Last december, at the start of the *snort* Primary Gifting Period, I was generously given Double Dragon Neon by my brother. It is, of course, a remake of the classic 80s beat-’em-up Double Dragon.
The plot goes thus: The villainous magical skeleton Skullmageddon has kidnapped Marian, girlfriend of martial artist Billy Lee, who (aided by his brother Jimmy if 2 players are available) must slap, kick and wrestle through Skullmageddon’s army of goons to rescue her.
The game plays just like the original games, with very little by way of innovation in the gameplay, which is pretty much the point. This is a glorious homage to the 1987 classic, and the dialogue between the Lee brothers and the other characters is full of radical 80s-ness. The 80s references don’t end with Double Dragon, though – one boss fight has a distinct Megaman flavour, and I get the odd whiff of Little Shop of Horrors from another. The primary antagonist himself isn’t exactly clean of 80s references either:
Skullmageddon really makes this game. He stays off-screen for most of it, relaying orders to his army via loudspeaker whilst kvetching and grumbling at his nemeses’ continued success and his minions’ incompetence. Whilst his endless series of bone-related puns is a bit grating, his occasional violations of the 4th wall to lambast the game design and the convertion of genre are hilarious. They could be said to form the backbone of the game’s humour, a-hahahahaaa! Oh blimey, he’s got me at it, now. SPOILERS AHEAD: Once he’s finally defeated, Skullmageddon sings a
humerus humorous musical number whilst the credits roll.
It’s not just 80s pop culture and fashion that fuels DDN: there’s a big fat dose of 80s sexism, served with a dash of “ain’t we awful” irony. I’m not sure it’s everyone’s cup of tea – anyone who came to this game without being familiar with the “source material” might find it a wee bit offensive that most of the female characters (particularly early on) are whip-wielding sex workers who derive perverse pleasure from being beaten up by the player.
Not every female character in DDN is a lady of the night, though. The steampunk female rocketeers who appear in the “Some Kind of Lab” level are pretty awesome, and are probably the game’s most challenging enemies in my opinion, since they can avoid poorly-timed attacks with impunity.
One of DDN’s few concessions to (relative) modernity is that the player can spend in-game money obtained from defeated enemies to buy cassettes to add songs to Billy’s mixtape – you can select two songs, one which adds a passive bonus to your abilities, and one which adds an additional attack to your repertoire. These collectibles make the harder difficulty settings of the game less crushingly difficult, and of course, collecting tapes and Mythril (the magic metal that cassettes are allegedly forged from in DDN) adds some replay value if you’re addicted to collecting things. Almost all of the items in the shops can also be found by beating the stuffing out of Skullmageddon’s goons, or smashing your way through objects in the landscape, which is cool, because you’re going to do that anyway.
In conclusion, DDN is a deliberately-retro stack of clichés aimed squarely at the nostalgia market, but the game that underlies all these 1980s jokes pretty damn fun and has a reasonable amount of replay value for the dirt-cheap price (seven quid on Steam) they’re charging for it. I’ve got a dozen hours of fun out of it, and I expect to get at least that many more, which is pretty good for less than the price of a movie. Just don’t go in expecting it to be clever or innovative – DDN has no pretension of being either – and you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment.