Review: Double Dragon Neon

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Reboots. Love them or hate them, they seem to be a popular trend right now. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I learned that Double Dragon was getting rebooted as a downloadable title for both PS3 and Xbox 360.

Towards the end of its original run, the Double Dragon series had a really rough go of things. The last couple games in the franchise were dismal. The chronology became convoluted and murky. The motion picture that accompanied the last game was even worse… it seemed like it was all over. Thankfully, the series was redeemed several years later with the release of Double Dragon Advance, a definitive telling of the Double Dragon story, but sales were below expectations. (I admittedly have never played this title).

It seemed like any chance of seeing a new game featuring Billy and Jimmy Lee was long gone. Then the announcement of Double Dragon Neon was made and I took interest. With Technos out of business, the rights to the series have been sold to a company I’ve never heard of; Majesco. What they have brought to the table has certainly got a lot of attention.

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Double Dragon Neon is both a clever reimagining of the series, as well a very meticulous remake. In this game, we see several fan-favorite bad guys and levels redone with all the flair that modern graphics have to offer. Upon first starting the game, there is no mistaking that this is a DD title. Just like the original, it starts off with a group of thugs beating up and marching off with your girlfriend. Followed by the hero appearing and muttering “Awww. Not again!” This first level will be very familiar to fans of the series, everything from the name of the pub at the start of the stage, to the music is right out of the original arcade version. That’s where similarities end, however.

This game is a bit of a tongue in cheek throwback to great fighting games of the 80’s. The whole thing is filled with humorous 80’s nostalgia. The lead character’s banter is a lot less Bruce Lee and a lot more Bill and Ted than I expected. In two-player games, special moves are executed after being proceeded by a “totally radical high-five”. New abilities are unlocked by finding various “mixtapes” left behind by fallen enemies. (Each tape has an appropriately 80’s style soundtrack to go with it).

The whole 80’s-spoof concept does seem a little over the top at first but after a while, I found myself laughing along and really appreciating it. Once you find yourself beating up geisha girls on a rocketship in outer space, you know you’re past the point of no return.

Despite the zany turn of events, the game itself is very well done. It has everything that a fan of the old Double Dragon games will appreciate with a new twist and modern presentation. Just be prepared to laugh a bit. Funny or not, I’d love to see more classic games get this kind of treatment and attention.

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Difficulty: Difficult  – One thing this game has in common with it’s retro counterparts is the level of difficulty. Like most games of this type, you will have to work hard and master the controls to progress very far. However, unlike most of the older games, your progress is saved after each level.

Story: Being a reboot, the story is the same. However, this time the enemy gang is led by a supernatural wise-cracking skeleton.  

Originality: Despite being a remake of an older game, there’s actually a lot of new stuff here. The whole comedic retro concept is a very original idea. The introduction of unlocking special moves by acquiring/forging mixtapes is a great alternative to the standard fare of leveling up via experience points or level progression.

Soundtrack: I cannot say enough good things about the soundtrack to this game. In my review of the original Double Dragon I lamented over how incredible it would be to hear those classic songs done with real instruments – well this game does just that. Many of the classic tunes from both Double Dragon and Double Dragon II are present in the soundtrack for this game. Also included are original 80’s inspired pop songs and even an incredible ridiculous song during the end credits performed by both our heroes and Skullmageddon himself… The best thing about it? You can download the entire game soundtrack for free from doubledragonneon.com. Great, great stuff here!

Fun: I had a total blast plaything this game. It appealed to both the kid and the adult in me. Unless you just have no sense of humor, or absolutely hate fighting games, what’s not to love about this title?

Graphics: This game feature modern style cell shading. So the title has an overall anime/cartoon art direction. I know a lot of people don’t care for cell-shaded games, but I’ve never had a problem with them as long as they are appropriate. Cartoon style Black Ops? No thanks… but for something like this, it’s perfect.

Playcontrol: This game takes advantage of modern controllers. So gone are the days of a two or four button Double Dragon experience. Fans of the original games will need to adjust to the new control scheme, but it falls into place quickly and feels very natural.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I’m a huge fan of this game, and as a result I’m going to look a little bit further in Majesco to see what other games they have out there. For the $10 asking price, you simply cannot go wrong. This is one of the better “online arcade” games I’ve spent my money on in a long time.

