Double Dragon Neon|
After an absence during the last two console generations, two-dimensional beat ‘em ups seem to be coming back into style. Games like Castle Crashers and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World have proven the genre is still alive. Castle Crashers in particular advanced the genre in several ways. Double Dragon Neon, on the other hand, offers little innovation. It’s a very functional beat ‘em up and a definite refinement of the Double Dragon series. It may be full of nostalgia, but this comes at the expense of retaining many of the flaws found in older beat ‘em ups. The game simply plays it too safe.
Players once again assume control of the Lee brothers, Billy and Jimmy. They must rescue their shared love interest, Marian, after she’s punched in the gut (again) and kidnapped by the evil lord Skullmageddon. Double Dragon Neon is light on story, but this allows players to focus on the much more important task of defeating Skullmageddon and his goons.
Gameplay is fairly simple. Players move from left to right and punch and kick enemies as they come. The "A" button jumps, “X” is for a light attack, "Y" throws a heavy blow, and "B" executes a grab move on stunned enemies. In addition, players can sprint with the right trigger, duck and roll with the left trigger, and execute a special attack with the right bumper. It’s all pretty standard, and not a far leap from the Double Dragon and Streets of Rage days of old, but developer WayForward thankfully put a leveling system with RPG elements into Double Dragon Neon. It’s not as impactful or apparent as the ones in Castle Crashers or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but the style sets it apart.
In addition to health and other power ups, enemies have a chance to drop one of 16 cassette tapes as they’re defeated. These tapes actually contain different songs and actually alter the attributes of Billy and Jimmy. Collecting a duplicate tape increases that tape’s level and improves its stats. By pressing the “back” button, players can changed their equipped tapes and create a unique mix tape. Each tape actually plays a different song during selection that embodies the essence of the tape. Though far from revolutionary, it’s a very nice touch that wins the game major points for style. Eight of the game’s 16 tapes belong to side “A” and offer different special attacks to the brothers. The other eight tapes can be placed on side “B” and change the brothers’ HP, MP (used for special attacks), attack power, and defense. One tape on each side can be active at a time, so there are 64 possible mix tape combinations.
This would be more impressive if the two sides interacted with each other in some kind of synergistic blend, but they feel like distinctly separate territories. In all likelihood, most players will settle on one or two tapes they like on each side and rarely change them out. The tape feature is Double Dragon Neon’s most interesting aspect, so it’s somewhat disappointing it’s never fully realized. It’s hard to gauge how much of an impact the tapes actually have. Though it’s possible to turn on damage indicators, these come in the form of raw numbers that pop up when landing and receiving blows. At no time in the game is it possible to see how much health the enemies have, which is a staple of most beat ‘em ups. Not to mention, there should have been something during the actual gameplay to remind players which tapes they have equipped. The special attack tapes are easily distinguished after use, but the stat-changing tapes offer no visual or auditory cues to inform players of their presence. A simple outfit tweak would have done the trick, and could have created more excitement around gathering new cassettes. Even a label on the HUD with the tapes’ names would have been better than nothing.
The collectible tapes offer some incentive to players to keep playing, but it may not be enough to drive players to experience the game in its entirety. Out of the game’s three difficulty levels, only one of them is initially available. The second is unlocked after completing the game once, and the final difficulty is available after completing the second one. Clearly the developers intended for players to finish the game more than once, but the core gameplay is repetitive. Double Dragon Neon can be completed in less than three hours, and already in that short time the fighting mechanics begin to grow stale.
Playing with a buddy can make things more fun. Unfortunately, there is only support for local co-op at this time. On the plus side, it’s easy to drop in and out at any time. All player two needs to do is press start. A second player may also choose to play as a “Shadow Bro,” which allows him or her to use the same mix tape as the other player. It would have been better if Shadow Bros had access to the main player’s tapes and could customize their own mix tape, but this option is still handy and allows a second player to hop in at any stage or difficulty.
In terms of difficulty, the game seems just about right. Double Dragon was known for being a modestly difficult series, and Neon remains challenging without being overly difficult. Any game with a leveling system in place could require excessive grinding. Thankfully, the game is balanced enough to keep grinding at a minimal and players level at appropriate speeds.
Though its foundation is firm, Double Dragon Neon still fails to contribute anything radically new or different to the beat ‘em genre. Fans of the series should be pleased by the degree of loving respect WayForward pays to the previous games. This doesn’t make up for the gameplay, which is still little more than punching and kicking baddies. While some may appreciate the game’s simplicity, others will be frustrated by its redundancy.