Double Dragon: Neon embraces the cheese and looks good doing it
It’s not a remake; it’s a reimagining, Majesco Entertainment Assistant Product Manager Pete Rosky told XBLA Fans at PAX Prime a moment before handing over the controller. Having taken a trip down memory lane with the original Double Dragon at Philadelphia’s Barcade only a month prior, I was in prime position to discover the truth behind that statement. As it turned out, Double Dragon: Neon plays remarkably like the game that launched the franchise a quarter of a century ago, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Wayforward Technology’s take on the series might have trouble impressing younger gamers, but the PAX demo was an enjoyable romp down memory lane.
Players take control of Billy and Jimmy, with their simultaneously awful and amazing hair and begin whomping on every street tough in site. There’s a fantastic new coat of paint on this aging ’80s muscle car, thus the subtitle, but every curve has that old familiar look and feel. The combat system has a couple of new tricks up its sleeve in the form of throws and special moves, but the kicks, punches and melee weapons are essentially ripped right out of the original. What is presumably either Billy or Jimmy’s girlfriend gets mercilessly slugged and kidnapped in the beginning and the duo brawl through those same old streets on a collision course with the original’s first boss, Abobo, who looks as if he’s sampled more than his fair share of steroids since his last showdown with the boys. And then you walk into a pagoda that turns out to be a spaceship that rockets Billy and Jimmy into space. That, as Rosky explained, is where Neon departs from the original. No kidding.
Bigger hair, bigger bosses, brighter colors and longer distance travel may or may not be enough to justify the reimagining label — you’ll have to wait for our forthcoming review of the full game for that ruling — but they certainly establish a new theme. It’s a completely silly and ridiculous theme, and that feels completely appropriate for an homage to an ’80s brawler that was a lot of things in its day, but never serious. That doesn’t mean the approach was an obvious one for the team to take, though.
“I believe, and I’m speaking for [Wayforward Technologies Game Director] Sean Velasco, the guy that actually designed it,” explained Rosky, “but i’m pretty sure it was originally, ‘We are gonna do Double Dragon.’ Then it was, ‘How are we gonna do it?’ He got a lot of inspiration from movies like Big Trouble in Little China, and then obviously there’s a Warriors reference in there. There’s a ton of good source material, but watching something like Big Trouble really makes me see the bursting colors, over-the-top ‘80s, and they just took it and ran.”
The wild colors weren’t part of the original game plan, then. Double Dragon: Neon was a Double Dragon game first and a neon-infused spectacle second. But what about the other side of the equation? What about the cheese? Did the team purposely go right for the jugular and let the cheese spray all over the place? It did indeed, according to Rosky. “Absolutely,” he said. “I mean, as much as we love Double Dragon and that brawler mechanic that we took very seriously…I mean, it’s the ‘80s. It’s a laughfest. It’s bright. It’s in your face. The soundtrack reflects it, the [voice-overs] and all the characters reflect it. Yeah, we wanted to have fun with this.”
One look at the redesigned Billy and Jimmy makes it clear that the game was never going to steer anywhere near seriousness. They don’t just look silly, though; they also act the part. Players collect cassette tapes to unlock special moves and perform exuberant high-fives to share their health. The baddies aren’t any less over-the-top. Punk biker chicks with whips were part of the original, but they’ve gone to a whole new level here. They’re basically dominatrices in Neon, complete with jiggle physics. Meanwhile, the skeleton boss at the end of the demo intentionally sounds like none other than Skeletor.
It’s an impressive impersonation, especially considering that it wasn’t done by a professional voice actor. “I believe all of the voices were done in-house,” Rosky explained. “We have a great music designer named Jake Kaufman who helped do the sound editing as well. So, basically [he] gathered people up up in the office and had them do voices.”
The boss in question, like the game, is as much an homage to ’80s excess and pop culture as it is to Double Dragon. “Oh yeah, I mean the entire team were huge fans [of Double Dragon],” Rosky said. “We’re all old-school gamers, we’re all children of the ‘80s — you know, we love that stuff.
“We got lucky enough — the company that owns the rights is a company called Million. I don’t know the whole story about how they got the rights to Double Dragon, but they had a relationship with [Yoshihisa] Kishimoto, the creator of the [original] game, and they hooked us up with him on a consulting basis. And he’s been nothing but instrumental in getting this game out.”
Kishimoto didn’t simply slap his seal of approval on the whole thing. There are a few specific elements that he feels should define all Double Dragon games. Rosky told XBLA Fans where Kishimoto’s priorities lay. “I mean as far as hair styles, making sure that weapons can be taken from enemies and used, the whole brawler mechanic in general — he’s been really influential in making sure this feels like Double Dragon,” he said. “And he’s embraced that ‘80s flair as well.”
As a recent Polygon article detailed, the franchise hasn’t always stuck as stringently to Kishimoto’s vision as he would have liked, but Rosky believes the creator is happy with what Wayforward has accomplished with Neon. “Oh absolutely, he’s loving it, he boasted. “He’s definitely a big fan. Like I said, his biggest complaint was the hairstyles. They were a little bit different in the first build, but after that he was a big fan.”
Now that Double Dragon: Neon is out on XBLA and PSN, Majesco and Wayforward will soon be discovering whether or not the rest of the world is equally enamored with it, hair and all.