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When I decided to come up with The First 24, I wanted to push myself to write more without necessarily reviewing a game. By only allowing myself to type out what I liked about a title after spending one day with it, I thought that it could lead to some interesting cases where my original words would be completely void once I finished a game. I never once thought about what would happen if I actually beat a title on that first day.
Early impressions and photos all leaned toward Double Dragon Neon being an absolute stinker, but I’m glad to say that I was pleasantly surprised at how great it turned out. To be fair, the fact that the game was absolutely free for Playstation Plus members COULD be clouding my judgement, but I’d like to think that I genuinely enjoyed spending my Tuesday night burning through this title. I mean, rebooting a classic beat-em-up could very easily turn out terrible if you stay too faithful to outdated gameplay and ideas, but Way Forward managed to avoid this by recreating the Double Dragon formula in the goofiest of ways.
That’s not necessarily a negative as Neon is such a strange hodgepodge of classic video games and 80’s pop culture. You collect cassette tapes that grant you various special powers or help level up your character’s stats. You gain health by drinking cans or liters of an unnamed Cola that sometimes shows up as in a Clear Cola variant. You’ll fight through a Space Dojo, only to come across the boss that’s clearly supposed to be a take on Capcom’s Mega Man. It seems that Way Forward gave the series the same treatment that they gave Contra 4 by crafting something that’s a love letter to the old fans of the franchise all while injecting their own absurd humor into it.
[Sidenote: Seriously, Way Forward had Lance dress as a woman to infiltrate an enemy base in Contra 4]
You’ll end up realizing how ridiculous this game is by level 3 when the main villain is revealed to be a a towering demon named Skullmageddon, a baddie with a voice that’s very similar to Skeletor from the He-Man cartoons. Beyond the oddball humor though, there’s a game that’s actually fun to play with a combat system that rewards you if you keep away from mindlessly button-mashing. Successfully dodging an enemy attack will grant you an instantaneous power bonus to your character for a few seconds, making your own attacks twice as deadly. Getting this pattern down for each enemy type is key to surviving but thankfully the game is extremely forgiving by making extra lives plentiful throughout the levels and super-cheap if you choose to purchase them at a store.
Double Dragon Neon is polished enough with several different beat-em-up tropes included to make it an entertaining title for those who grew up on these types of games, but I was disappointed at the lack of pieces from previous entries of the Double Dragon series. It might be a weird complaint to make but there seemed to be more gameplay nods towards the Konami Arcade beat-em-ups than the actual Double Dragon games. While I enjoyed the remixed classic tunes from earlier Billy and Jimmy Lee adventures and seeing the 8-Bit NES sprite on the map page, I really was hoping that Way Forward would have kept all of the original fighting techniques intact. Double Dragon Advance did this perfectly, even down to double tapping forward to run — why couldn’t this downloadable title have done the same?
Also, where the hell is my ability to grab an enemy and knee him repeatedly in the face?!
Even though I managed to complete Double Dragon Neon in a little over two hours, I still feel compelled to stick with it for a while to try out the harder difficulties that I’ve unlocked. Getting through them might require level-grinding by repeating beaten stages, but that’s part of the fun to be had. With each run-through, it feels like I’m building towards being able to understand how to survive the game’s “Double Dragon” difficulty mode, the hardest challenge that forces you to know the enemy patterns and levels inside out to survive.
Fun title — absolutely worth paying the ten dollars if you have any love in your heart for these kind of games.