High-Fiving and Sharing a Bromance in Double Dragon Neon

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by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

We’ve all been there. Waiting inside some warehouse while our main squeeze is outside the doors, waiting for us. We pull up said doors just in time to see some thugs gut punch her, pick her up and fireman’s carry her away, laughing all the way. We set out on a mission to reclaim our love and save the day. This is our destiny. This is our routine.

What’s that? That’s never happened to you? Well, chances are it might if you’re a Lee brother. If you’re not a Lee brother and want to know what that situation is like, then maybe you should check out Double Dragon Neon.

The WayForward Technologies release is a semi-reboot of the classic ‘80s game Double Dragon. (If you have no idea what that Double Dragon is or the words “Contra code” mean nothing to you, it’s probably best you just move along). The game starts with the same premise as the original before diverging wildly into a crazy, intergalactic storyline.

Marian has been abducted and it’s up to Jimmy and Billy Lee to save her. In their way are various groups of baddies and bosses, the penultimate being an evil alien skeleton named Skullmageddon. Along the way, players will punch, kick and high-five enemies into oblivion, reveling in the joy of the ride. From a gameplay standpoint, that’s really about it. This is a beat-em-up we’re talking about here.

WayForward has added a few new twists to Double Dragon Neon in the form of cassettes and mithril. Cassettes teach players new abilities in either the stances or sosetsitsu or trees. The stances give you more stats while the sosetsitsu perks are combat-related, adding moves to your repertoire such as fireballs and knee drops.

The tapes can be updated one of two ways. The first is visiting the music shops in game, spending the hard-earned cash you’ve obtained from a few kicks and punches. The other is by picking up the tapes as they’re dropped from enemies. Every ten of the same tape will upgrade that ability, so you best get to the tape-collecting.

The second way to upgrade tapes involves the aforementioned mithril. The rare mineral is just that—rare—and if you’ve got some, there’s a heavy metal blacksmith who will make your day. Each tape has ten possible levels, which means you’ve either got to listen to a lot of music or find a lot of rocks.

This wouldn’t be a Double Dragon game without co-op and you’ll likely need it (in game, it’s called Bro-Op). Sadly, as of writing there’s only local bro-op, but WayForward has promised online will be patched in soon. Regardless, you’ll likely want a bro alongside you because the game can be hard at times. Frustratingly so.

There’s really no balance in difficulty as you play, with some enemies relatively easy to handle while others are a bit tougher. Having a friend helps, as the two of you can high-five and split health, or borrow health from one another to come back after death. Playing by yourself is a test of patience, though, as you’ll die a lot and you’ll die cheaply sometimes. Afterwards, you have to go all the way back to the beginning of the stage and fight your way back through.

The gameplay is familiar enough which makes it pretty easy to just pick up and go. There are nuances to the combat that require practice, but it’s mostly timing-related. For instance, if you block right before a hit is delivered, you get amped up and your hits start doing more damage temporarily. WayForward has tried to take the emphasis off just mashing the attack buttons, which is nice.

Where Double Dragon Neon really shines is the atmosphere. This is a game that’s unabashedly ‘80s, featuring everything from heavy metal guitar riffs to keytar solos to neon colors. It’s sort of an anachronism in a way, triggering this nostalgia in you that allows you to envision playing Double Dragon Neon on a corner store arcade machine. The music is extremely catchy and really gets you in the groove of playing. Although the dialogue is so bromantic that you can’t help but laugh, the storyline maintains a macho, women-are-helpless theme.

Double Dragon Neon oozes machismo and brotherly love. It’s all about saving the girl (and, by extension, the day) while having your bro at your side. The game plays up its misogynistic undertones as best it can, with many of the female character models illustrated very voluptuously and with—ahem—physics. Getting whipped by a buxom dominatrix repeatedly is something the game goes to quite often.

Fans of the original Double Dragon will find not much has changed in Double Dragon Neon in the way of gameplay. The story starts the same then escalates and the graphics are vastly improved. Still, though, it feels like the game is sort of stuck between being too much of an homage to the original in some of the wrong places. It’s trying to appeal to newer fans who may never have heard of Double Dragon, while at the same time trying to capitalize on the nostalgia of those who have.

As far as beat-em-ups go, you could do worse than Double Dragon Neon. It’s a game that embraces its roots in the ‘80s, while offering a slightly refreshed gameplay. But the novelty of the game will likely wear off quickly if you don’t have a bro to crash through the streets with.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


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