Game: Double Dragon Neon
Genre: Beat 'em up
Describe This Game in Three Words: Welcome back '80s.
Plot Synopsis: In case you were utterly absent in the '80s (And you might have been... Dear Christ I'm getting old), let's recap. Karate master brothers Jimmy and Billy Lee must rescue one of their girlfriends from... Skullmaggedon? Did I read that right? Ooooooookay... Skullmaggedon in a classic example of punching solving everything.
Up Up: To be honest, I always thought Double Dragon was an overrated game. The interface was clunky, the story was stupid even for that time period, and it more or less rode a mention in the Wizard into its place in history. When it came to beat 'em ups, I always liked Final Fight and Renegade better. I didn't have high hopes for this remake is what I'm trying to say, and I have to say I was wrong. This game is ridiculously fun!
It starts out just as the classic one did, with a woman getting punched in the gut and hauled off while her karate master boyfriend runs after and tries to save her. The graphics this time around are absolutely beautiful, calling to mind something like Viewtiful Joe in all its garish glory. That's not to mention the unabashedly cheesy '80s metal soundtrack that accompanies your journey.
'80s nostalgia forms a big part of the game. You increase the power of your martial arts by collecting heavy metal cassettes, Billy and Jimmy Lee both rock the acid-washed jeans and vest with no shirt look that Winger pioneered, and in two-player mode high-fives have actual uses. You even end each level with an impressive air guitar solo.
Down, Down: Though that nostalgia is fun, at times it can be a rather painful reminder of why it's a good thing the world has moved on. For instance, I hate to sound like a prude here but it's really nice to be past the point in history where women are treated as life support systems for miniskirts and low-cut tops.
Left, Right, Left, Right: Let's talk about fighting. Modern gamers used to the seamless style pioneered by the Batman Arkham games or even the more difficult but versatile one in Sleeping Dogs are going to be at a loss here. Your karate is more or less the same as when you picked up the first game, with bad guys filing in from each side and waiting patiently as you punch and kick. There have been a few new additions, a dodge roll feature is as difficult as it is essential to master, and your range of special moves has been upgraded considerably to include things like fireballs. That spin kick is still the best thing you have for clearing a room, though.
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Ironically, this brings you back to the days when beating a game meant getting insanely good at timing. Neon is what we call Nintendo Hard, what with it's scarcity of checking points, unforgiving controls, and cheap shots to the back from thugs. I'm making that sound awful, but you forget how murderously addictive that is, and I felt more joy in clearing a stage in Neon than I have in beating any boss in a modern RPG.
B, A: One of the things that saves Neon from being ridiculous is continuously acknowledging exactly how ridiculous it is. In many ways this remake is actually a self-parody. For instance, in Double Dragon 2 one of the bosses was a really dumb looking tank that you climbed up and punched. Well, it makes a comeback in Neon, with Skullmaggedon even referring to it as an overly expensive piece of experimental equipment. Constant commentary on its own absurdity strangely makes it all the more legit.
Sharp-eyed '80s pop culture nerds will also enjoy the reference to the Last Dragon. The Lee brothers acquire gleam power, their equivalent to Bruce Leroy's the Glow!
Start?: Let me ask you something, when is the last time you actually sat down and played a game on two-player like you did back in the 8-bit days? Just you and a buddy tag-teaming it against the world? No other game will bring back that experience like Double Dragon Neon. Even on single player it's an unashamedly shallow fightfest that is as glorious as eating an entire roll of SweetTarts.