PAX East 2012: Double Dragon Neon hands-on

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Back in the 80’s, Double Dragon was one of the most entertaining beat-em-up series out there.  Originally released for arcades through Taito and later on the NES through Acclaim, it reminded everyone that you didn’t need a compelling storyline or online options to play with friends, just a buddy who wasn’t afraid to get a little dirty with ass-kicking action.  What’s more, the arcade game introduced a fun little twist, where you find out your brother is actually the one leading the gang you’ve been hunting down.  (Granted, the developers just added this to have a good “final fight” at the end.)  Since that time, though, the brothers kind of faded into obscurity.  (The crappy adapted film didn’t help…yes, that was Alyssa Milano.)

Now, however, WayForward is not only bringing the franchise back, but is also bringing it back in the 80’s style that we appreciated so much way back when.  Double Dragon Neon is ready to do some romping and stomping this summer, and Majesco Games recently invited us over to the Reverb booth at the PAX East expo this weekend to check it out.  Needless to say, we were quite pleased.

The set-up is still about the same.  Billy and Jimmy Lee, the kung fu heroes from the first game, are back, and this time they’re attempting to save a damsel in distress from the evil Skullmageddon, who heads up a team of vicious rogues.  Granted, they’re rogues with really bad fashion sense and afros, but still, they must be beaten!  So it’s up to you to punch, kick and pummel these guys until you’ve cleaned up the streets.

WayForward, the developer behind Mighty Flip Champs and the impressive Contra 4, handled development duties with Neon, and the first thing they made sure to do was channel in the classic beat-em-up gameplay that worked so well before.  You can chain together punches and kicks to send someone to the floor, then punch them in the gut to finish them off.  You can also jump kick one of two ways, either with a swift down-turn of a blow or with a huge kick in the air, which would even put the biggest opponent – like the muscular Abobo – into a dizzying state.  And if that’s not enough, enemies drop weapons that you can use in battle, like an oil drum or a baseball bat.

The game supports – and kind of encourages – co-op play, as you can either team up with a friend locally or hop on to Xbox Live or PlayStation Network with an online ally.  Either way, you’re in for rooms full of baddies, complete with plenty of challenges to overcome – including Skullmageddon himself.  What a nasty freak.

The graphics are inspired with an 80’s motif, with not only characters that come out of that era (I’m telling you, afro dudes mean business), but also level settings that stem memories of the original Double Dragon.  Even the energy meters look like something that’s been taken out of the Back To the Future films.  And seriously, when’s the last time you saw two dudes dressed up in matching outfits and mullets?  Like never.  The 80’s cheesy rock helps too, transporting you back to a time when old-school head banging eclipsed emo lyrics and “feelings”.

Kudos to WayForward with sticking with what works in Double Dragon Neon, instead of going all contemporary like other reboots of this ilk.  We’ll find out this July whether Billy and Jimmy Lee still “got it”, or if they’re just as easily forgotten as Small Wonder.  Hey, as long as it’s better than the movie.  We still haven’t forgiven Robert Patrick…

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Robert Workman
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