One of the games which encompassed the late 80’s and early 90’s of gaming was the Double Dragon series. During this era, home consoles scrambled to bring the arcade experience home and Double Dragon was one of these arcade ports. Part of the experience was also the punishing difficulty where hardcore gamers would attempt to finish arcade games with just one credit/token for bragging rights and a seriously good sense of fulfillment. Among others were obviously the stereotype video game themes back in the day (the damsel in distress), odd depiction of what “tough heroes” and bad guys should look like, and awesomely cheesy music to pump you up for some hardcore twitch brawling.
The plot of Double Dragon was simple, bad guys kidnapped your girl friend so you (Billy Lee) and player 2: Jimmy Lee (SPOILER: who was the last boss in the original Double Dragon game) go on a rampage to get her back. It screams nothing more than male chauvinistic bravado and gives feminists cause to rally against a video game for repeatedly objectifying women as trophies rather than treat them as people. Not to mention the game’s plot which caters to the traditional male nerd fantasies of being a tough guy who can brawl his way through bullies and be a hero (get the girl too). However, taking all that video game psychology and stereotyping crap aside, what you have in front of you was a game that was challenging and pretty intuitive for a time where games operated on only two input buttons (the A and B button).
In spite of the 8-bit graphics the game play really makes you feel like a martial arts master when you’ve gotten the hang of the controls. Every move in the game can be used to gain a tactical advantage over your foes and there are times where your awareness of your environment pays off in the form of knocking tough mini-bosses off a ledge with only a jump kick. However, games like Double Dragon are also notorious of being cheap when ramping up the difficulty by simply flooding the screen with enemies and introducing foes who move twice as fast as you with really cheap moves. These “traps” will basically kick your ass repeatedly until you change your strategy to deal with the situation. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same kind of intestinal fortitude so instead of trying to beat the game with one credit, they end up throwing down countless tokens in an attempt to finish the game. In the event that they do, they are treated with a really lame ending sequence that totally does not justify how much money they spent to finish a game. Pro-tip: You don’t finish an arcade game for the ending, you do it for high scores and bragging rights.
Fast-froward to 2012 with Way Forward‘s take on the Double Dragon series with retro-inspired title: Double Dragon Neon. This game does nothing new and simply reinforces the same stereotypes and plot lines from the old Double Dragon games. Nothing has changed. The bad hair haircuts are still there along with the damsel in distress theme to the point that the opening sequence of the game is no different from the original Double Dragon game on the NES. You’ve got a bigger cast of female characters you have to beat down from classic Linda, geisha assassins, female ninjas, and even a rocketeer inspired flying female baddie. You will be forced to fight your own girl friend (Marian) towards the end of the game but you won’t need to kill her; only “knock her back to her senses”. They even remixed the cheesy music from the original Double Dragon and added a few songs with lyrics care of kick ass game music composer Jake Kaufman. As for game play, while the controls are still familiar, things have changed quite drastically which may not exactly be a welcome change for fans:
There are ten (10) missions in this game but instead of having to play through all missions from the start as you would whenever you start your game, you can select any mission you have completed from the “over world” screen and play through that specific mission only. Now this wasn’t a big change or anything, this concept for side scrolling games has been used as early as Super Mario Bros. 3 to my knowledge but I can’t get used to this in a Double Dragon game. This basically screams “casual mode on”, play whenever you feel like it and finish it eventually. There is no real sense of urgency of having to complete the game in one sitting anymore. While I can still do that, the fact that the game isn’t designed that way anymore really takes your motivation away. However, it is understandable to some extent granted that gamers these days want longer hours clocked per game to feel that they got their money’s worth somehow which leads to the next change:
RPG-like Stat Progression :
While there are three (3) modes of difficulty, they require you to “level-up your character” or forge your mix-tapes in the game as they call it. These mix-tapes basically boost specific stats like Health, MP (for executing special attacks), Attack, and Defense. You will eventually be able to choose between ten (10) different stances and special moves that can all be upgraded with items you pick-up from defeating bosses. This explains why you can return to missions at will: so that you can grind for money and upgrading items. Again, I lament the fact that the time sink in Double Dragon Neon became grinding stages repeatedly to power-up instead of mastering the punishing difficulty of the game. But RPG-like progression in a side scrolling brawler back in the days of the NES actually existed in the form of River City Ransom. If you played the Scott Pilgrim Vs the World video game, that would be the most modern comparison you have to that classic RPG/Brawler.
Clearly, there isn’t much left in the tank for the Double Dragon IP and as sad as it may be, I have come to terms with it because I enjoyed Double Dragon Neon more as a trip down memory lane with all the nostalgic sights and sounds (especially the soundtrack) rather than playing it like I had to finish the game without continues. Granted that it’s a solid brawler and somehow feels like Double Dragon, I simply can’t get behind it 100% anymore. As a matter of fact I don’t think there is any point in making another Double Dragon game, reboot , or even spin-offs because Billy and Jimmy Lee actually suck as pop culture icons without having a constant look about them save for some sort of color coding scheme.
Having said all that, you can opt NOT to buy Double Dragon Neon but if Double Dragon was part of your childhood, you’d probably want to buy the soundtrack. It’s ****in’ awesome!
Double Dragon Neon was released for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 as a digital download.
Author’s Note: Double Dragon probably wasn’t ported to the NES first but it was the first time I encountered Double Dragon. Also, I’m well aware of multiple Double Dragon games in between the NES versions and the latest Double Dragon Neon. Unfortunately, I was unable to play all these games and spin offs because I didn’t have THAT much money to buy games back in the day. The Double Dragon movie poster was just there to highlight the color coding scheme of Billy and Jimmy Lee, I know it’s not game box art.