Looking Back at WayForward

Every single time I have sat down to play Double Dragon Neon I am almost always a little drunk. I don't mean that as a way to detract from what the game does well. I mean it in that I am almost always drawn to the game in a specific mood. I was inspired to go back and take a second look at this game after finishing WayForward Technologies's new game, River City Girls, and because, well, I was a little drunk. I wanted to compare these two games as they both look at the 80s, and the series they are part of, in different ways. A smarter person would write this about nostalgia and how these two games view the 80s and their influences through different lenses but, you have me instead so let's talk about how they play.

"Dude," I will say, "You have to check out this Double Dragon game."

Double Dragon Neon is a 2012 release that is more of a parody then a proper sequel of the Double Dragon series. The game references "Bro" culture early on and uses it throughout the whole game as a fallback for somewhat comedic effect. You do "Bro" things, like hi-five to get double damage or split health between players, say bro a bunch, and punch Abobos. It revels in 80s nostalgia with power ballads and a boss that is definitely Mega Man. The game uses a "stance" system where you level up with dropped items (cassettes) that increase damage done or power up special moves. The game is substantially different than the series it supposedly belongs to. The soundtrack is where the parody goes from standard tropes to something unique and really well done. Go listen. All of this culminates as a more overt love letter to the 80s than creating a new Double Dragon game. The license of Double Dragon let's Wayforward ground the game in a specific time and place, allowing for cultural shorthand that it can use or subvert.

It just looks so freaking cool.
It just looks so freaking cool.

Wayforward has gone on to prove that they don't need "Bro" culture with their 2019 release of River City Girls. Gone are all of the hyper-macho bro stuff, replaced with stylish characters and real personalities. River City Girls is also more a direct line to the River City series than Neon is to Double Dragon. You go buy things in stores, gaining power by eating unique things and picking up and beating people with other people. The soundtrack is used to evoke a very specific lens of the 80s. Instead of a parody of 80s power ballads, it drops the jokes from Neon for a vulnerable 80s and modern pop influence instead. Go listen as the soundtrack is incredible here as well. While Neon jokes, "Remember this dude!" River City Girls gives you a vision of the here-and-now with all of the influence attached and brought to a more modern age. The pixel art goes a long way over Double Dragon Neon's polygonal models to deliver something much more specific to the series the game is part of.

I would say Double Dragon Neon is actually the game I enjoy playing more. I like the combat, it is easier to jump in at the onset, and it's easy to drunkly hand a controller to a friend and explain. River City Girls wants you to pay attention and enjoy the story. I am substantially more likely to play River City Girls alone than with others as the systems are pleasantly complicated but it can be hard to have a friend jump in if you haven't been leveling both characters. River City Girls feels like a smarter and more sophisticated game. Maybe that's why I keep returning to Double Dragon Neon with a six pack and a friend in tow.