Currently available on: Playstation Network, Xbox live Arcade, Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

Canon games:   DD – DD2 DD3 – DD4

Side games:  Super DD -DD5 – DD Neon

 

Review: Double Dragon III

Well, I’ve discussed Double Dragon and Double Dragon II in length, so why not go for a home run and share my thoughts on the third game in the series, Double Dragon III. But, before we get too deep into the discussion, let me clarify something that may not be obvious to everyone – there are technically TWO Double Dragon III’s. As fans of the series know, the first two entries were originally released as arcade titles, then ported to the NES for home use. In most cases, the arcade version proved to be technologically superior, while the NES versions usually ended up being better games – but as a general rule, the storyline and level designs were largely the same overall. That is not the case with Double Dragon III – instead they are two completely different games, each with a slightly different title, yet both of them claim to be the “official sequel”. Confused yet?

The arcade version is called “Double Dragon 3 – The Rosetta Stones“, while the NES version is titled “Double Dragon III – The Sacred Stones“. Both games share a somewhat similar story, but any similarities fall apart pretty quick once you get into the meat of the game. I’m going to go ahead and state up front that nearly anyone you could ask will unequivocally tell you that The Sacred Stones is the better version of the two – in fact, even the authors of the game stand behind this assessment. But let’s talk a little bit about why that is…

As one would expect, the arcade version offers vastly superior graphics and sound. It’s also offers three-person co-operative play. So far, everything sounds great! But there’s one feature of the arcade version that is universally panned: it includes an in-game shop that features items and buffs that can be bought with real money! That’s right, aside from the coins the player must deposit to even play the game, they can pump more quarters into the machine to unlock in-game features. The money-grabbing attempt was so blatant, that many players boycotted the game as a result. In fact, the backlash so severe, that when the game was released outside of the US, this functionality was removed.  Aside from that, game itself was largely unimaginative. By this time, beat-em-up’s were a dime a dozen and Double Dragon 3 offered nothing that allowed it to stand out in a crowd.

(Rosetta Stones – Arcade Version)

 

So now we come to the NES version of the game. Yes, the graphics are inferior and it doesn’t offer the 3-player option of the arcade machine, but as a whole, it manages to be an overall better game.

Like Double Dragon II, this title also offers a cooperative option. What makes this game stand apart from its predecessors, is the introduction of new playable characters. These characters are unlocked as you progress through the game’s levels. Once available, the player can switch between characters at will. Each character offers unique skills and weapons. This offers both a new level of strategy and replayability to the title.

The biggest complaint most players have with the NES version is the difficulty. Unlike all other entries in the series so far, Double Dragon III only offers one life per character. So, being killed early on in the game results in a game-over. But, if you manage to unlock one of the additional characters, even if your primary character is defeated, you can still continue one with one of your others until all characters have been eliminated.  So, even though in a way you do actually have “multiple lives”, that doesn’t change the fact that the game is hard as nails.

In the end, what we have is a very strange but compelling entry in the Double Dragon franchise. This game is an often overlooked oddity in the series.

(Sacred Stones – NES Version)

Difficulty: Hard  – As mentioned above, each character only has one life in which to complete the entire game. There are multiple characters that are unlocked as you proceed, but there’s no denying that this game is extremely punishing.

Story: The story varies slightly depending on which version you are playing… but this is actually the result of localization. In Japan, both the arcade and the NES version share the same story. (The Lee brothers must seek out and locate three sacred stones that will allow them to become the greatest fighters in the world). But for some reason, the US NES version includes another boring narrative involving a kidnapped girlfriend, who can only be located if the heroes find and claim the same “magic stones” referenced in the arcade version. Both scenarios seem a bit lame, but the official NES narrative is just unimaginative at this point.

Originality: I have to give the arcade version some points for trying to be original with their cash-shop… despite it being a terribly greedy thing to do. The NES version also gets some points for introducing new characters to the mix. Sadly, this is deflated a bit by the “done-to-death” story narrative.

Soundtrack: The quality of the chiptunes on the NES version is an improvement over the other games, but sadly the score is largely uninspired and boring. So any technological advantage is pretty much dead in the water,

Fun: I feel like this is a game that had some real potential, but it was completely squashed by it’s extremely high degree of difficulty. For many players, even veteran gamers, the difficulty level feels a little too brutal. So much so, that for many, the game is just simply not very fun to play.

Graphics: The arcade version of the game is miles over the NES version in terms of graphical power. But, putting that aside, this 8-bit game is actually an improvement over the other two NES entries in the series. This is by far the best looking Double Dragon title on the NES.

