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Double Dragon Neon Review

In general, I’ve always played a lot more single-player games than multiplayer games. Stemming from that, co-op has long been my favored method of multiplayer in games, as a generally non-competitive person. So it’s no surprise, really, that I take to Double Dragon Neon so readily. Beat-em-ups as a genre have always benefited from a co-op experience. Double Dragon, by its very name, seems to be a series that entirely wants you to be playing it with a friend. Alone, you’re just a single dragon. The problem is that most beat-em-ups don’t really predicate themselves entirely on that fact: the game is fundamentally the same whether you’re playing it with a friend or without. That’s not entirely a bad thing, really, since you don’t want it to be not fun for a single player, but since the games usually encourage multiplayer, it’s certainly a bit odd. This game, along with a few co-op games before it, though, has an important mechanic which absolutely differentiates single player from a co-op experience: reviving. When an ally is downed, the other player can rush over and frantically tap a button to revive their friend. It’s a fantastic mechanic for co-op, since it basically allows for infinite play off of a single credit (a great step-forward, considering we can’t just feed credits into a console like we could an arcade cabinet, which most beat-em-ups were played on way back in the day.) It creates a marked difference in gameplay starting from the very moment that your friend dies. Everything in the game becomes about racing over to slap them awake, which is something you don’t get in the single player experience. In Double Dragon Neon’s case, you revive them by rewinding a cassette tape with a pencil, which is a surprisingly important bit of art direction.

See, everything in the game is focused on creating a singular gameplay experience, which is Double Dragon Neon’s strong point. The art, music, enemy design, even the wonderful, wonderful voice acting, every element of this game is a rightfully silly homage to the action and dystopian films of the 1980s which inspired the original Double Dragon. Everything is covered in neon lights, as the title would imply, especially the final level. People wear 80s-inspired clothing and haircuts, and throw out goofy one-liners that seem to make sense but not really, like having to hold your breath in the vacuum of space. Your character customization is in the form of creating mix tapes of a special move and a passive buff between ten of each, which rightfully all have their own short song that pays homage to a different 80s band. The gameplay is a refined form of the basic punch and kick format that most beat-em-ups draw from, and between a couple combos and air-kicks, has a surprisingly pleasant amount of flexibility. In short, it’s rad as hell, and any fan of 80s films or games would feel right at home playing this, whether or not they had the amazing experience of growing up in the dystopian decade. Everything in the game is suitably silly, and that silliness is incredibly important.

In much the same way the game doesn’t seem to take itself seriously, or rather seems to take not being serious seriously, it invites you to not take it seriously as well. It seems that the game doesn’t want you to treat this as a life or death slugfest to the end, which a lot of other games are. It just wants you to let loose and have a little fun. This is really important in creating the overall game feel, which is the real strength of the game. When your friend gets knocked out, you’re supposed to run over and save them—but it’s not really a big deal if you don’t make it. Any given time they fall, it’s just as likely that you’ll revive them as it is that you’ll get kicked in the jaw and fall into a pit. Ultimately, nothing in Double Dragon Neon tries to take itself seriously, from the writing to the gameplay, and the charming music and graphic design encourages you to approach it with this same sense of constant hilarity. Playing co-op just highlights this. Without being careful, you’re as likely to punch your friend in the face as you are an enemy, especially as spacing gets tight in certain areas, or as weapons start flying about. But the damage of an individual hit of friendly fire is pretty miniscule, and the hilarity it induces is anything but. Throwing a sword across the screen to hit an enemy, just in time for your bro to walk into the line of fire and take the blade to the back of his head, is a truly unique experience which you can find nowhere else. And if you play with friendly fire on, you will eventually hit your friends, no matter how hard you try not to. But it’s okay. It’s so dang funny, that it’s just fine. There’s even a special move that can damage yourself if no enemies are present when you try to use it, clearly emphasizing that this is an intentional element of the game.

Even taking the game seriously, though, it still shines. There’s plenty of weapons which all manage to feel very different; the interactions between your punches and kicks makes for a good juggling system (especially if you’re busting heads with your best bud!) and the ducking and rolling system is actually useful for dodging and positioning, especially in co-op. For a beat-em-up, Double Dragon Neon provides a huge variety of enemies. There are several different fliers, a few normal brawlers, and a handful of different big guys. The enemies always attack you in varied groups, and more often than not, in a varied locale, which can drastically change your approach to a single battle. The level design is top notch and always keeps you on your toes, usually providing a unique way for you to deal with enemies, like catapulting them into the air where they can get hit by whirling spikey death, or jump-kicking them into a pit (which, again, often results in you kicking your friend into a pit. But it’s okay! You can just revive them. No biggie.) The bosses are fun, and don’t require memorization, and few of their attacks come out faster than you can react, which is a real problem in several older beat-em-ups like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. The customization provides for a lot of unique options which you can change on the fly. In one encounter against some jet-pack girls, I switched my mix-tape to a magic-heavy passive song and a move that drops lightning in the air and spammed it, since trying to jump-kick them was too dangerous. It also encourages long term decisions in terms of which songs you choose to improve. I mostly went for bomb-throwing and health absorb, but almost all the options seem viable enough.

The game also offers three difficulty levels, which start at a silly cakewalk and end up being tough as nails and, in all honesty, kind of grindy. But at ten levels, it’s already more content—and more importantly, more varied content—than the original Double Dragon offered, even on a single difficulty. Hard Mode is really just there for those who want it, and there’s nothing wrong with including it to feed those people.

All in all, I recommend Double Dragon Neon for anyone who’s ever enjoyed a beat-em-up, or anyone who likes a good round of co-op with their friends. I especially recommend playing the game with friendly fire on and with your most haphazard and dangerous of pals. For providing me an excellent bit of entertainment and for its most excellent art direction and utterly amazing soundtrack (which you should definitely check out, whether or not you want to play the game), I’ll give Double Dragon Neon a dang 8 out of 10, as well as a spot in my overall top 100, much to my own surprise.

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