Thirty minutes into Double Dragon: Neon, I was spent. I was tackling the game locally with my friend Owen, and we had reached the third stage effortlessly. After a long day of playing competitive Gears of War 3 online together, and going head-to-head in a fierce MLB 12: The Show grudge series, the lackadaisical punch-everything-that-moves offering of Double Dragon: Neon was quickly replaced with a much more appealing task of competitive beer drinking. Even with the review duty calling out to me, we both kind of shrugged and cracked open cans, sealing off any realistic chance of powering onward through the glossy environs of the game.
The next day of marathon gaming began the same. Baseball, Gears of War 3, and the distant burden of beating a boring game for review. We reached the point of swapping out discs, the intoxicating kick of virtual sport wearing thin, and I offered up at least trying to get back into Double Dragon Neon before we settled on something more alluring, something we wouldn’t quit until our tired eyes forced sleep. And I changed my mind. And I did again. Owen offered that we just play it for an hour until we met up with some friends for dinner. A good compromise.
To play as brothers Jimmy and Billy, the two heroes of Double Dragon: Neon, is to take charge of two identical umbrella cliches of the 1980s, but with a few key updates. These two have been supplanted in a sort of futuristic Hell with a modern day glaze, infused with the most played-out “bro” attributes of the past couple years, and given a precious few different punch and kick abilities. Jimmy and Billy are on a rescue mission – Jimmy’s girlfriend Marion has been kidnapped by an evil, quipping robot-skeleton.
The brothers are slow and lumbering. Their power feels sloppy, almost unwieldy. The combos were few and far between, but Owen and I each gathered a selection of special “Gleam” moves that allowed us to more quickly dispatch the handful of enemies that spun and kicked and hit us with bats. And around twenty more minutes in, difficulty suddenly spiked.
Or, maybe not suddenly. The game feels so sluggish at first, and your character gets so much stronger at a steady rate, it’s difficult to discern when all the parts of Double Dragon: Neon finally fell into place. I was drawn to finish. Compelled even, with an intense want to see the end. Every few minutes, the game would subtly add another trap to the long hallways and catacombs you and your compadre traverse. A more challenging enemy type would appear among the typical drones, and one by one they could become common.
It’s actually pretty amazing that the game managed to subtly grow its complexity incrementally – Jimmy and Bimmy are rarely amusing, shouting “Yeah, bro!” and “Hurry up, buttfinger!” in the most blatantly crappy-action-movie way possible, without the slightest hint of delicacy. Placing the delicacy on dialogue didn’t matter, though – the development team seemingly poured their stock of it into building a pitch-perfect ramp to entertainment, something worth more than a few chuckles and catchphrases.
We didn’t run out of lives until we fought the devilishly hardcore final boss battle – the kind that hearkens back to the aggressive arcade days of the original Double Dragon – but as the game escalated to that point, we had to time creative deaths based on remaining health. Punching and kicking everything was the foundation to a much more nuanced survival technique.
We finished, and our total game time clocked in at 2 hours and 22 minutes. Short, yes – but the Wayforward Technologies development team made the first playthrough feel like it was merely a chapter in the overall experience. Each “Gleam” attack we’d powered up as the game went on still had dozens of levels to scale up, and the vast offering of passive attributes and special attacks made it feel like the next playthrough would be notably different.
I’ll let you know when I get there.
Double Dragon: Neon is praiseworthy and flawed.
About the Author:
James Hawkins is the founder of Bit Creature. He's a published poet, dabbling sportswriter, and former Senior Editor of Village Voice Media's Joystick Division.
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