Good on ya, WayForward Technologies. You actually got one right. It's nice to see a couple things, like a game that can be retro without pixellated graphx, a game that can make references without spelling them all out, and a game that doesn't cave to the childish whims and forethoughts of an age gone sour with bad.
WayForward is a company that I sometimes call "Letdown Games, Overrated Games, or WhyForward Games". Whyforward? Because for some reason whenever the world says "new game from WayForward on the wayforward!", I get all excited and think, cool, these guys are the real deal. Then I think back and say, wai(forward)t a minute, what good games did they make again? Contra 4 wasn't that special and was ruined by being on DS, Boy and His Blob was pretty good but pretty flawed, that Bloodrayne game was awful, Batman: Brave/Bold seems reallllllll weak, and the rest is a litany of other licensed and forgettable titles. Ohhhhhhh right, Shantae. Man some people really love talking about Shantae. Never got it to work on my GBA emulator, sorry. So when I saw Double Dragon Neon and heard all the bad buzz the previews were making, I was like, hey, no surprise, another slightly below average WayForward game.
I was totally wrong and I'm here to admit that I will admit that to you, in writing, at a later date TBA. DDN plays great, it's chockablock with retro and contemporary game and film references, it has the best sense of humor of any game I've played in a while (if there's one thing most games fail at miserably, it's comedy; I'M LOOKING AT YOU TWISTED PIXEL), and it's not afraid to keep up the pace instead of sitting on its haunches. It also could be hard except that it's not, and the reviewers complaining about the checkpoints must just be really, really, really, really, really, really, really fucking awful at playing. It is not hard at all. It's actually pretty easy, I think every level I beat on my first go (up to 8 now). The game gives you like FUCKING THREE LIVES AND A TON OF 1UPS! THOSE ARE YOUR CHECKPOINTS YOU FUCKING IDIOTS!
So as to the jokes. They're there and they're funny, there isn't much else I can say without spoiling them. There's a surface layer of comedy which is kind of slap you in the face stupid, the kind you see in a lot of games these days that think they're Whacky and Willing to Break the Fourth Wall, like Comic Jumper or Bionic Commando Rearmed. There's also a second level on which it works to parody these games with a deadpan, unflinching delivery of the Whackdom.
|DDN brings back this gimmick, but this |
time you don't lose a life when you fall out
The enemies and gameplay mixups are a lot more ambitious then what you see in common retro beat-em-ups, or actual retro beat-em-ups. Double Dragon was actually like that back in the day - true, it did come before the brawler formula had really been nailed to the cross by games like Final Fight and Streets of Rage, so it's hard to say whether this was stuff that DD added or stuff that successors took out, but the games did have their platforming and their strict 2D segments and their helicopters levels and stuff. Other classic brawlers are more mundane and pretty religiously stick to the formula, rarely adding more than an occasional vehicle level or bowling ball rolling down the street.
As such, modern throw-backs have been terribly timid and in fact sort of tarnished the name of the genre by treating this lack of creativity as a rule. It's considered OK for games like Scott Pilgrim and Castle Crashers to rely on extremely drawn out repetition because "hey, that's just what a brawler is!" Well, Double Dragon Neon isn't happy settling on that cop out. Every level has something different, something to remember, like an airlock, an assault chopper, robo-enemies a la X-Men, and so on. Okay well almost every level. I think level two plays it pretty straight. Otherwise, the game is always introducing something new.
This is exactly what I've been saying makes a great and memorable experience, like Vanquish or RE4. Always be doing something new. Because if the player just wants the vanilla experience, hey, nothing is stopping them from putting level 1 on repeat and digging in. So the developers don't need to force that with artificial padding. And if it means your game is only two hours long, GREAT. I have other things to play, and now I actually might come back to this!