Double Dragon: Neon Review (Xbox360)

You know how some nerds get all overexcited about a Battlestar Galactica appearance at a convention, or queue for hours to get a comic book signed by an artist who you’ve never heard of, or go to midnight screenings of Joss Whedon’s stuff? It’s all about elevating yourself above the common geekery by choosing a slightly, less mainstream franchise to fixate on. It separates them from Star Wars nuts and Trekkies, and gives them the edge they need to make nerd-dom look awesome.

Well, that’s how I am with Double Dragon. While others bleat about Mass Effect or Metal Gear or that Block Ops game, I cling voraciously to the past and demonstrate my fearless gaming authority by obsessing over 1988’s beat-‘em-up epic, Double Dragon. But it’s not just for show. I genuinely harbour feelings for this game that verge on being worryingly wrong.

Classic weapons, such as the boulder, are bolstered now by destructible scenery.

And now it’s back. Twenty five years after I poured pounds upon pounds into the Double Dragon coin-ops on Blackpool front, the Lee brothers have been reborn in what promises to be one of the very, very few home adaptations that’s actually any good.

In many respects Double Dragon Neon poses two questions: Is the game any good from a contemporary standpoint, and does it do justice to such mighty lineage? Both very relevant questions.

This is still a side-scrolling 2D fighting game, which swaps out the hand-drawn sprites for 3D characters with far smoother animation, but the gameplay core is essentially the same. As before, Marion is sucker punched in the gut and carted off by Skullmageddon and his gang (replacing the machine gun-wielding Big Boss Willy), and you, and a buddy ideally, set off on an arse kicking quest to get her back.

I wouldn’t want to call this a button masher, because it does offer a skill level that elevates it way above that fighting game faux pas. But by the same token, you’re not required to be a brain surgeon to pull out all the excellent street fighting moves that are laced throughout Double Dragon Neon. The controls are superbly balanced so as to deliver brief, effective combos scattered amongst a whirlwind of fast punches and faster kicks.

Grabbing is still a great tactic, just as it was in the original, and for the most part the game takes care of jazzing up a throw or a grab depending on what’s going on around you. This even goes as far as Jimmy kneeling down behind a bad guy while Billy pushes him over; top notch slapstick mixed with top notch slapping.

Familiar scenes from the original are plentiful, with a new lick of digital paint.

And speaking of slapping, that essential co-operative element has been further enhanced in Neon by allowing the brothers to not only whip out two-person moves, but to share energy through a very American high-five. Keeping each other alive is about as co-operative as any game can get, and a skilful, dedicated duo will push much further into the game than the button mashing loner could ever hope.

Everything about this new rendition of the first ever co-op beat-‘em-up is dripping in ultra-stylish neon (and we’re not just saying that because of the game’s title). The quick quipping brothers never shut up; dropping cheeseball one-liners and spouting tough guy clichés that send your head spinning back to the 80s on a wild video game Wurlitzer ride. The music is brash and hard, somehow capturing every sensation you can recall from three decades past. Simply put, Double Dragon Neon doesn’t just recapture the game that inspired it, but brilliantly revives the decade and the generation that gave birth to it.

This celebration of the Sacred Retro is often very much in your face, which fans of the original will delight in (Obobo crashing through the wall, or barrels that can be kicked across the screen to trip up dim-witted bad guys). Yet it’s also hidden within the details. A Nintendo Power Glove points you in the right direction when you’re not scrolling, and cassette tapes are collected to add new music to your knuckle-cracking adventure. Clearly the developers are as hopelessly stuck in the past as I am, and clearly that’s a great place to live.

It’s worth playing for the 80s iconography and nostalgia alone.

So returning to our two questions, it seems they are both answered by the same fact. You needn’t have played Double Dragon to find yourself slavering with violent lust over this superb new digital download, yet long time fans and die hard obsessives will feel equally championed. It’s a genuine testament to the developer that one game can cater to gamers who are a generation or more apart without any sensation of pandering or compromise.
Double Dragon Neon is evidence. Evidence that my misplaced obsession with a classic coin-op wasn’t misplaced after all. It’s proof for those who weren’t there – or weren’t even born – who believe themselves gaming experts because they remember when the first Deus Ex game came out. It’s a return to gaming ancestry that confirms the retro gamer’s assertion that it actually was better "back then." And, finally, gaming is good once again.

See you in 25 years for the Double Dragon 50th anniversary? In the meantime, I’m not playing anything else. There’s no need.

Top Game Moment: Beat-boxing and breakdancing in the blood soaked streets.

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