What other beat-'em-up has your character jamming out to air guitar riffs at the end of each level? None I know of, besides Double Dragon Neon. This nostalgic brawler is merely a download away, and with a cheap price of admission, it's easy to play right now. And you should do so immediately, because it's one of the most stylish, difficult, and delightfully goofy games out there. If you can't surrender yourself to its gaudy, straightforward fun, then darn it, I feel sorry for you.
Neon is the 2012 reboot of the storied Double Dragon franchise, from the elite old-school-gaming experts at WayForward. Most gamers fondly remember Billy and Jimmy Lee, Double Dragon's fraternal leads, from their adventures during the 8- and 16-bit eras. But, for whatever reason, I missed out on the series as a kid. I guess I was more of a Battletoads kind of guy (crossover game notwithstanding). The upside was that I had no reason to see the atrocious live-action movie; the downside was that it would be years before I knew the glory that is Bo Abobo.
Now technically, I was only alive for two years of that legendary decade known as 1980s America. And yet, I feel a deep affinity for all things '80s. " Take on Me," " True," and " Head Over Heels" are but a few of my all-time favorite jams (though my '80s music credibility took a hit when I only recently learned who/what Depeche Mode is). Animated cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Real Ghostbusters, and Thundercats defined my childhood. And yes, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is by far the best in the series.
I think that--entirely by accident--I experienced Double Dragon Neon in the best way possible: playing it after a screening of Miami Connection. This camp-tastic, cult-status kung fu flick is so, so hilarious, rivaling The Room for most unintentionally funny film of all time. It chronicles the quest of optimistic, rock-and-roll-loving bandmates, who must use their Taekwondo skills and the power of friendship to thwart a gang of drug-trafficking ninjas. It's amazing, and I highly recommend it. Coincidentally, Double Dragon Neon captures everything that makes Miami Connection such a ridiculous good time, pairing perfectly with the film like an artisanal cheese to wine.
Like many PSN Plus members, I downloaded Double Dragon Neon on a whim. Within seconds, I was totally enamored with the '80s vibe that saturates every aspect of the game. Said vibe wallops you in the face at first blush of Neon's art style. The 100% linear levels are drenched in bright pinks, deep reds, and electric blues, and the characters pop off the screen thanks to the masterful designs of Genzoman (whose style you may recognize from stellar pieces of Street Fighter and World of Warcraft fanart). All your favorite street thugs from the original DD are here, alongside a new villain: Skullmageddon, an ornately armored lich who speaks purely in hilarious, high-pitched threats a la Skeletor.
But it's the music that'll really send '80s-fueled endorphins rushing through every inch of your body. Genius composer Jake Kaufman (see: Mighty Switch Force!) gives Neon's soundtrack a sense of '80s authenticity, despite the fact that it mostly consists of remixes of the NES game's trademark themes. Even better: your fighter equips new moves using with unlockable cassette tapes, which play ditties that perfectly imitate the musical stylings of Rick Astley, Marvin Gaye, Beastie Boys, and Wang Chung, among others. Maybe I'm just weird, but the sound design of Double Dragon Neon makes me feel so gleefully happy I could cry.
Luckily, the gameplay slapped me across the face before I could get all misty eyed. Double Dragon Neon is hard, thanks in part to how stiff the controls initially feel. Compared to other modern brawlers, which emphasize mobility and user-friendly combo strings, DDN feels a lot more methodical, and button mashing will get you nowhere. That said, it's the best kind of difficulty: fair, always rewarding the player's tenacity and pattern-studying.
So there you have it. Double Dragon Neon is a great game, with or without context. But if you have any appreciation for '80s culture, its value reaches astronomical levels. Watch Miami Connection (which is you can stream on Netflix) with some buddies, then play Double Dragon Neon solo or with a like-minded friend. I guarantee you will be loving your life.
Looking for stuff to play outside of the stuff we already tell you to play on a daily basis? You're in luck! Every Saturday we'll recommend a game for you to check out, complete with a story on how we found the game and why we recommend you play it.