Playcontrol: By this point, the stiffness and clunkiness that plagued the original game have been refined to the point where the gameplay is fluid and smooth. Hands-down this game offers the smoothest play control of the trilogy thus far. No issues here.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – Despite offering several new features and upgrades from the previous NES version, the extreme level of difficulty and uninspired storyline give players little to hold on to. Rabid fans of the series and sadists are likely to enjoy the title, other players will probably want to give this one a pass.

Currently available on: Currently not available   *** UPDATE:   Wii U Virtual Console (NES version)    Steam (Arcade version) [as of  2015]

Other Reviews In This Series:

Canon games:   DD – DD2 DD3 – DD4

Side games:  Super DD -DD5 – DD Neon

Review: Double Dragon II – The Revenge

I recently discussed the classic arcade/NES title, Double Dragon. So, I figure I’ll go ahead and touch on some of the sequels that it spawned. The first is, of course, Double Dragon II – The Revenge.

Like the original game, DD2 was first released as an arcade title. It was later followed by a version designed specifically for the NES. As one might expect, the arcade version featured superior graphics and sound when compared to the home console version.  The storyline of both ports remains largely the same. At the beginning of Double Dragon II, Marian (the girlfriend of the game’s lead hero) is brutally murdered by the gang members. So, our hero (or heroes) set out to kick some thug-butt and avenge her death.

This time, both the NES and arcade versions feature co-operative play, this is a big plus and was no doubt included due to high demand from fans.

Arcade version of Double Dragon II 

 

Aside from the better graphics and sound, the arcade version of the game actually has a hard time competing with the NES release. The home version features a better narrative and redesigned levels/battles that are almost universally considered to be superior to what is found in the arcade version. This is true to the point that many fans of the series, myself included, actually consider the NES version of Double Dragon II to be the “true” version of the game.

In fact, it’s difficult to understate just how incredible of a game the home version of Double Dragon II is, especially in co-operative mode. When compared to the other games in the original trilogy, DD2 is arguably the best.

This title is a favorite with my kids. It’s actually one of the few games  that they will sit together and play as a team. That’s quite an accomplishment!

NES version of Double Dragon II

 

Difficulty: Variable  – The arcade version features a single level of difficulty, naturally. But the NES version does technically offer three difficulty settings. However, if you want to see the entire game, you’re required to choose Hard mode – as the final level is only available in this mode of play.   That being said, this game is generally quite a bit easier than the original Double Dragon, even in hard mode. Playing co-op with someone who is even slightly competent, lightens the load even more.

Story: This time, we’ve upped the ante from “your girlfriend is kidnapped” to “your girlfriend has been murdered – let go kick their ass!”.   Tropes galore! But, let’s be honest – who expects much in the way of storyline from these types of games.

Originality: On the arcade front, there’s honestly nothing new here. But, for home players the ability to play through the game co-op was a big deal. Even though co-operative games already existed on the NES at this point, having the ability to do so for “Double Dragon” was a godsend.

Soundtrack: The music in this title is nowhere near as good as what you’ll find in the original Double Dragon, but to be honest – few NES games boasted a soundtrack that incredible. All in all, this music is pretty decent and there are indeed a few really catchy tracks but when looking at the big picture, there’s nothing to write home about.

Fun: The game is entertaining on it’s own, but it REALLY shines in co-op mode. If you can scrounge up a friend to play the NES version with you, it makes for a really good time.

Graphics: As mentioned, the arcade version of the game featured state of the art 16-bit graphics (for it’s day), the NES version is still stuck with an 8-bit palette. But, this game does represent an improvement of the original.

Playcontrol: Double Dragon II features a much improved experience from that of the original game. This is true regardless of which version of the game you enjoy. Combos feel tighter and more precise, and the overall ease-of-use is just a better experience by far.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – The NES version of this title is the way to go. It’s a solid title and a classic in the arsenal of any NES collection. Co-op play, improved graphics and playcontrol actually give this title an edge up on it’s predecessor.

Currently available on: Wii Virtual Console (NES version)          * update –  Steam (Arcade version) [as of  2015]

Other Reviews In This Series:

Canon games:   DD – DD2 DD3 – DD4

Side games:  Super DD -DD5 – DD Neon

 

Review: Double Dragon

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There’s always a first time for everything. For me, Double Dragon was the first time I had ever seen a “beat ’em up” game. For all I know, it may have actually been the first of its kind. I first encountered this title in an arcade and it completely blew me away.

