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Review: Double Dragon: Neon

Do you remember the 80’s?  Double Dragon: Neon certainly does, and it’s extremely proud of that fact.  From the neon pink & blue that covers most of the menus to the cassette tape power ups this game is packed with 80’s nostalgia.  So if you weren’t around in that era, a lot of this game may go over your head.  If you were, you’re in for a treat – throw on your parachute pants, grab some Fruit By The Foot and prepare for a totally radical experience!

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Punching your girlfriend? Totally bogus.

The opening of Double Dragon: Neon will be very familiar to anyone who played the original – some guys come along, punch your girl in the stomach and carry her off.  You then set off after them.  This is what we called an intricate video game plot in the 80’s.  Gameplay is old-school beat-em-up at its finest:  you walk to the right (typically) until the screen stops, then kill all the thugs that pop up until you are told to continue.  Rinse & repeat.

There have been a few new wrinkles introduced this time, however.  Along the way you’ll collect power ups in the form of mix tapes.  There are two categories of tapes, “Side A” tapes grant special moves performed by hitting the shoulder button that use up part of your power meter.  These range from Street Fighter-esque fireballs and spin kicks to screen covering moves that damage all enemies at once.  “Side B” tapes give you different stat boosts and provide passive bonuses – my favorite is Absorb, which allows you to gain health every time you hit an enemy.  Picking up multiples of the same tape grants a higher bonus.  From the start you can stack up to 10 of each tape, but by visiting the Tape Smith and having him “forge” your tapes (which costs mythril, which is only dropped by the bosses) you can increase this number up to a maximum of 50.

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Take a friend along for some bodacious butt kicking!

Tape pickups are permanent – this gives the game some much-needed progression, because now when you fail a level and have to start over (in true 80’s fashion, when you run out of lives it’s Game Over) you don’t feel like you’ve wasted your time because all of the character advancement and cash pickups from that level stick.  You can also choose to replay levels to “grind” for tapes and cash, or to revisit a shop and buy tapes or upgrades.  You are told which levels have shops or tape forgers, but those are usually hidden within the level so you have to keep an eye out for them.

The game atmosphere is very over-the-top, poking fun at bombastic villains and outrageous situations found in most old-school games & even movies of the time.  The main villain, Skullmageddon, has a voice that sounds almost exactly like Skeletor from the old He-Man cartoon.  He goes through the typical arch villain schtick, sending incompetent henchmen after you and taunting them as they inevitably fail to stop you.  The game is very self-aware, and never fails to point out the ridiculousness of whatever situation it puts you in.  The ending has a great payoff as well, with the best closing credits song this side of Portal.

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Flaming dragons are totally radical.

There’s really nothing bad I can say about this game.  Visuals aren’t a technical marvel, but they look nice enough and it’s the retro style that carries the game anyway.  The music is fantastic, and as of the date of this review the entire soundtrack is available for download for free from the official website.  The difficulty curve is very even and never frustrating, especially since you can always grind for or purchase your favorite tapes to boost your stats.  There is also a co-op mode that I didn’t get to try out and higher difficulties which unlock once you beat it on normal.

The only question then is this – do you enjoy 80’s style arcade beat-em-ups?  If the answer is yes, you’ll almost certainly love this game as it takes everything that was great about those games, throws out the bad & adds enough modern twists to give it some depth that is expected from a current game.  However if you don’t enjoy that core gameplay style, or if you have no love for the 80’s, then there won’t be much for you here.  And that would be totally bogus.

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