WayForward has made a name for itself by channeling old-school gaming principles whilst giving them a new, modern coat of paint. The developer’s had great success with that formula on the Wii and portable platforms, unfortunately, its first attempt on console downloadable services with BloodRayne: Betrayal missed the mark by quite a bit.
Its second attempt of the retro revival Double Dragon Neon doesn’t fare much better, though much like BloodRayne, it makes a great first impression. Neon is all about reminding you of the 80’s, from the bright colored menus and in-game UI to the absolutely fantastic soundtrack complete with a “Never Gonna Give You Up” rip-off. What’s bizarre is that the 80’s-ness doesn’t translate to the in-game graphics, which are an odd mix of flat-shaded 3D and painted backgrounds. As a result, we’re left with a cool looking UI on top of a fairly ugly game, and the slow, clunky animations don’t really help matters. Compared to the lush 2D visuals and animation of BloodRayne, this is quite a step down.
As one might expect, Double Dragon Neon is a 2D brawler where you move our heroes Jimmy and Billy Lee from left to right and beat up enemies who get in your way. It’s a tried and true formula, but WayForward has brought a few interesting things to the table. Your initial moveset is a little more robust than in most brawlers. There’s standard and heavy attacks, a grab move (only used on stunned enemies) and a dodge. Oh, and don’t forget jumping, which can be used in conjunction with every other move, of course. There are combos to execute, you can modify your standard and heavy attacks with the dodge, as well as the usual flying kicks using the jump. If a dodge is executed just right, like right before an enemy’s attack hits, you’ll activate a “gleam,” which will increase damage for a short time. There is also a special move, which changes based on your choice of Mixtape. What’s a Mixtape? Well, I’m glad you asked…
As you dispose of enemies, they will occasionally drop cassette tapes that come in two flavors. First are passive tapes which buff up certain stats. One may give you better defense while another might boost your attack, but several also have other secondary perks, such as leeching health from a bad guy every time you do damage or increasing your chance to stun enemies. The second type of tape determines which special move you can use, ranging from fireballs to aerial spinning kicks. These are more powerful than regular attacks, and as such they come at a price. They will drain your secondary MP meter, some moves will drain it faster than others, with one particular attack requiring all of it.
That all makes for a surprisingly complex and busy combat system, which is initially great fun to come to grips with. As time goes on, however, WayForward’s game works against its own mechanics. As an example, one stage opens with you riding a small, dimly lit platform as it hurtles down a hill. Multiple enemies, with knockback abilities (many almost unavoidable), join the ride and make for one of the most frustrating gameplay experiences of the year, as getting knocked off the platform results in taking substantial damage.
A lot of the issues stem from the slowness of your character, most notably the dodge ability which is your only defensive move. An almost clairvoyant knowledge of enemies it needed to put it to good use in later stages, especially when multiple bad guys are coming at you at the same time from various directions. One could argue this is an attempt to recapture the insanely hard nature of old NES games, and that may be fun for some, but the majority of people don’t want their time wasted. Neon will do just that, because if you run out of lives in a level, you are sent straight back the start – even if you’ve spent 15 minutes getting to a boss.
Double Dragon Neon is built on some very solid and smart game mechanics, but the game wrapped around it does not take advantage of them. In fact, it seems like it was built to play against those mechanics and give players as little enjoyment as possible. The only “fun” parts of the game are the wrapping, the music, the retro-styled UI and the humorous comments made by enemies as they come onscreen. None of that makes up for what is a sub-par and extremely frustrating brawler.
Double Dragon Neon was developed WayForward Technologies and published by Majesco Entertainment. An Xbox 360 copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.