[Review] Double Dragon Neon: “Release the Kraken!”
Double Dragon is a paramount series in my childhood. Whether it was Double Dragon II on the NES, the silly cartoon, or the stupid live-action movie, I managed to flood my youth with all sorts of Double Dragon media. Hearing that Wayforward games was going to have their way with the franchise certainly got my attention, especially since the media preceding release practically shouted “Eighties! Eighties! Eighties! Eighties!” in my face. If there’s one thing this game is, it’s flashy. Flashy, sure. But does it have any sizzle? Hit the jump to find out.
Double Dragon Neon is an homage to eighties flair encapsulated in a fairly traditional brawler package. If you have an affinity towards the era or genre, this game is at least worth checking out. Wayforward does some interesting things with both.
As Double Dragon Neon is more about style than anything else, it’s only fair to talk about that first. Luckily, as far as presentation is concerned, Neon nails it. Everything from the in-game HUD to the main title screen has a colorful, vibrant energy to it that makes it fun to look at. None of that even compares to the game’s soundtrack, though, which is absolutely the best element of the game. I’ve been fairly vocal about my love of Jake Kaufman’s work in the past, but Double Dragon Neon‘s soundtrack is a true masterstroke. It has hints of Depeche Mode, the Beastie Boys, Billy Idol, and all of the shredding and synth you could ever need. Oh, and I guess I should mention that you can get the whole thing for whatever price you feel adequate, including free, here (along with the superb MIghty Switch Force soundtrack and others).
Neon is also inspired by all sorts of eighties cartoons and cinema. Billy and Jimmy Lee, themselves, take after Bill & Ted (air guitaring and all), while the newly-introduced villain, Skullmageddon, is a mish-mash of Skeletor, Yoshimitsu, and Street FIghter EX‘s own Skullomania. Fine, fine, maybe the Skullomania comparison is by name only, but that doesn’t mean they don’t both have awesome names.
Taking this approach, they invoke kind of a “bro-y” vibe, which is entirely intentional. They throw the word “bro” around like it was, well, as caustic as the word “bro” can be. As offensive as that attitude can be, I’d say that it’s done right here — parts of the game can be downright stupid, but in the best possible way. Billy and Jimmy will yell phrases like “TOUCHDOWN!” while using a baseball bat or “Release the kraken!” while brandishing a whip. Enemies who flip onto the screen will sometimes scream “Gymnastics!”
It’s silly, but it managed to put a smile on my face and let me remember a time when cartoons were over-the-top and dumb in a way that we just don’t seem to get anymore. That doesn’t mean it’s the silliest Double Dragon thing I’ve ever seen.
Gameplay is a bit less smile-inducing than the sensory elements, though. That’s not to say that it’s bad, it’s just so very average. It treads a strange middle ground between trying to evoke the classic Double Dragon and making something entirely new. It doesn’t quite pull it off. The addition of dodge rolls that make you deal double damage if timed properly, a plethora of special moves, and a mixtape-fueled leveling system may make the gameplay a bit more interesting, but it also changes the entire Double Dragon experience. In fact, if it weren’t for the names of the Lee brothers, Marion, and Abobo, and the classic sprites appearing on the world map, I’d never even have realized this was a Double Dragon game at all.
A bit more detail about those mixtapes I mentioned earlier: Billy and Jimmy each have two mixtapes that can be equipped at one time. The first is a passive mixtape, which determines your stats. You can choose between several different tapes that affect your characters in different ways, such as making your character defensive, offensive, or more special move based. There are also more interesting ones that allow your character to absorb health each time they connect with a hit or give them a boost in stats after they lose 50% of their health in exchange for weaker stats up front.
The second selectable tape determines which special move your character will do when you press the corresponding button. These range from actually summoning a dragon to more simple things like a spin kick or fireball. Both mixtape types are dropped by enemies every so often and are also available at shops. The more of a certain mixtape you find, the more powerful it will be.
As far as playtime is concerned, the game took me about two hours and 45 minutes to complete, but this did include playing some levels over again to level up my mixtapes. Beating the game does open up a new game plus mode that allows you to play on a harder difficulty two more times with your leveled-up mixtapes, so if you and a buddy are the kind who enjoy grinding up a game’s difficulty ladder, this will be right up your alley.
For now, though, I hope your buddy is local. As of this review, online multiplayer is not included with Double Dragon Neon, but is promised to be patched in a later date. This makes the game significantly tougher to recommend as it stands now. It’s just not Double Dragon with only one dragon.
All things considered, Double Dragon Neon is fairly average. Its stellar presentation can’t quite elevate its middling gameplay above many of the myriad beat-em-ups that have come before it. If you’re a fan of the eighties or brawlers in general, try at the demo. You may find something you like. Currently, the game is free on PlayStation Plus, so if you’re a subscriber, download it! You’d be crazy not to! Just don’t expect them to do great things with Abobo. If that’s what you want, I’ll point you in this direction instead.
[+Over-the-top Presentation] [+Amazing Soundtrack] [-Not Very Double Dragon] [-Simple And Short]