There’s no denying it. If you grew up playing NES games in the 1980s like I did, you were absolutely enthralled by titles like Battletoads, Contra and Renegade. We look back at many of those games with rose-tinted glasses and it is precisely because of that nostalgic appeal that we find ourselves looking at Double Dragon Neon today.

That’s right. Billy and Jimmy are back on the streets for some side-scrolling beat-em-up action again. The graphics and some of the gameplay elements have been jazzed up for the 21st century, but it’s obvious enough that Majesco Entertainment and WayForward are capitalizing on the retro appeal of this franchise. I’m having a look at the Xbox Live Arcade version, but it should be identical to the PSN version you’ll find on PS3. Will you love it as much as the original? Let’s find out.

Still Side-Scrolling

At its core, the idea here is largely unchanged from the games you would have played in the arcades during the 80s and 90s. You start at the left end of a stage, you side-scroll to the right and beat up some baddies along the way, and then you probably fight some sort of boss character at the end before moving on to the next stage. The fighting is mostly done with mashing buttons and, like the original, you can pick up some of the weapons that the bad guys drop.

Not surprisingly, damsel in distress Marian has once again been kidnapped, so your ultimate objective is to rescue her from super bad guy Skullmageddon. Along the way, you’ll meet teleporting geishas, scientific abominations, and standard issue hired goons. Punch, kick and throw your way to glory.

More Complex Controls

When they revamped the TMNT franchise a few summers ago, they kept the control scheme the same. You have jump and you have attack. That’s not what they did with Double Dragon Neon. While you can certainly play with just light attack and jump, you’ll be missing out on 75% of the new control scheme.

First, there are both light and strong attacks. Either of these can be mashed for combos and you can even use them in tandem for some interesting air juggle effects. There’s also a grab button for throws (only on stunned enemies), plus a run button, a duck button, and a button for special attacks. This is not going to be particularly daunting for most gamers, but it certainly isn’t as simple as what we had during the 8-bit mashing era.

The RPG-Like Elements

Continuing with the added layers of complexity are the somewhat RPG-like elements. As you make your way through the ten stages, you’ll pick up a series of “mixtapes” (there’s the 80s nostalgia again). These come as one of two types. One type contains a “song” that gives you continual boosts to some attributes, like your defense or your attack power. The other type contains the special move, which you utilize with the RB button.

The added complexity is that you can only equip one of each at a time, but each of these can be leveled up. For example, if you have five of the “Balanced” mixtape songs, you effectively have a level 5 upgrade. Pick up another “Balanced” mixtape and you get level 6. You max out at level 10 initially, but this can be expanded by visiting one of the “forging” shops, getting you to max out at 20, 30, and so on.

The story isn’t nearly as deep as something like The Walking Dead, but you can see how Double Dragon Neon goes well beyond the 80s formula of walking from left to right, jamming on the attack button until you finish the level. This adds some depth to what could have otherwise been a very repetitive experience.

Double the Dragon, Double the Fun

Of course, you’ll extract the most fun in multiplayer. You can’t get four simultaneous players like you would in a game like Ugly Americans, but you can have two players: one as Jimmy and the other as Billy. Aside from the color of their wardrobe, they are identical.

Each of you can level up your mixtape and special move individually; these can be equipped from the special menu accessed by pressing the “back” button on your Xbox controller. While it is certainly easier playing two-player than by yourself, there are other added advantages. When one partner is downed, the other can revive him by mashing on the B button. This brings up an animation of spinning the reel on a cassette tape with a pencil.

There is also the ability to do “tag” moves together. You do this with the right analog stick, asking for a “high five” from your buddy. There are “high five” moves to share health and increase attack power, as well as ones to steal health and do team attacks.

Some of the special moves are fairly standard, like doing a hurricane kick in place to clear out some of your enemies. These utilize your “magic” meter, which slowly regenerates over time. Some of the other special moves are much more intense, like the dragon-themed one shown above. For some reason, that reminds me of the magic moves in Golden Axe, but I digress.

MEGATechie Totally Awesome or MEGATechie What a Bummer?

I went into Double Dragon Neon with some rather low expectations. A lot has changed in the video game industry since the 1980s. While I don’t see DDN competing against AAA titles like Assassin’s Creed or Black Ops, it is probably one of the better games that you can get for ten bucks on XBLA or PSN.

Having the Double Dragon name attached to the game certainly helps too and, as cheesy as they may be, the retro-inspired elements kind of work. I found myself smiling more often than not as I mashed my way through the levels. That said, the combat mechanic definitely felt “clunky” at times, but that’s how fighting in the original Double Dragon felt too. I’m not sure I’d come back to DDN again and again, but for a nostalgic novelty factor, this is a fun distraction. Online multiplayer is coming in a future patch too, which should help a lot.

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