Think "Big Trouble in Little China"
My experiences with Double Dragon came from the days I spent with my brothers, arguing constantly about which one of us was supposed to be keeping an eye on Abobo before he tossed us both unceremoniously out of a helicopter door and back to the first stage. Countless hours were spent trying to overcome a near endless horde of whip-wielding ladies and guys who punched you in the jaw five times if you blinked. We never actually beat those games, and looking at the mess that is the Double Dragon storyline (and calling it that is being generous), It's probably for the best.
So when I learned that Double Dragon Neon both existed and was free for Playstation Plus members, I was instantly willing to at least give it a shot. Immediate reaction? The music was fantastic. I had some misgivings about the constant use of "Bro" in the menus, but hitting New Game and being greeted by Marion's instant kidnapping was all it took to get me back in the mood to punch faces and throw dudes.
I did realize that the controls were a bit different from the last Double Dragon I remembered playing- I had a light and strong attack, punches and kicks respectively, I had a jump, jump attacks, ducks and dodge rolls that when timed properly gave double damage bonuses- all that time with Bayonetta was about to pay off! Just when I was set to Leg-sweep and flying knee my way to victory, a cassette tape dropped- this being the 80s, I was compelled to pick it up, at which point I learned that Billy Lee could now throw fireballs.
The cassette tapes are probably the biggest change to the classic Double Dragon formula; Not only do they give you access to everything from Knee Drops to the legendary One-Inch-Punch, you can equip a stat-boosting cassette to give you bonuses in whatever area you want. Yes, that's right, Stats in a double dragon game. Want higher defense and more health? Training Wheels. Want to absorb health every time you punch something? Got that too. Want to focus on weapons found in the environment? Why not?!
Being me, I found the one with the biggest attack boost and stuck with it- sure, Abobo killed me in like four hits even in the end game, but I was messing dudes up. You can increase the bonuses by collecting multiple copies of each tape from the enemies, and upgrade further using items you get from the boss battles. What it amounts to is that you have plenty of tools to make your trip through Double Dragon easier in whatever way you want- and after all the hell these games put me through as a kid, I was totally down for that.
And then stage 2 happened, and I got shot into space to fight a magic skeleton who's basically a more physically threatening Lo Pan. When I mentioned Big Trouble in Little China, I was not kidding even a little. I beat him, went through the obligatory Airlock stage where an ominous door pulled enemies and items alike to their dooms, and fought my way back to earth, where I punched to death Tanks, Clones, Robots, and a Giant Plant Monster with both Shark and Tyrannosaurus heads. The entire time new enemies were being introduced, the old ones got makeovers to fit the new environments, and things were constantly amazing. It hit every note that the original Double Dragons did, and more- I was loving every second of it.
Perhaps the biggest shame of all is that my brother and I don't play games together that much anymore. Even if we did, I probably couldn't have convinced him to spend a few hours going through a Double Dragon game with me; I'm pretty sure he has a Pavlovian response of controller-throwing when he even hears the names Billy or Jimmy. So, sad to say, I missed out on the chance for Bro-Op and high fives, but I still feel pretty good about having gone stag for this mission. Finishing a Double Dragon game- even if it wasn't the same as the ones I played as a kid, and even if I did have a bevvy of power ups to get me through- it felt good. Having tried to play Double Dragon 2 since this game, I feel even better about it.
It's not the same Double Dragon from when I was a kid. That's for the best, I think, because Neon still manages to capture everything that I remember about the old games, and update it, play with it, poke fun at itself and the absolute ridiculousness that is the Double Dragon franchise. If your best memories of Double Dragon involved playing it with a friend, a relative, or even just jumping for joy at sending Abobo out of an open helicopter door, then this game will probably tick all the right boxes.