I have no good joke or bullshit video game related philosophical question with which to start this review, I know I normally do but not today. Instead let me just speed things right along by saying that Double Dragon Neon is fucking great and you should go buy it. Yeah I’ll spend the next 800-1000 words explaining why and I’d love for you to read that but if you already have any interest in the game then just go buy it because it’s goddamn amazing. For those who remain dubious of the idea of a good Double Dragon game in the year 2012 (I know I was skeptical when I heard they were trying this), read on and find out how Way Forward totally did the impossible.
So there are a number of things that make this game awesome but by far the greatest is the fantastic soundtrack by Jake Kaufman which by the way is available to download on a pay what you want basis. It not only features some awesome remixes of classic Double Dragon music but it also uses the game’s mixtape system (I’ll explain that later) to spoof the ’80s in a way that is subtle yet insanely overt. There are takes on Bowie, Rick Astley, NWA, The Beastie Boys, and just general ’80s style beats. It all sets the perfect tone and with the addition of a bunch awesome full original songs in addition to the remixes and homages it’s a soundtrack that’ll have you bopping your head and singing along without shame. By far the best song in the game though is the end credits theme which is sung by the villain and easily ranks along with Portal’s Still Alive and Splosion Man’s end credits song as the one of the funniest and most entertaining end sequences that has ever graced my screen. Seriously even if you don’t get the game, go download the soundtrack or watch the ending on Youtube because that song is simply the best, I have listened to it 30 times this week alone and I cannot seem to stop.
Of course the auditory experience is only half the presentation and thankfully the visuals are just as good. The game looks like a neon fever dream come to life with a style that’s half Saturday morning cartoon, half back of a trapper keeper, and half mural on the side of some guy’s van (it’s so good it gets three halves). It’s a weird mix of 3D and 2D as all the characters and pick ups are polygonal models and all the environments are hand drawn. Both sides look great though with just some incredibly vibrant expressive character models and supremely detailed hand drawn backgrounds worthy of the standard Way Forward has set with their other games. Put simply it’s exactly what you would want from a new Double Dragon game visually, it’s clean but evocative and just chock full of references.
You might be asking what kind of story a new Double Dragon game might have, there isn’t really an obvious route for a sequel at this point is there? Well Way Forward just shoots you a cocked eyebrow, says “pfft, story?”, shrugs, and then has someone punch Marian in the stomach to get things started. What follows is an insane journey though a bunch incredibly typical but endlessly entertaining levels to achieve that most classic of video game goals: rescuing your girlfriend. That said the story gets really irreverent wherever it can and the goofy characterization of its main bad guy, Skullmageddon (a magical fucking skeleton), is genuinely entertaining. There is also just a ton of great ancillary dialog and text in this game. Every time you use a weapon Billy or Jimmy will make an appropriate pun and despite being repeated often hearing things like “Stabular!” while sticking some dude with a knife always got at least a mild chuckle out of me.
I guess we do need to talk about the gameplay, it’s basically just a good old fashioned brawler but there is an interesting RPG mechanic laid on top called the “Mixtape” system. As you walk right and punch dudes they will sometimes drop cassette tapes, these tapes each have a unique song on them that either represents a special move or a stat build of which you can have one of each equipped at any time. Collecting more of the same tape increases that song’s power and by beating bosses you can increase the total amount of tapes each song can have. This means you can always grind out old levels for tapes to increase your specials or your overall stats if you’re having trouble. It’s a fun mechanic and the fact that it adds that much more music to the game (which as I’ve already described kicks ass) sits well in my books. Aside from that it’s a typical brawler but all the crazy surrounding it in the form of the music, visuals, and story more than make up for any fault you may find in the somewhat tired gameplay model of a traditional brawler.
I’ll be honest I was expecting absolutely nothing from Double Dragon Neon, I mean I loved the series as a kid but it just seemed like one of those franchises that would make for a terrible modern game. I am so happy to have been proven wrong here and the way this game acts as a nonsensical tribute to all the stuff I loved growing up just makes my day. While the sheer gameplay isn’t really anything special the systems attached to it and the presentation that covers it are more than entertaining enough to make up for that, creating an experience totally worthy of the name Double Dragon. If you’re a fan of the series or just genuinely goofy awesome shit then this is a game you need to have in your collection and as such Double Dragon Neon gets a 5 out of 5 stars.