I’ve always had a weird history with Double Dragon.

As a kid, I always felt like that I had no choice but to like it. The NES game was not a bad title by any means, and I still love the beat ’em up genre to this day, but I grew up in a small town in Texas, that also happened to be the place where the company Tradewest was housed. “Small town pride” made it somewhat obligatory that I support this game. The funny part of such devotion is that years later, when I grew up, the company became Williams, then Midway. So I ended up eventually working with the company and its legacy titles.

So yes, I know Double Dragon quite well.

And I’ve watched it go through a lot of changes. Double Dragon went through the 8 and 16 bit eras, changed publishers back and forth a few times, and even teamed up with Battletoads at one point. It was one of the first, but Streets of Rage and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and later Castle Crashers and Scott Pilgrim) improved the formula, and the original series was just set aside.

That said, I freaking love Double Dragon Neon.

In a world of far too serious and dark games, Double Dragon Neon is a colorful, fun, and often ridiculous throwback to the 1980’s. It’s enthusiasm for the decade gushes out of everything, where TV, film, video games, and comics of that time were primarily focused on being as awesome and over the top as they could be. If you grew up in the 1980’s, or just have a love affair with the entertainment media of that time period, you will definitely “get” what Double Dragon Neon is trying to accomplish.

The best comparison of the overall attitude I can make is if Bill & Ted meshed with the ’80’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. The “dude/bro” commentary is is regular staple of the game’s voice. And each stage meshes just enough of various action (and sci-fi) film inspirations to make the visuals recognizable to people that made those genres their daily staple. Even Skullmaggeddon, the main bad guy, sounds very similar to Skeletor from Masters of the Universe to the point where I thought they had recruited the original voice actor.

And the game is funny. Relentlessly so. The commentary is full of ridiculous insults, moments of self-referential humor, and cheesy machismo. The voice acting is over the top, but do you actually remember how characters acted in both live-action and animated shows? No, it’s pretty accurate. There’s a moment in outer space(!) that is so over the top that I nearly had to set my controller down because I was laughing so hard over someone having finally addressed a long-running oversight. Real-world physics often didn’t make sense in old video games. Not to mention that your characters hi-five each other for power boosts and health sharing. Again, awesome.

Graphically, the game is bright, colorful, and really plays into the whole “neon” thing. I always thought neon signs were fun and colorful additions to games like this, because it gave that “inner city” or Tokyo inspired look to it. Animations are a little stiff, but then again, so were the majority of these games. Honestly, I think it would be a little weird to not have everyone constantly in “fighting stance” pose. It’s just how these types of games are.

The music is also rock solid. Again, WayForward did their homework. Full of remixed versions of the game’s classic music and all new content, nothing seems out of place for the era. It’s a great soundtrack that bounces all over the place in terms of genre, but fits so well. If you don’t believe me, here’s the soundtrack.

Visuals and audio are great, but how is the gameplay? It feels like an arcade title: Go left to right, beat up everything in your path, fight a boss, repeat. But to make it more a “home” experience, power upgrades are added in the form of cassette tapes (so ’80’s!). Finding that right “jam” can make a difference in how your characters play, and can be upgraded through shops and “tapesmiths” The game encourages you to go back and replay levels to find more money and new tapes to increase your abilities. When Billy or Jimmy (or both, as the game excels as a two-player romp) get knocked out, a player can be revived by a visual that represents a pencil rewinding a tape (how music was repaired back in the day).

Mileage will vary on this game, however. If you still love beat ’em ups, this is a solid one that looks, sounds, and plays well. If you get how intentionally goofy this game is, you’ll be amused all the way through. If you grew up in the 1980’s, or at least enjoy the happy go lucky “awesome dude” nature of its pop culture attitude, it’s like visiting another era. And if you still have a soft spot for Double Dragon, then this is a respectful reboot of the series. It’s a crying shame Nintendo hasn’t requested that WayForward put this on one of their systems, as this would be a fun title to highlight their download services, and really resonate those old feelings of NES-laden nostalgia.

I’m really glad to see the beat up up genre stay alive through people who clearly loved the medium as much as I did growing up in the arcade. From re-releases to reboots to original titles, these are excellent games for the downloadable medium. Double Dragon Neon does not reinvent the wheel, but it certainly has a good time rolling down a familiar path.


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