Review

Double Dragon Neon

Big Trouble In Little 1980

Double Dragon Neon transcends the trappings of easy satire.

By Anthony John Agnello • September 17, 2012

The 1986 film Big Trouble In Little China excels not just because of Kurt Russell’s sweet monologues or Kim Catrall’s hot eyes. No, John Carpenter’s tribute to kung fu cinema stands out for its mastery of the sweet spot between satire and earnestness. Double Dragon Neon is drunk on that movie’s spirit. When you fire it up, WayForward’s game looks like a self-aware homage to the 1987 original by Technos Japan. Billy and Jimmy Lee, the jean jacket-wearing Double Dragons themselves, run off into the city night to save their gal pal Marian from a gang of dominatrixes and greasers. Doing this requires punching and kicking everything that isn’t bolted to the ground, whether it’s a mailbox or freak bodybuilder Abobo. The ’80s-styled winks and nudges are syrup-thick and cloying. New martial arts moves are learned through cassette tapes! Look at all the hot-pink trimming in the background! Listen to the New Wave theme songs! Hot Tub Time Machine was less aggressive in its insistence that the ’80s were hi-larious.

Double Dragon Neon

The spoofy pall hanging over the game melts away by the end of the second stage, when exhaustingly postmodern touches take on lives of their own. Jake Kaufman’s songs don’t just sound like John Hughes background clutter. Upon repeat listenings, they’re catchy as hell. The silhouette of whip-wielding Linda is dominated by too-wide hips and tits, but there’s real sexiness in her swinging animation. Neon walks a careful line, making fun of its over-the-top nature in an over-the-top way.

It would have been easy to shove the simplified fisticuffs of Double Dragon into Neon and call it a day, but with the exception of cosmetic callbacks like the Lee’s spin kicks, WayForward made its own game. There are only a handful of enemy types, but they’re combined in clever gauntlets that keep Neon’s 10 stages varied, and knocking them out requires a careful understanding of your tools. There are 20 cassettes to gather and learn from—10 moves and 10 stances that bulk up your health and power. Changing which stance and move you’ve equipped significantly changes your flow through fights.

Double Dragon Neon

When you’re surrounded by five dudes with pompadours, three ladies in rocket packs, and a ninja, you don’t have time to glibly reflect on how silly this all is. At least until you call in an enormous dragon made of fire to clear them out. Then “funny ha-ha” becomes transcendent.

The game maintains its sense of humor throughout thanks to its villain, another epitome of charismatic cheese. Marching to the end of an alley on Marian’s trail leads to a skyscraper pagoda covered in glowing skulls, looking very much like the summer home of Lo Pan in Big Trouble. It seems innocent enough until you walk through the door, at which point the entire building rockets into space and the ominously named Skullmageddon, Neon’s bad guy, makes his first appearance. Instead of grand plans to lay waste to the entire planet, he’s merely a dork magic skeleton with a pathological crush on your lady friend.

Double Dragon Neon

For the remainder of the game, Skull provides running, refreshingly self-conscious commentary. Smash the monitors lining the halls of his rocket-powered space dojo, and he’ll cry out, “Those are expensive!” Have trouble beating him down, he’ll provide helpful tips meant to, “save you a trip to the internet.” The farther you get into Neon’s back half, the more surreal the game and its antagonist get. A trip to Skullmageddon’s secret lab culminates in what looks like a Little Shop Of Horrors gag but transforms into something else entirely.

That’s Double Dragon Neon in a nutshell. The game sets up an obvious gag or a readymade beat-’em-up trope and then subverts that expectation with charm, humor, and style. John Carpenter stopped manufacturing thrilling cheese like Big Trouble 20 years ago, and while there’s no shortage of winking retro inanity in both games and movies, few works actually try to be as good as they are clever. WayForward’s salute to the ’80s manages that tricky feat well, as funny as it is cool, and vice versa.

Double Dragon Neon
Developer: WayForward
Publisher: Majesco
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: $10
Rating: T

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

591 Responses to “Big Trouble In Little 1980”

  1. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    Big Trouble in Little China is a classic.  Several times it’s been playing on the TV in a store I’m in and I have to tear myself away before I end up standing there watching the whole thing.

    • Bad Horse says:

      You know what ol’ Jack Burton says at a time like that?

      Ah, what the hell.

