When I first saw Double Dragon: Neon in previews, I really wasn't too excited about it. I enjoyed the original DD arcade games, but the NES entries didn't do much for me, and the usage of the name in a crappy movie and show many moons ago didn't exactly give me a rose-tinted look at its past before this. Everything on Neon showed that it had a Dreamcast-level of polygonal detail that disappointed me. It reminded me of TMNT ReShelled, but with slightly more vibrant colors and that instantly gave me a 'meh' view on it.
Well, after playing it, I realize that I was too harsh on the graphic style chosen and there's far more to it than I could've realized then (but more on that later). The core game is vintage Double Dragon greatness with a megaton blast of humor and homage to other games and '80s culture that had me laughing my ass off. It really started with the game's opening and just like before, there's the Road Avenger car in the garage – okay, they got that part right. So far, so good. Then you beat up baddies and...wait-a-minute, THE DOMINATRIXES HAVE LEG WARMERS ON. THIS IS AMAZING. Then you beat them, destroy Abobo and move onto level 2, which has a glorious Bananarama-esque song in it that perfectly fits the wacky leg warmer-clag dominatrixes.
The LOLs provided by the game are many, and as a game, it's mostly pretty solid. The button layout is nice and logical, and you're even given some in-game tutorials (which you can thankfully turn off if you so desire) to teach you how to duck properly to do double damage afterwards and other things. Nearly everything about it just feels right for a beat-em-up (outside of its lack of online multi-player) and unlike a lot of the ones I've tried over the past year or so, whether they're more modern PS2 games or retro remakes in some form, the action never drags. There's a pretty fast clip to the action overall between the waves of enemies and things like stores and unlockable cash boxes to mix things up slightly.
Hazards are more prevalent and again, full of humor – like the first time you see a pit and a goon squad member stands over it looking dumbstruck and not moving an inch while you knock him into the abyss. You go from thing to thing to thing briskly, and if that doesn't work for you, there's a run button, although it does take a bit longer than I'd like to actually run because of the overly-long animation used to start it. There's also some weirdness where you can start the running animation into an invisible wall even though you're still able to move around the area.
There are some RPG elements thrown in with item buying, tape collecting granting you new moves and powers, and the ability to upgrade them. This stuff is nice, but not quite as well executed as the River City Ransom games, or the other PS+ freebie for the week, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. There's very little explanation offered for the branching level-up system for moves and overall character strength. There's also the issue of purchasing extra lives and only having them apply to the stage they're purchased in and the player not being told about that. I don't mind trial and error in games to some degree, but not when it comes to something like this where you SHOULD be given an explanation on it and then wind up having to grind through more stages to get back the money you effectively wasted on lives.
Thankfully, that issue doesn't provide too much frustration, and never kept me from wanting to soldier on. Part of that also had to do with me wanting to see what kind of crazy enemy I'd wind up facing next or what wacky thing would happen. Somehow, things get crazier than going into a restaurant that transforms INTO A ROCKET SHIP that sends you into an airlock, takes you to a place where you fight something that bears a striking resemblance to Skellator and then builds up to a giant worm invading the space station before you face a delightful homage to the blue bomber.
The graphical design I was so negative towards at first really grew on me as the game wore on because I could see that there was a slight black outline to things – giving it some kind of a comic look, and going with the style they went with doesn't really work for the Lee brothers' designs, but it does allow things like the aforementioned homages look outstanding. There's so much detail in them and they look even more impressive due to the visual design chosen for the game – the same goes for Abobo looking ENORMOUS. He's friggin’ huge, and he'd probably look less gigantic in a comic setting where you're expecting more outlandish proportions. The more realistic look to things makes him stand out even more.
The soundtrack is outstanding and is basically a love letter to both gaming and the '80s as a whole. Level 2's music is '80s cheese to the max with some great early '90s totally radical tunes mixed into the soundtrack as well. There are 45 songs in the soundtrack, and while a lot of the songs are brief interstitial music, it's amazing how much fun the “full” 2-3 minute long songs are. That's the best word to describe the soundtrack – it's just fun to listen to. Is it going to elicit the same emotional reaction as something epic like you'd hear in a God of War game? Absolutely not – but they're not going for that. They're going for something that breaks the fourth wall a bit, plays to the camera, winks at you, and pokes fun at itself. Best of all, the soundtrack is available as a pay-what-you-want (including $0) on BandCamp.com. There's more to the great audio than just the music though. The sound effects are tremendous – the sound of a baseball bat connecting with bone and flesh. The voice effects are hilarious, and the best ones are definitely from the enemies pointing out tropes in the genre, or the dominatrixes deriving entirely too much pleasure from being hit.
Double Dragon: Neon hits more than it misses, and is a must-buy for anyone who loved beat-em-ups in either the late '80s or early '90s. This game was made for the 25-to-30 crowd, and is right in my wheelhouse as a result. If you loved that time period either literally or ironically, you'll find something to enjoy with the game's sense of humor. Similarly, if you want something that pokes fun at that time and can't wait for Retro City Rampage, give this a shot. It's a freebie on PS+ for a little while, but only costs $10, and really given that the OST can be had for free, it feels like too little a price to pay for the amount of fun you can have. Outside of online pro-op multi-player, the only thing missing from the presentation is either a white and pink pastel suit or a cinema closing with a cheesy laugh and credits roll.
This review is based on the PlayStation Network version of Double Dragon: Neon provided by Majesco.