Monday, 16 December 2013

Double Dragon Neon

There's a wave of this situation running through, not only video games, but the movie industry as well. This being, the almost accursed situation of the Remake. While films have been around long enough for people to see the 2nd and 3rd wave of this happening, Gaming is getting to the point that games themselves are starting to be re-made for the modern era of gaming. Granted that some games are updated for each generation of console or next iteration of PC gaming, but sometimes a game that's been left to the side for a significant period, are now being picked up and made into (almost) the same game as before with bumped up graphics and new features. Double Dragon Neon is this for the original Double Dragon, but at the same time, goes way above and beyond just a simple remake.

This game, firstly, is so heavily saturated in the 80s you'll be expecting Rick Astley to turn up and slap you repeated in the face with a Sinclair C5 while strumming a guitar made out of a Commodore 64 machine. Ok perhaps not that 80s, but certainly disco 80s with the over-the-top neon colours that now heavily populate this version of Double Dragon. Even if nothing else, the game will be heavily show itself through a rather large abundance of references to 80s paraphernalia and the original game while also introducing one of the most memorable villains to grace a video game in quite some time, not for BEING a villain but for being one of the most amusing, self-referentially humorous and over the top behaviour and lines from any villain.

The plot, for those not alive around 1987 onwards, is that someone decides that Marion (excessively busty and leggy in this iteration) will make a great girlfriend for themselves and has her abducted, not realising that her boyfriend and his brother are "Double Dragons" who will punch, kick, combo, power move and use a variety of weapons and other such items to battle their way through the game and into the inevitable final showdown with Skullmageddon, who is little more than a modernised version of Skeletor from the He-Man cartoon and more Ham than a pig abattoir. To great comedic effect.

I'm serious, I couldn't stop laughing when I realised on pausing the game while fighting this boss, advised me to "punch me in the stomach while I'm swinging my sword and I'll stop! There, I just saved you a trip to the internet!". While in other times, was moaning about how it's ok for me to pause the game in a fight but not for him to do it. Throughout almost the whole game, he'll drop in every comment and hang every lampshade on any situation while punning everything he can about bones that one could think of. "Not very HUMOROUS!" to the point you can't help but sympathise with the supposedly ineffective villain until he under goes his entirely predictable, but equally welcomed, final transformation into ... Giga Skullmageddon armed up with blades and mechanics much in the same way most final bosses would transform into beefed up versions of themselves in other games from the original times (The 80's in case we forgot).

Game play is your usual brawl-em-up, punching kicking, throwing, block-countering while the specials are made up from collecting mix-tapes (and reviving your partner is done by winding the magnetic tape back into a mix-tape while using a pencil in the hole, only 80s people will get this one). Each tape can be used to power up specific special moves which do need to be selected in another menu rather than being learned as a move/combo. Which does interrupt game play somewhat but the trade-offs is the simplicity of the combat being just one button for the move. Statuses can be attributed in the same way in that you'll pick a set that can boost power but drop defence, balance all the stats, focus on massive defence but no real attack for the tank types, draining stats and health from other enemies at reduced stats overall, allowing for a multitude of game play types and techniques that either can be selected and forgotten or changed during the game, mid-level, to fit into the requirements the player might have for that particular situation.

The bosses are ridiculous in an amusing, Over The Top way, and just as filled with references and tropes as the final boss is. Ranging from Abobo in the original game, to a mega-man clone on a space station (everything goes to space in the end), giant plant based on Audrey 2 (with a shark head flower and dinosaur head flower... yep it's there) a giant tank based on an original Double Dragon 2 boss, Skullmageddon a few times for the sake of it. A few clones named on the typo made in the 3rd original Double Dragon (Bimmy and Jimmy, as if the spell check wasn't an option back then) and several other over-the-top characters and situations. Such as fighting against an upside-down flying helicopter, or sliding down a tundra on a plant's lower jaw, or fighting in space and breaking screens only for Skullmaggeddon to take the cost out of another minion's pay packet.

