have like-minded people to myself laughing in hysterics. When playing with another Dragon, there's even an additional layer of complxity to the gameplay in the form of High-Five moves, which enhance Billy and Jimmy with shine mid-battle, but can also be used to even out each other's health in a pinch. Or, a player could just be a total jerk and psych you out like a bitch. Again, going into too much detail ruins the surprise. Needless to say, it's great stuff. While Online co-op isn't yet available, it will be patched in soon, according to Majesco.
But Neon also has a couple of problems as well. Throughout my entire playthrough of the game, I felt that the combat was stiff and didn't flow as smooth as it could have. Granted, Double Dragon never really had the smoothest combat around (as opposed to games like Final Fight or even River City Ransom.) I also never grasped dodging attacks to activate my shine boost, which would have come in handy about 80 percent of the time. Eventually, I just boosted up an area-clearing A-Side and my most defense-heavy B-Side to take as much abuse as possible, while wailing on my foes without having to rely too much on accuracy -- it seemed to work fine. Players looking to rank in on the leadrboards will want to refine thier skill a bit more than me though.
But you know what? For ten bucks (or 800 MS Points) you just can't go wrong with Double Dragon Neon, especially if you like your Beat-'em-Ups (which are fewer and further between than even shmups these days), grew up in the 80s, love cheesy over-the-top theatrics, and want to play a game that's lighthearted and just doesn't take itself seriously in the least -- and ends up being completely great for it. If you have PlayStation Plus, you can even get it for free (Presumably for a limited time). However you go about it, seriously, just freaking get this game.
Four-Point-Five out of Five Hadokens