Double Dragon: Neon is the latest in a long series of efforts to revive dead old-school franchises for a new audience. In some cases, like Mega Man 9 and 10, much of the quality of the past is retained and what we get is an excellent return to form and an excellent game. And, in some cases, like Double Dragon: Neon, returning to form is not necessarily a good thing — especially when doing so keeps the game from actually being good.
Double Dragon: Neon comes from the fine folks at WayForward. Like the original, Neon is a beat-em-up in which you can fight cheesy bad guys, pick up weapons, power up your characters, and play co-op. Once again, you’re tasked with saving a damsel in distress, except now, there is about twice the content of the original. This sounds excellent, but what this really means is that a 45-minute game is now a 90-minute one.
Despite this, the game is bogged down with repetition. The 80′s music is neat, the game looks pretty, and the character designs and animation are really good; but, what we’re left with are a series of nearly identical levels with different looking areas and bosses. It still feels difficult like the original, and it still feels as unfair as the difficulty of the original, but even overcoming this difficulty doesn’t feel rewarding like in the old game. Sure, you can see the ending and unlock a new difficulty, but it was difficult to care when the game I had played was riddled with poor platforming and enemies that love to swarm you and beat you down at every opportunity.
New additions to the classic formula come in two types of special moves. Obtained by grabbing mix tapes off of enemies, one offers a perk to stats alongside a series of bonuses, like more powerful weapons. The other mix tapes, called “Sosetsitsu” moves, are special attacks that use up the player’s magic bar, and include things like bolts of lightning and a dragon summon. These attacks are successful at mixing up what would normally be standard beat-em-up fare, and stands as one of the few positive things to say about the whole experience.
Being a co-op title, it is worth stating that managing the HP-exhausting enemies becomes a much easier experience. Playing with a friend was a slightly more positive experience, though I’m sure that this has more to do with playing video games with a friend rather than the quality of the cooperative play.
This might sound like a strange complaint, but I think my problem is that the remake is too faithful to the original. Even with the addition of unlockable special abilities, perks, and shops to replace lives lost in battle, it is still a game that feels poorly aged, even though the game was released so recently. While the beat-em up genre is far from dead, it might be time to say that Double Dragon’s place in it is.