Double Dragon: Neon Preview
It’s all '80s, all the time.
Double Dragon is one of those games that everyone has played, or at least heard of. From its humble beginning as an arcade brawler, the franchise has gone on to make an appearance in some form in almost every console generation. The original title was ported to nearly every available system at the time, including the Atari 2600 in 1988. (And you thought this console generation was long!) Brothers Jimmy and Billy have been in one on one fighting games, have teamed up with the Battletoads on the SNES, and had the Double Dragon world predominantly featured in a completely over the top fan tribute to the NES called Abobo’s Big Adventure. Needless to say, Majesco and WayForward have some pretty big shoes to fill.
That being said, WayForward is an excellent developer, and I applaud the decision to allow them to handle this title. They have already proven their ability with games like Bloodrayne: Betrayal and Contra 4, but with this, as with any remake you have to ask two big questions: does this game need a remake in the first place, and is said remake being handled in a way that’s faithful to the original?
To answer the first, yes. Double Dragon needs to be remade to be playable these days. I can already hear the heavy breathing of internet trolls on my back for that sentence, but hear me out. The original arcade game was fantastic then, but go back and play it now. This Double Dragon was made well before the brawler blowout, and games like Final Fight, Streets of Rage, and even Konami’s famous brawlers Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons improved heavily upon the foundation laid by games like Double Dragon and Renegade. On top of that, the fighting game genre has caused us to expect more complexity that what was offered by the original title. Many of the innovations that caused Double Dragon to be notable are expected now, like multiplayer support, tons of onscreen enemies, usable enemy weapons, and conveyor belt floors, and honestly, Simply walking to the right and punching things in the face just isn’t enough these days. The game needs more than a facelift; it needs an overhaul.
So, on to the second, more difficult question: Is this a faithful remake? Well, when it comes to visuals, you should already know that the WayForward guys have style, and Double Dragon Neon is a florescent explosion of it. One look at the trailer and you’ll see the decade presented in an eye-searing cheese-ball fashion that exemplifies all that was cool in the 1980s. Shades of magenta red, glaring purple, lemonade yellow and hot pink are everywhere. Your enemies include a whip bearing dominatrix in era appropriate (or inappropriate) hooker uniform, and dudes with gigantic early 80’s ‘fros, complete with day glow colored picks stuck in them. Your characters change and grow more powerful by putting together mix tapes, and even the HUD pays tribute to an art style that looks like it was either ripped from the front of a school kid’s trapper-keeper, or the graphic from the intro to Saved by the Bell. Also, the main villain’s name is Skullmegeddon, which is freakin’ awesome. It’s an amazing aesthetic that anyone who pumped quarters into the original cabinet could appreciate. All it's missing are some influences from The Crow, which I’m sure will be in there by the final release.
But enough of 80’s excess-let’s talk gameplay. Unfortunately, I was unable to get any hands-on time with the playable demo recently available at PAX East, but some of what I’ve seen is surprising. Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. The first, and most obvious question, is why has WayForward chosen to go with polygonal characters over sprites? Considering their mastery of the medium, many would feel their famous hand drawn sprite work would be more appropriate. Additionally, just looking at them in action, the casual observer would probably remark that they would benefit greatly from tighter animations and better texturing.
I’m not part of the design team, nor have I had any experience with the process of creating a game, but I am experienced with older brawlers, so I can offer some speculative conjecture toward the use of polygons. Often with sprite based games that use this isometric perspective, it becomes very difficult to judge if you are on the same plane as your intended target. Using polygons adds some visual bulk to your character, and may make it easier to determine their position in a 3D space.
One other thing to note from watching the game in motion is that the movement just doesn’t look quite right. It looks as if characters seem to float too much and weigh too much at the same time, and the animation is missing that snappiness and sense of speed you need in any fighting game. As far as this and the other issues go, publisher Majesco has made a statement informing the gaming media that the build they showed at PAX was built from scratch in only a few short weeks, and as such is understandably a little rough. Even in its current form, that’s an impressive result for less than a month’s worth of work. In light of this, I’ll withhold too much judgment, and simply leave my hope that the look and feel of combat will be improved before the game goes gold.
Now, on to the positives. Again, without actually holding a controller in my hands, it’s hard to know for sure, but the hit detection looks good, and it seems as though they’ve gotten that brief pause you expect to see when a blow connects just right. I also noticed that after one character popped an enemy up into the air, his partner was able to get a couple of hits in before he landed, which could lead to fun times for those who enjoy a good air juggle. The enemy weapons you know and love are here in all their glory, and can be used on or thrown at opponents exactly as you would expect.
The music is true to the decade represented, and from what I’ve been able to hear, features the all synth, pop, and crazy guitar solos you can handle. The main theme used in the trailer just sounds incredible with all the improvements to the audio. As someone who grew up listening to and admiring musicians of the decade, I can only say that the quality of the score and the samples used in it are dead on.
While it certainly needs polish, Double Dragon Neon has the potential to be the best representation of the original arcade game since Double Dragon Advance. It gets a lot right, and with a little TLC from WayForward, it could go from passable to a radical, face meltingly awesome experience.