Review by Eric-3

Reviewed: 09/19/12

Thank you for reminding me how fun it is to walk around beating people up

I'm gonna get right to it; Double Dragon: Neon is awesome.
My expectations were a little low after the last WayForward game I played, but I was totally surprised and impressed by how fun this beat-em-up is. I got it for free from PlayStation Plus, but I would have gladly paid the $10 for it now. It's definitely worth it.

The graphics are great. The art style is cool. Character designs aren't very original, but they're nice and colourful, well-animated, varied, and fit the game's world and intent as an 80s-throwback. Stages have some nice detail and are fairly varied. The 80s style and art direction is very fun and consistent in the presentation, but not annoyingly so.

The 80s are prevalent in the audio too, with some wicked, catchy songs. The game has you equipping "Mix Tapes", music cassettes to augment your character with stats, abilities, and a special move, and each Tape has its own song. Really cool. Some stages also have remixes of old Double Dragon music, which is expected but still nice to hear.

Sound effects are good, with every hit sounding satisfyingly powerful and painful. There are also nice little touches like a cheering crowd sound when you hit an enemy with a baseball bat (like a grand slam). Dialogue is minimal, but cheesy fun. Players and enemies have some funny one-liners. They don't have that many different lines, but it doesn't become annoying to hear them repeatedly. The main villain has some of the funniest lines, helped along by a comedic voice.

All this would be of little value if it were wrapped around a poor game, but thankfully the game plays very well. The controls are tight and responsive. Characters might feel slow and heavy at first, but you really don't need to move very fast in this game (there is a run button though). You get used to it. I feel the slower movement lets you line up with enemies more accurately rather than accidentally move in too close or run right past them like in some games. It feels more precise this way and also gives your attacks more impact and weight, some real power. The control layout is simple but still offers a fair amount of basic moves (as in not the special move Mix Tapes), and most basic moves have their own uses.

Move uses get more specific when you get to the Tapes. You can equip 2 Tapes at a time. The more you get of a Tape, the more powerful it becomes. You have to use items dropped by bosses to forge the ability to carry more tapes though, so there's some grinding involved if you wanna get really powerful.

1 tape is your special move. These use up some energy (energy, not health). It's a lot of fun experimenting with the different moves to find good, creative uses for them. It also helps to turn Damage Display on in Options to see numerical damage. The other Tape you can equip is your Stance, a passive Tape giving you different stats and sometimes a new ability such as being able to stun enemies easier or increasing weapon durability. They favour different play styles and strategies like offensive, defensive, special moves, etc. It's fun to try them out and switch around for different situations, like the special move Tapes.

Typical of a beat-em-up, weapons litter stages and are also dropped by enemies but they break after enough hits. Some have different properties rather than all being generic clubbing weapons though, so there's some nice variety.

One of the coolest parts about the gameplay is Gleam. Gleam is when you successfully duck an enemy's attack (it has to be timed properly since the duck only lasts about a second). Not only do you avoid the damage, but you also get a brief boost in power. This is a great setup because there are 2 moves that are done directly from the ducking position, a sweep and a rising knee. So you duck and Gleam then you're ready for an immediate counterattack with your boosted power.

Once you start getting the timing down, it is so satisfying ducking an enemy then kneeing him in the face and launching him into the air. I think it's great when the dodge in a game gives instant reward by leaving the enemy open or giving you a power up, rather than just letting you avoid damage. It gives more incentive to dodge properly and adds a bit more skill to the game instead of just attacking head-on.

Some enemies are frustrating at first, but you learn their attacks and how to deal with them. Sometimes the enemies have frames of animation where they're invincible where it's not really typical you'd expect them to be invincible. So occasionally you might take a hit because you got in too close to an enemy expecting to hit them, but they weren't actually vulnerable at that time and they hit you instead. These cases are few though, and you learn to remember them.

There are some minibosses and bosses that don't flinch when you hit them, so it's hard to get in close without them eventually hitting you while you pound on them and it can be hard to read their movements to dodge in time. But they don't make up the majority of the levels and they can still be learned to be dealt with with minimal (or no) injury.

When you lose all your lives, you have to start a stage over from the beginning. I thought this might be annoying at first but after actually redoing a stage, I didn't mind it. As far as I know, you keep any money or Tapes you got so it's not a total waste. And I found that my second time through a stage, I could finish it with 1, 2, maybe even 3 lives left. I think there was only 1 stage where I had to retry more than once on the initial difficulty level.

A few losses can encourage you to do better (either by learning the enemies, or experimenting with different Tapes, or whatever) as opposed to just letting you blindly go through every level on the first try. I think that's good. It's challenging enough to push you to improve, but not annoyingly difficult. Enemy encounters generally are not cheap at all, you just have to approach it properly. I would not call this a hard game. I'd say it's just about right.

Length / Replay
It's a pretty short game without much to unlock. I beat it my first time in around 4 hours (single-player), and that was including replaying several stages either because I died the first time or voluntarily because I wanted to upgrade my character. It won't take long to beat the game the first time, but it's not like you'll just play it once and be done with it. It's a blast replaying stages, trying different Tapes and strengthening them, and getting better at handling enemies. With some experience and decent Mix Tapes, you can start destroying stages that gave you some trouble the first time. Then you can start trying a higher difficulty level, unlocked after beating the previous difficulty.

Final Comments
I didn't make too much of a point to mention nostalgia or references to old Double Dragon games and other retro stuff (some of which is pretty funny, but I won't spoil them) because that is not what makes this game fun. That stuff is great to have, sure. But this game stands on its own as a great beat-em-up regardless of any fond memories of the 80s you may or may not have. Unfortunately, I think this might end up being an overlooked little gem. If you're into sidescrolling beat-em-ups, I highly recommend Double Dragon: Neon.

(Note: At the time that I wrote this, online "bro-op" was not available. It's supposed to arrive in a patch sometime though. In the meantime, there is still of course offline bro-op available.)

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Double Dragon: Neon (US, 09/11/12)

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