The concept behind the game is simple. You’re a hardcore dude from the streets and you have a really smokin’ hot girlfriend. One day, some thug walks up and punches her in the stomach, throws her over his shoulder and takes off with her. Well, that rubs you the wrong way and you (and your brother – if playing in 2-player mode) decide to track him down and get her back. From that point on, it’s one big slugfest all the way to the final boss.

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  Arcade Version of Double Dragon

I spent many many quarters punching and kicking thugs, but I never managed to reach the end. Then one day, I saw an amazing sight. There on the shelf of my local store was Double Dragon for the NES. I begged, pleaded and did a bunch of extra chores – and within a month’s time I had earned my reward… Only to be shocked and somewhat disappointed when I got it home. The NES version of Double Dragon, was nothing like what I had played at the arcade. It was uglier and it seemed very watered down. But, while the NES version was not as pretty as the Double Dragon I saw in that arcade cabinet, for many (including myself) this was the version of Double Dragon that we all came to know and love.

Looking back, I realize that the NES hardware was simply unable to re-create the experience of the arcade machine. The arcade version looked to be a 16-bit game. The color palette and processing power just didn’t exist in a home-based console at the time.

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  NES Version of Double Dragon

By today’s standards, either version of the game is very antiquated. But at the time there was really nothing like it. As you progress through the game you can unlock new moves and fighting abilities. Many of these depend on the direction you are facing mixed with various button combos.  It’s actually quite impressive how much they were able to pack into a controller with only two buttons.

On the NES, once you reach the end of the game, you realize that your lady was actually kidnapped by your twin bother. This is a big difference in terms of storyline from the original arcade version.

While the NES version of the game does feature a standard 2-player mode, it’s not a co-operative system like the arcade version. Instead, it’s a turn-based system. Something else that was a bit of a disappoint for me. However, fear not, in lieu of co-op play, there is an option that allows two friends to engage each other in combat. Sadly, it too is a bit limited in its scope, only allowing two of the same characters to battle each other. Strangely enough, this alternate mode seems to have much better graphics and character detail than the main game.

Despite these limitations, Double Dragon is one of a kind. It spawned several sequels over the years, all of varying quality. The second game in the series is arguably better than the first, while the third is almost universally panned. A fourth and fifth game were released for the SNES, neither gaining much interest. Recently, a reboot of the series was released called Double Dragon Neon. This is a game that I’ll be talking about in great length in another post. For now, I’ll wrap this review up.

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Difficulty: Difficult  – The game starts off easy, but gets tougher as you go. Aside from combating thugs, you eventually have to deal with environmental hazards as well. Everything from pits to booby traps. The stage bosses can also pack quite a punch.

Story: The main premise of “go rescue your girlfriend” has been done to death. But somehow, when put in a street thug setting, it’s somewhat forgivable. The NES version also tries to tie the appearance of repetitive adversaries into something having to do with twins… odd stuff.

Originality: For me at least, this game presented a brand new concept. I had never played a street fighting game before and this title has it all. Martial arts, weapons, what more could you want?

Soundtrack: One of the best things about this game is the music. Hands down. These tracks are awesome. The title music alone is fantastic. I would love to hear the theme played with a real rock band… and that guitar solo. Damn.  I’m sure it’s been done. In fact, I’m going to have to scour the net now to see what I can find. Definately not a disappointment here.

Fun: Overall, this game presents a really good time. Even today, it’s good way to kill an hour or two. I let my nine-year old play it and he had a blast. That’s always a good indicator

Graphics: Even for an NES title, the graphics left a little bit to be desired. Compared to the arcade version, it is garbage. But, It’s not really fair to make that comparison. That being said, Double Dragon 2 is a big step up from the original and it was also an 8-bit title. I feel that a little more time could have spent to improve the look of the game. 

Playcontrol: In my opinion here, the game suffers a bit. The play control can at times, feel a little imprecise. Messing up combo moves happens often, and a lot of the time it really feels like you nailed it right on. After a while, you do tend to get the feel for things, but it just seems harder than it should be.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – There’s a lot about the NES port of the game that was wrong. But there’s equally a lot of things about it that are done right. This is definitely a title that’s recommended for anyone who enjoys retro games, despite it’s flaws, it’s a classic. 

Currently available on: Wii Virtual Console (NES version)          * update –  Steam (Arcade version) [as of  2015]

Other Reviews In This Series:

Canon games:   DD – DD2 DD3 – DD4

Side games:  Super DD -DD5 – DD Neon