    • stakkalee says:

      All movies can be improved with the inclusion of Kurt Russell.  I was hoping to get some sweet KR voiceover work in Red Dead but sadly IMDB says that’s not to be.  I mean, the man’s been starring in westerns since he was 12 years old, and he can wear one hell of a cowboy mustache.  Apropos of nothing, but whenever I think of a live-action adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s CIty Watch series I’ve always thought Kurt Russell would be perfect as Sam Vimes.

      Oh yeah, this games looks fun, too, but then, you’d have to be a real asshole to screw up Double Dragon.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp was (here we go again) awesome!  Only slightly overshadowed by Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday.  “I’m your huckleberry.”

        “Tombstone” >>>> “Wyatt Earp”
        because
        Kurt Russell >>>> Kevin Costner.

        • stakkalee says:

          Agreed on everything.  I had a huge mancrush on Kilmer after that movie, then 2 years later he’s playing Batman, and it’s all downhill after that.  OK, maybe that’s a little hyperbolic, but he didn’t really cover himself in glory with that role (although I’m sure he covered himself in money because of it.)

      • Drew Toal says:

        He can see things no other man can see.

      • HobbesMkii says:

        I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to strongly disagree with your choice of Discworld casting. No way could Kurt Russell play that. I see Jeremy Irons as Sam Vimes. I could also possibly be persuaded to consider Kenneth Brannagh in the role. It’s got to be someone at least vaguely connected with the British Isles. And someone who looks weary. Kurt always looks pleased with himself.

        • stakkalee says:

          Vimes isn’t just weary; at the beginning of Guards, Guards! he’s an empty man, simply waiting to die, either from the booze or from a knife between the ribs.  He finds his purpose by rediscovering his anger – sure, he finds love, too, but what motivates him is this new recruit who reminds him things don’t have to be the way they are, with injustices heaped upon the lowest in society.  Vimes’ burning hatred of the high-and-mighty that perpetrate those injustices is central to his character.   Go watch Kurt Russell in Stargate, then go watch Tombstone, and hell, throw Escape from New York in there, too, and tell me he couldn’t pull Vimes off.  Besides, Jeremy Irons was my choice to play the Patrician.  The real hard question is, who would you get to play Nobby?  That’s the one I could never cast to any degree of satisfaction.

        • Effigy_Power says:

          As long as Charles Dance does another Patrician, I couldn’t give two shits about who else plays who. He was purely amazing.

        • Bad Horse says:

          If I was Kurt Russell, I’d have a really hard time not being pleased with myself.

        • Electric Dragon says:

          Pterry is on record as suggesting he wrote Vimes with “a younger” Pete Postlethwaite in mind. Sadly that’s no longer an option.

          Nobby would have to be an Andy Serkis mocap/CGI job.

        • Effigy_Power says:

          Paul Kidby drew Vimes more in the area of Clint Eastwood… I bet Vimes could interrogate an empty chair as good as anyone.

  2. Enkidum says:

    Two things:

    1) This sounds awesome. Enkidum want.

    2) True story that I’ve told before on the AV Club but it’s so awesome it bears retelling. When I was living in Japan, my coworker Rob was chucking out his garbage one day when he came across an entire garbage bag full of vhs tapes. Rob being Rob, he brought the thing back to his apartment. A few minutes watching selectively and deciphering the kanji and kana led him to the realization that the entire bag was full of… enema porn. And one copy of Big Trouble in Little China. Indeed, the first time I watched the movie (Big Trouble in Little China, not enema porn) was after he lent me that selfsame copy.

    In conclusion, Japanese kinks can be kinda weird.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      I will assume that you ran the tape through the dishwasher before handling it?

      No matter how weird the source, the movie’s greatness is worth it.

    • stakkalee says:

      I would be so terrified to put that tape in my VCR.  I mean, sure, it says it’s BTILC on the tape, but you can always record over those things.

  3. Cheese says:

    Thanks to Gravity Falls, character designs like this are going to make me think of Rumble McSkirmish for a long, long time.

    “Change Machine! Change me into a powerful wolf!”

  4. George_Liquor says:

    Hey, synergy! I just watched a very positive review of this game on Youtube. Now that I have independent confirmation, I may just have to check it out.

    WayForward’s fast turning into my favorite little dev team. Since I played through the outstanding Shantae: Risky’s Revenge I’ve been looking forward to more of their output.

