Double Dragon Neon review

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Street Fighter and Metal Gear might be taking all the headlines, but Double Dragon is also turning 25 this year. While Capcom is spending half a million dollars on tournament prizes and Snake gets an open-world game in a new engine, the sole sign of Technos Japan’s arcade beat ’em up marking its quarter-century is this downloadable reboot from WayForward Technologies.

And the clue’s in the name, really: Neon riffs on nostalgia from start to finish, with a cheerfully cheesy hair metal soundtrack, Bill & Ted styled protagonists, and numerous ’80s references peppering an often hilarious script. Thankfully, the original game’s rudimentary controls have been brought up to date – almost, anyway – with separate buttons for punches, kicks, jumping and grabs, while ducks, dashes, dodges and special moves are mapped to the triggers and shoulder buttons. Some stilted animation means it feels clunky at times, but there’s a decent combat system here, with juggles, wall bounces and corner combos all present and correct.

But it’s the special moves that make all the difference. Defeated enemies drop cassette tapes containing one of 20 different ‘songs’, half of which contain a new attack, while the other half unlock stat-boosting stances. You can only use one of each at a time, and we struggled to look past the combination of Spin Kick, with its vacuum-like power to suck in surrounding enemies and temporary invincibility, and Absorb, which gives you a little extra health for every successful hit.

And you’ll need both, because while Neon is a straightforward arcade romp on normal difficulty, the higher tiers are punishing in the extreme. Here, occasionally wonky collision detection means you can lose two-thirds of your health to a single attack that didn’t look like it even connected. Neon’s clearly been designed with co-op in mind, and it’s tremendous fun with company, especially when you can isolate an aggressor, pop him into the air and keep ping-ponging him back and forth long after his energy bar’s depleted.

Bizarrely for a game so clearly designed for two, there’s no support for online co-op. WayForward’s working on a patch, but it really should have been here from the start. Unaided solo players at the moment will either have to grind through normal to upgrade specials and stances to overcome the higher difficulties, or just take their chances alone. That aside, this is a smart, funny and faithful update to a game that hasn’t aged well, and another feather in WayForward’s retro cap.