I was born in 1989, making me 31 years old. I grew up as the industry was going through growing pains of its own. During those early days, certain genres seemed to prosper over others. For instance, beat’em up titles saw their popularity skyrocket. The two franchises I recall as rising above the rest are Streets of Rage and Double Dragon. They were both the juggernauts of the ’90s. Although my gaming diet consisted primarily of JRPGs, I’d always find time for a good beat’em up romp. There’s something special about the cheesy storylines. As time went on, it was radio silence by both until 2012; Double Dragon Neon released on the PlayStation 3. I never played it back then, but Masjesco and WayForward have worked together to bring the neon to Nintendo Switch in 2020. Now the question is: will it shine or will it flicker?
IT’S A FIST BUFFET, BRO!
Double Dragon Neon is as corny as it gets, but it’s also a nostalgic kick to the gut. The game opens with your girlfriend being punched in the stomach before being carried off. As she disappears off-screen, Billy emerges from the garage, angered by what happened. He gives chase and that’s it; the adventure begins. It’s assuredly simple but the gameplay is where the meat of these titles lay. Unfortunately, I never felt that this lived up to the beat’em up moniker.
Normally, there are many moves that your character can learn. They can punch, throw, kick, and various other techniques. However, the biggest issue I have with Double Dragon Neon is that we lose out on the variety. There’s a grab and several of the basic moves but that’s really it. I thought perhaps these were locked behind certain goals. For instance, maybe I had to beat the game and meet specific conditions in order for new tactics to become available. That wasn’t the case though and after 15+ hours, I achieved nothing. As a result of this, I felt the game quickly got repetitious.
DUDE, MAKE ME A MIXTAPE!
That’s not to say there aren’t special abilities to learn because there are. After you’ve kicked ass and taken names, your enemies might drop an assortment of loot. These include money, any weapons they wield, or cassettes – how’s that for 90’s flare? The latter are known as mixtapes – and they aren’t the ones you made your crush in grade school. There’s a total of twelve different types, with each possessing a unique skill. For instance, they may grant Billy the power to absorb a tiny percentage of health upon each strike; or increase the durability of all weapons. Furthermore, you can rank up the potency and effectiveness of these with special items found throughout the journey to rescue Marian – She’s your girl. So in a way, there’s a degree of grinding present, even if it’s not the traditional method. Although, the lack of a robust move pool makes it more a chore than a fun distraction.
In the same sense, you also have special fighting techniques such as a spinning kick to upgrade. The unfortunate part is that you can only equip one at a time; this killed it for me personally. If I wanted to switch over to another ability such as the fireball, I’d need to pause, switch over, then get back into the action. For me, this broke any momentum I had. Instead of high paced action, I needed to constantly stop. If I didn’t want to do that, I’d just settle for a skill to use throughout a level and brute force it. Are you beginning to notice the variety – or lack thereof – that I previously mentioned?
I NEED TO GET A HOMIE!
I’m going to be blunt; Double Dragon Neon isn’t a solo experience. After I had played my second playthrough on a higher difficulty, I was ready to move on. It felt like I was going through the motions. When I requested to cover this game initially, I was ecstatic. I had assumed it wasn’t going to be the same as it was in 2012. For those unaware, critics weren’t impressed back then. Sadly, I don’t think any improvements were made. The controls feel clunky, and sometimes dodging didn’t mean I’d avoid a hit. The backgrounds look decent, but they were also lifeless and uninteresting. There’s just no incentive to replay if you’re alone. Now, before anyone asks me, there are secrets. There are even pop culture references to Mega Man and Skeletor to name a few. None of that is enough to make one keen to discover them all though. I will say that the credits song is a fun one – I smiled.
BROSKI, LET’S THROW HANDS!
However, I can’t say the same about playing with a friend. There are even options to turn on friendly fire so you can have fun and give one another a hard time. This seems the optimal way to enjoy this. I’d imagine this to be a great time for couples. Working with a friend will also not only alleviate any difficulty spike, but the laughter would mitigate tedium. Of course, if you’re like me and you don’t have friends that would be interested in being your player 2, then there are better options to consider playing.
WOAH, THAT’S A HOT BEAT!
The ’90s influence carries on into the music. Each musical track that I heard reminded me of the grade school dances I’d go to. In this way, you could say it was oddly nostalgic for me. There’s a mixture of vocal and instrumentals, with the former being what I felt stood out. While they aren’t going to blow anyone away, I still found them catchy. My only gripe is that most of the songs didn’t fit the action. While there are a few, most did nothing to my adrenaline. I was docile and going through the motions.
AND THE KICK-ASS VERDICT IS…
Double Dragon Neon is a decent game for a brisk session. With a completion time of less than two hours, playing on a portable feels like the perfect match. However, the lack of variety in the moveset and uninteresting backgrounds makes replaying this game feel like a slog. I can’t recommend this as a solo experience. As a multiplayer one however I’d say that’s the ideal way by far. It also has a drop-in/drop-out mechanic, making couch co-op a definite on the menu.
While I did find some of the music to be catchy, it did feel like an odd choice. I never felt my adrenaline pumping. Instead of hard-hitting renditions, my ears were graced with an upbeat, quirky pop song.
I love beat’em ups and had an absolute blast with River City Girls. My main reason for not being swept away by Double Dragon Neon is it lacked the same charm. The vibrancy was not there and neither was the personality. For these reasons, I can’t say anything else but this;
DOUBLE DRAGON NEON IS NOT RECOMMENDED
For another port from the past, perhaps you’d like to take a look at Shiren the Wanderer.
Many thanks goes to Masjesco for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
Support High-Quality And Detailed Coverage
Want to support the cost of us bringing you these articles or just buy us a coffee for a job well done? Click the Ko-fi button below. You can even find some digital goodies in our shop~!
Painfully single, but still somehow a master of dad jokes. If asked, he’ll answer it’s for his inner child. Fabio enjoys JRPG’s and has embraced his anime love.