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Double Dragon: Neon (Xbox 360) artwork

Double Dragon: Neon (Xbox 360) review

"New Century Dragon"

For a series that's seen many iterations of its core beat 'em up formula, how would one approach a Double Dragon game without making it stale? In WayForward's case, they went for an exaggerated and humorous perspective, playing up the IP's characters, designs, and other familiarities. Double Dragon Neon is a self-parody, essentially. This is made abundantly obvious in the first level; after the love interest, Marian, is punched in the gut and kidnapped for the millionth time in the series, Billy and, with a second player, Jimmy Lee emerge from their garage of a building littered with neon signs, uttering the words "Not this again." From there, they beat up several thugs, one being named Cartwheel Cannon Fodder Williams, in front of more neon-infested buildings, enter a facility with a cartoonishly-bright conveyor belt, and conclude the level performing air guitars.

But just because the devs are being silly with the franchise, that doesn't mean they didn't put actual thought towards gameplay. As typical for a DD game, there's punches, kicks, jump kicks, combinations, and special attacks such as a spinning kick, and the way you perform them usually fluctuates from game to game; in some titles, you can exploit attacks and specials ad nauseam without effort. However, Neon curtails that with its version of combat, which feels like an amalgamation of systems from past games. Special moves, for instance, are regulated to a meter bar that, depending on the special used, drains varying portions of said bar. The meter refills slowly, with the only other "fast" way is to nab random batteries from downed foes. This is good. This means you can't exploit a special attack infinitely, instead being forced to find another approach when fighting.

A free pass isn't given with straightforward combat, either, as basic goons are designed to break your combos. Does that sound fair? No, not at first. However, you have the ability to dodge with a duck button. Dodge a move, any move, right as it's about to connect, and not only does it miss, but you're granted a temporary power boost when striking back immediately. It isn't easy to pull off, because counters happen quick, meaning you have to rely on old fashioned memorization against AI patterns. Neon not only deters being a cheap fighter, but rewards you for putting some thought and skill into your battles. And don't think you can forsake these restrictions for pure brute force, since you can easily lose all your lives in a single level by carelessly mashing buttons. On the first level, no less.

With ten levels total, you'll have more than enough time to get used to the combat system against the game's rogues gallery. Not only will you encounter classic thugs, whip-wielding dominatrices, and roided Abobos, but also oddities such as flying drones that self destruct and teleporting geishas. The introduction of the latter opponent is particularly tricky, since you're on single-plane platforms and have to dodge their hand fans while fighting other enemies. If you haven't used the roll maneuver by this point to evade enemies, the game makes sure it's used here as it's an extremely viable escape from the fans. WayForward also didn't hold back on unique hazards, with Billy and Jimmy having to hop over spike floors, use "see-saw" boards that can launch enemies, and avoid being sucked out a waste-disposal chute within, of all things, a flying pagoda.

Neon is loaded with interesting features and ideas, but that's not to say it doesn't have any problems. The most glaring and noteworthy one has to be the feeling of padding; the game has two instances where levels could easily pass as one condensed level, because the two pagoda and two lab levels basically use the same assets and enemy encounters. This was likely intentional to make things feel longer and bigger, but this only works if the player is consistently met with new, exciting stuff. That's not the case here. Doesn't help that another level, the sixth, is also bizarrely long-winded when compared to the levels before and after it. Whether it be a lengthy helicopter segment that take chunks off your health bar, having a rematch with the tank fortress from NES DDII, or everything between, level six feels unbalanced and oddly penultimate.

As a title in the franchise, Neon is one of the better, possibly the best of the Double Dragon games. Though, considering the series bar is so low thanks to a tremendous outpouring of crappy-to-mediocre games, that's actually not saying a whole lot. But if you remove the comparisons to other Double Dragon releases, is Neon a good beat 'em up? Yes, and it's mainly because of its silly humor and a combat system that favors skill over mindlessness. Unfortunately, the padding knocks back the quality a tad, since it creates unnecessary repetition; by the time you reach the final level, which is a literal neon fortress that alludes to Big Trouble in Little China, you kinda wished the game ended two levels ago. Still, if you want a "great" Double Dragon experience that translates into a "just good" beat 'em up, you can't go wrong with Neon.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (April 24, 2020)

Hopefully Pixel Ripped will pull a "Witch & Hero" and have a great third game, if it ever happens.

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