When we last previewed Double Dragon Neon, at PAX East, it was still early enough in the development that tweaks and changes would be happening almost daily. We knew things were still in progress, but we had our doubts as to what the brawler could offer that was new.
Now that we’ve had more hands-on time with the game here at E3, we can see how much progress has been made in the last two months. Hint: a heckuva lot.
Double Dragon Neon isn’t a remake of any classic; it’s an all new game. It uses the retro brawler template — side-scrolling beat ‘em up with swarms of enemies, a collection of weapons and loot, and a final boss at the end — but amplifies the word “retro” by mixing in stylistic elements from the Eighties. It’s not subtle, either. Pink and blue hair, neon and strobe lights, clothing designs, and graphical elements on signs all feel like we’re watching episodes of VH1′s “Big in the 80s” on a Saturday morning.
Developers WayForwad commissioned renowned artist Genzoman (of DeviantArt fame) to help design the visuals for the game. The look of the game reminds me of a modern anime; characters rendered in 3D with some slight cell-shading offset against a hand-painted background.
The aesthetic works its way into the game’s new skills system, too. Being called the “Mixtape System”, skills are divided into two categories: A-sides and B-sides. The game’s music can be unlocked as the action progresses, with each song corresponding to a different skill. The A-Side skills are active abilities: fireballs, grenades, elbow drops, etc. The B-Side skills are passive buffs, and can even upgrade A-Side abilities in some cases. After each level is complete, the heroic team of Billy and Jimmy visit the Tapesmith, the game’s upgrade shop. The game’s music augments the experience, consisting of remade classic Double Dragon songs and new songs in the Eighties style, with every Mixtape track being a new creation.
I had a chance to play the first few levels of the game — with the PR rep even mentioning that the E3 demo wasn’t really made to go as far as we did during the show — and tried several of the moves. We began on a very typical first street level, beating up on afro’ed hipsters and whip-wielding babes. Eventually we met an updated version of Abobo, now much more giant and Hulk-like. Along the way we blasted open boxes, picked up weapons and money, and threw wrenches. We rocketed off into space, landed in an Asian town, saw hip-hop dancers with space helmets fall from the sky. Pretty bad-ass.
The game plays pretty easy, too. Each move and jump is mapped to a different button, with crouching mapped to the left trigger that modifies the attacks into sliding kicks and swipes. The only issue I had was running. To do so I had to hold the right trigger for a split second, beginning the run in the direction that I was facing. Running was constant unless interrupted by an enemy’s attack or a move that I used. It was a little tedious, and in the end I gave up running all together in favor of sliding or jumping.
Though the game can be played solo, the real focus is “Bro-Op”. Yep. Bro-Op, maybe our favorite buzz word of E3 this year. It’s essentially just a drop-in/drop-out multiplayer, but one that is exemplified by combos that two players can create together. And high-fives, too. By tapping one of the directional d-pad buttons, the players will high-five each other for various effects, based on who initiated the fiver. This includes attack bonuses, health bar sharing, and more. It’s a fun addition, and one that I took full advantage of throughout the level as I kept nearing death and needed a health boost.
The game felt much better playing with another person as it (like most other brawlers) could suffer from repetition fatigue. WayForward is planning on the game tapping in at 8 hours in length, and so is putting their focus on all-new characters and enemies each level, not just palette swaps.
With the additions made to the game, it’s progressed extremely well over the last two months. Since it releases this Summer on XBLA and PSN, I’m expecting most of the changes to be in place. And I’m expecting my online friends to be ready to High-Five… often.