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Double Dragon Neon Review (360)

What a night of bro-mance! We broke out of our normal bro-utine and bro-ptmised our experience by playing Double Dragon Neon in Bro-Op. With our bro’s. So that’s a strange way to start a review, but Double Dragon Neon has a strange way of starting as a game.

While other classic games franchises get more reverential treatment when remade by their developers, the curators of the Double Dragon series are far less protective when it comes to remakes. Developers like Nintendo go to great lengths to make sure that their classic characters and games are not messed with too much when remade, but with the original company that made Double Dragon now long gone, the inheritors of Billy and Jimmy Lee are free to take the series off in whatever crazy direction they choose. And they really do go off in a crazy direction in Double Dragon Neon.

Firstly, there’s the aforementioned humour (and the proliferation of the term “bro” throughout the game) that lets you know that Double Dragon Neon doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is something you don’t pick up at first as its not initially clear if the game is trying to be funny or its just plain weird. By  the time you realise that the main antagonist is effectively Skeletor (complete with cartoon laugh) and you pick up a weapon called a “bro-merang”, you start to realise just how weird (but yes, also kind of funny) the game is.

The story opens in traditional Double Dragon style, with a gang punching your girlfriend in the stomach and carrying her off, before you set out with your brother to karate her back to safety. Early on then, the whole thing looks like a fairly faithful remake of the original game, albeit with improved visuals and more depth via expanded special moves and character progression.

The game looks ok, but never great. It doesn’t have the retro appeal of the gorgeous Scott Pilgrim game  (which is a title it resembles in gameplay too). While Scott Pilgrim had a chunky pixel art style that made it feel like the best SNES game that never came out, Double Dragon Neon looks much more like one of those first wave of PS1 ports of a classic game where the 2D graphics were replaced by basic polygonal 3D models. That’s not to say the game doesn’t look good at times. There are a good deal of nice lighting and filter effects. At one point you face enemies in the dark and fight as silhouettes, which is a fairly cool, cinematic effect. There’s also a very unique and odd art style used throughout. Looking both retro and modern at the same time, it has personality. In much the same way, the original Double Dragon was a weird looking game even by the standards of the day. Just look at the main characters design, or the weird Abobo, an enemy you face over and over who has some very strange physical proportions.

Double Dragon Neon continues that spirit of weirdness, but in a different way. Throughout the whole game there are strange little moments that break you out of the vaguely satisfying monotony of combat. At the end of each level you play air guitar for no real reason. You also face mutated, cloned versions of Jimmy and Billy, one of whom is called “Bimmy”. This is a rather obscure reference to the mistranslation of Billy’s name in an early version of the original game, and it made me chuckle.

The gameplay meanwhile is that of a typical side scrolling brawler. Many reviews I’ve read say this type of game doesn’t hold up any more, having been usurped by games like God of War and Devil May Cry. You probably already know if a side-scrolling beat em up sounds like something you would like, but for me these kind of games still hold a lot of appeal. Crucially though, they only really come into their own when played co-op. Or, you know, bro-op.

Moment to moment you are very simply clearing out waves of enemies, using a combination of light and heavy attacks and combining them with throws. The game also allows for juggling and by bouncing enemies off of walls or objects in the environment you can build up longer and more damaging combos.

Layered on top of this basic gameplay are a number of other systems. Firstly, you can equip passive and active abilities (mix tapes) which have various effects. Collectibles make these effects more powerful, and they carry over from game to game. Both me and my team-mate Ealiom played through the game with the regeneration power active, meaning our health recharged as we damaged enemies. While this passive power seemed like the only thing worth using, the active abilities offer more choice with fireballs and spinning attacks amongst a whole range of other crazy and fun options available.

There’s also a strange “hi-five” system in operation when playing with a team mate. You can split your health by “high-fiving”, but you can also trick your team-mate and steal their health by faking them out. If you both try to fake the other out then you both lose health. Its a neat little touch and underlines the games mischievous nature.

The actual combat is fairly satisfying. Each moment that you’re punching enemies in the face has the right amount of visceral impact you would hope for. The weapons meanwhile are a real highlight. The sound of the baseball bat and the lead pipe are brilliant, and smashing an enemy out of the air with the bat after your team-mate has floated them up with a combo managed to elicit an un-ironic “fuck yeah!” from us both at one point.

To describe many more of then games crazier moments would spoil some of the fun for those of you who plan on buying Double Dragon Neon. Its a game with a big personality, but its also a very weird game. For every high point (like the fantastic 80’s synth and rawk music) theres some real strange moments that Double Dragon purists will really hate. There’s even some fairly bad platform sections which could be a huge turn off for some. Meanwhile, the game is more than happy to change genre as you go from brawling street thugs to fighting a huge tank while punching missiles out of the air, without having the controls to allow you to do this without massive frustration.

As a result of all this variety the game feels very bitty; filled with too many ideas but without a coherent centre. There are so many design decisions that could be off-putting for the average gamer. From the niche humour and soundtrack to the obscure retro references and the old fashioned gameplay, there’s plenty here for the fussy gamer to complain about. There’s also currently no online co-op, but apparently its coming later.

Despite all that though, with a friend (and possibly a few beers) there’s a great deal of fun to be had. It’s a game with personality, and the core of the experience is good, honest, face-punching fun. Scott Pilgrim should still be your first call for retro side scrolling fighting, but if you’ve finished that and you still crave more, this is one bro-mance worth having.

6 Skullmageddon’s laughing manically out of 10

Warning: There is an achievement for starting the game that gives you 1 achievement point. To even it out you’ll need to finish the game. Not good if you’re one of those people that believe odd numbers are Satanic.

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