It's over the top and fun. The actual combat is slightly formulaic if you watch the movement patterns of the enemies, allowing you to goad them into specific movements, or rather disastrously, recognise when someone's going to be butchering you mercilessly because you know an attack is incoming and there's nothing you can do to counter it. Almost a death by slow motion. But there's enough there to mix up the combat itself and try some more impressive moves and techniques but people usually won't do that. They'll find a combo that works well for them and stick to it. Changing only if they encounter an enemy for which that method is entirely ineffective against.

The music tracks, composed/remixed by Jake Kauffman (known for the music in Retro City Rampage, Duck Tales remastered, Contra 4 and a whole host of other games over the last decade or so), certainly show their origins, most of which are remixes or retuning of earlier games' music, particularly of the first game, and given that oh-so-generic treatment the 80s is famous for and it hits the mark nearly every time, a little miss here and there on the more out-of-place levels and you'll realise those when you encounter them. Humour and sound bytes are rife in the game, in particular when Bill and Ted sorry... Billy and Jimmy, end up sounding like some "Valley-type, cool-dude" kids and manage to sound idiotic at the same time. Case in point, grabbing a baseball bat, slamming an enemy only to hear "Touchdown!" shouted to great enthusiasm. Its little tweaks like that and the other use of very bad puns that shine through with the pseudo-campy humour.

It can get a little awkward in places however, especially when it comes to the issue of the shops and the weapon smith. Each level on the map screen, where your character is personified by the Double Dragon 2 NES sprites, has details as to whether there is access to a shop or weapon smith. Shops sell items and tapes, such as food and health regens, extra lives etc. Weapon smiths take the gems you get from killing actual boss monsters and uses them to upgrade powers, which is all well and good but the shop becomes particularly annoying for this particular gripe. The gripe being, that the shops cannot be visited straight-away but must, I repeat, MUST be found in the middle of a level in order to attain the power ups required. The shops in this method are more annoying as not every shop has every item and some of the shops are in fact, hidden within levels i.e. on secret routes and within breakable entrances that one normally wouldn't seek to find. Only THERE can you buy more of the items to max out your abilities, stats and power moves. Rather than just walking into a shop.

Like one would expect. Each time I go shopping, I go to a specific shop and BUY it, I don't have to run through a level of death and carnage, facing down adversaries and dropkicking people through walls and racing around deadly tracks of blood, guts, gore and explosions... Except when I go shopping and need to take the M25... and arrive at Lakeside... Yeah I take that whole point back; it's still fucking annoying though to have to play a level to get to a shop.

The engine for the game however is fairly solid, except in circumstances where the game somehow manages to slam you into an obstruction, which causes damage, to bounce into another one, then into a 3rd one and results in your death by this point. Namely more possible on the higher difficulties and even more awkward is this pseudo 3D movement, in where pressing up would normally move you into the background on levels, and down moves you into the foreground. Some levels will START this way, but change to being entirely 2D and having NO means of moving back and forward, which then necessitates a change in tactic and means of combat that normally wouldn't have been an issue. When the game then punishes you for NOT being able to adapt to this arbitrary change soon enough, that becomes the dick-slap to the face from the game. Hardly fair and not in the slightest part enjoyable, even if you do like dick-slaps from non-game sources.

The game does feel awkward however with the lack of online support. It's a little odd when you realise that the original arcade game was released with online-support (buggy and laggy but THERE) and to not have it included in this game makes it feel like there's been a rather missed opportunity here for greater potential. Perhaps they've not been given rights to, or there's an issue with the network coding, or the game just doesn't translate well for netplay, all could be valid reasons but there's the fact that the game is missing one of the fundamental aspects of multiplayer in this day and age that, ought to have been included and increase the potential market for the game's fan base to those wanting to play it online with friends that can't turn up to the house like the old days.

Seems not everything in Double Dragon Neon is as revamped as it purports itself to be. While it remains a good solid game that sticks almost lovingly to the original source, the game does trip itself up a few times in relying too heavily upon nostalgia factors.