  5. George_Liquor says:

    I think The Ring conclusively proved the dangers of watching strange Japanese VHS tapes.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      I believe I mentioned on the AVC that it would have been ironic if Samara copied herself into DIVX format, and nobody watched her video within 48 hours.

  6. SisterMaryFrancis says:

    mmmmm….Kim Catrall.

    Not trying to spoil anything for people who never played the original, but is the ending the same?

  7. Seriously, The Xbox Live Arcade has been a money-vacuum lately. I bought Spelunky, expecting that to last me for the rest of the summer, then along came Mark of the Ninja, which has been engrossing as all hell, and now this.

    And also FTL came out which is seriously destroying my free time like so many Rebel Scouts have destroyed my weapons system.

  8. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    I forget now if it was the intro or the ending of the original NES Double Dragon, but didn’t one of those screens refer to the twins as “Bimmy and Jimmy Lee”?

    • Totally. There’s also a very funny nod to that in the game in the form of a couple bad guys.

    • Fixda Fernback says:

      Haha, awesome. That’s still a running joke between a buddy and I (yes, as if it weren’t obvious, we’re extreme video game nerds, especially regarding retro games). Also, my bowling nickname is “Billy Barehands” (No, my name’s not Billy, but come on, it’s such a great bowling name) because of the way the game states which weapon you have beneath your name, and when you have none it instead reads “BAREHANDS”

  9. “Where’s Wyatt?”

    “Down by the river, walking on water.”

    Someone make me a game where I can be Val Kilmer’s Doc Holiday so I never need another game for all of time.

  10. HobbesMkii says:

    Of all the cartoons from my childhood, Double Dragon is the one I have the hardest time believing was an actual thing with an associated franchise as opposed to some sort of weird dream I had, so it’s nice that WayForward made this game to confirm that I am not crazy.

  11. I love WayForward so much. Rebooting or reinventing childhood classics like Double Dragon or A Boy and His Blob is challenging enough, but doing it so well that those entries stand just as well on their own, disconnected from the nostalgia, is even more impressive.

  12. Electric Dragon says:

    I remember playing the ZX Spectrum version of the original. The graphics and sound were shoddy even by Spectrum standards, and you could defeat any of the gangsters simply by hitting the kick or punch move enough times (which was a good job because trying anything more complicated was more sluggish than a barrel of molasses on a winter’s day in Oslo). It would sometimes go from easy to impossible when there was more than one enemy on the screen because in the time it took to turn around and kick the other way, you’d been knocked down. When the tommy gun wielding boss turned up, the bullets moved slowly enough that you could dodge out of the way very easily.

    Here’s a review from Sinclair User at the time! “Everyone’s got a head like a squashed potato, and they all look more like Mormons than street thugs, the whip-wielding bimbos included.”

  13. sirslud says:

    I read that this can be finished in about an hour. I’m all for inspired homage and played the loving crap out of DD on GameBoy and SNES, but 10 bucks for an hour of game seems pretty steep. I hate IGN reviews with a passion, but their claim that it can be finished in an hour is a metric rather than an opinion.

    Seems like the nostalgia factor is wiked awesome, but the game it wraps isn’t particularly worth it.

    On a side note: Microsoft renewed the Killer Instinct trademark. Oh boy does that have me excited.

  14. Zach Adams says:

    1) I love the music.  The little snippets for the mixtape items (the vocal ones at least) remind me a lot of the question intro songs from You Don’t Know Jack, in that they establish an excellent pastiche in 15-20 seconds and make you wish they were a little longer.

    2) Skullmageddon grew on me.  When I first saw him, with his Dollar General Skeletor impersonation and his awful puns, I was kind of appalled that they replaced Machine Gun Willy with him.  But by the end  of the game he had fully redeemed himself.  I don’t want to spoil the end, but that was AWESOME.

    3) The soundtrack is up with a pay-what-you-want tip jar at http://virt.bandcamp.com/album/double-dragon-neon.

    4) I’m curious as to what the distinction is between games that get a Sawbuck capsule and full reviews.  With this and Symphony (which is awesome, by the way) getting full reviews, it seems that the “$10 and under” guideline no longer applies and Sawbuck is implicitly for browser games and apps as opposed to cheap PC and console downloads.  Can we get a clarification?