Alternate SoundtrackVideo

Go With The Glow: Double Dragon Neon & Grum’s Heartbeats

Bad guys go on the run when ’80s revivalists join forces.

By Derrick Sanskrit • May 1, 2013

Video game music can be great, but sometimes it’s fun to pair your wine with some different cheese. In Alternate Soundtrack, Derrick Sanskrit matches a video game with an album that enhances the experience.

Double Dragon Neon—WayForward’s self-aware reboot of the ’80s beat-’em-up game—was an extraordinarily pleasant surprise last Autumn. Anthony Agnello already talked about how it married the fun of openly mocking antiquated action movie tropes with the thrill of acting out those same clichés yourself. And I’ve talked about Neon’s vibrant and inspired original soundtrack. There was only one problem: that tongue-in-cheek sense of “this is a very specific time of a specific fictional history” didn’t quite feel 100-percent committed. The interface screamed “Neon!” while the environments felt muddy and banal.

Jake Kaufman’s soundtrack was a careful balancing act, offsetting a faithfulness to the original Double Dragon music with an injection of tongue-in-cheek ’80s megapop, but greatness is not made by being careful. Neon is at its best when it’s cheese-tacular nonsense. Holding your breath to survive in the vacuum of space? Ridiculous! Taking down a nuclear-powered, three-story-tall battle tank with your bare hands? Inconceivable! An effeminate skeleton taking your inner-city girlfriend to a genetics lab? Ludicrous! The appeal of Neon is its embrace of absurdity, so every part of the game that’s grounded in reality feels inherently flawed by comparison.

Enter Graeme Shepherd, the Scottish EDM artist better known as Grum. His 2010 LP Heartbeats is an unbridled celebration of fluorescent ’80s dancehall culture, informed by electronic revivalists like Daft Punk and Mylo. The 12 tracks on Heartbeats are built on a foundation of crystalline mystery with an overbearing sense of action, serious without ever being sincere. It’s the sort of fun that winks and nods without waiting for applause. Perfect for the retro-machismo-explosion festival that is Double Dragon.

From the Hall & Oates-via-Knight Rider disco heartache of “Through The Night” to the atmospheric digital peaks of the title track and back again, Heartbeats rolls up the sleeves of its crisp white blazer to fight for what’s right and look good doing it. The underlying romance and overlying chimes in tracks like “Someday We’ll Be Together” remind us that even tough guys cry, from Dragon’s heroic brothers Lee to the game’s iconic, towering menace, Abobo.

The aggressive drive of “Power” begs for an intense chase sequence or a passionate fist fight. The song’s low vocals attempt to mock and goad the audience with a heightened sense of masculinity, and the lyric “music is the power, music is release” dovetails nicely with the game’s use of cassette tapes for special powers and stat-building.

The laser-licked disco pop of “Fashion” and “Turn It Up” are so bubblegum bright as to erradicate any preconceived notions of grim-and-gritty. On the other side of the fence are “Want U” and “LA Lights,” with their slow lazy leads and assertive beats. These tracks are braggadocio cake walks—ballads of broad shoulders and fingerless gloves—the kind of music Batman might cruise to while pounding punks’ skulls into the pavement.

Double Dragon Neon worked because it’s unashamed of its shallow roots and revels in their cliché trappings, just as Heartbeats doesn’t attempt to reinvent electronic dance music or make grand statements. Grum knew where he was coming from and what his audience would react to, and he delivered a shimmering document of his environment without any sort of pretense. We can have a good time when a very simple idea is cranked up to 11, especially when the good idea involves DayGlo paint and blacklights.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/deejaytaufiq Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi

    As much as i love the current Neo-80′s scene,

    What about the Neo-60′s and Neo-90′s?

    I mean, i love FC3 Blood Dragon, Miami Connection and Drive, but what about trying on other decade revivals?

    In fact, i’d love to kick off the Neo-60s by buying the license to No One Lives Forever and making a new reboot game out of it.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Neo 60s already happened, I think. And nascent neo-90s stuff is underway, sort of, though like most nostalgia-based culture, it’s emphasizing kid entertainment (SNES-era games, Nicktoons, etc.) first. But we’re getting 3D rereleases of stuff like Titanic and Jurassic Park, and I imagine a broader swath of 90s culture will be capitalized on.

      Nostalgia culture seems to operate at about a 20 tear delay, since you need to wait until a certain decade’s children are adults before you can sell them their own childhood (or before they are old enough to start creating their own pop culture infused with the culture they grew up with).

    • duwease

      Can we skip the neo-anything and just get straight to the remaking NOLF???  I love it to death, and it seems like a game that could easily flourish in the current ecosystem..

      • http://www.facebook.com/deejaytaufiq Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi

        A remake/reboot of NOLF would be excellent as in first hand it would definitely be an awesome parody of COD Black Ops story and the Tomb Raider reboot.

        However, a NOLF remake/reboot needs to be handled by a Britcom writer if they want to have a really funny story with good jokes and funny lines. If anything, i want people like Sam Bain & Jesse Armstrong or Simon Pegg & Nick Frost to write a NOLF remake/reboot, as it really needs to have an excellent sense of humor.

    • Jess Ragan

      I’d like some Neo-70s, specifically the progressive rock in the first half of that decade. I guess Porcupine Tree is the closest I’m going to get…

  • The_Helmaroc_King

    Not available in my country? Ffffffffffffffffffffine, I’ll just look it up on YouTube.

    Oh, yeah, baby. You’ve got what I need. Give me a chance to style my pompadour and it is on.

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      Which thing gave you the “not available in your country” message? The Spotify embed or the video player? If it’s the latter, let me know, and I’ll flag it for the Onion tech guys. That definitely shouldn’t be happening!

      I assume it’s the Spotify thing, though, which is lame. I didn’t realize it did that.

      • The_Helmaroc_King

        Oh, yeah, it’s the Spotify thing. Somehow I skipped over the video at the top of the article without even noticing! Oh well.

  • Chris Hansen

    Changing Double Dragon Neon’s soundtrack is an affront to good taste.

    • colonyofbirchmen

      I thought so too until I listened to this Grum album. It’s not better than Kaufman’s soundtrack – they’re just equally perfect for this game. I’m really happy that I’ve found some new running music.

  • Chris Hansen

    Oh, is there a reason why the video player never works?

    • Enkidum

      Problem may be on your end – never had a problem with it here.

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      I love that these two comments were posted by the same person, one right after the other. It’s like the joke about the restaurant where the food is terrible—and such small portions!

      • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

        And now, tangentially from there, a selection of a few of my favorite Yogi Berrisms:

        Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.

        You can observe a lot just by watching.

        Baseball is 90% mental — the other half is physical.

        When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

        I didn’t really say everything I said.

        You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.

        • Jackbert

          The future ain’t what it used to be.

          It gets late early out here.

          It’s deja vu all over again.

          If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.

          I usually take a two hour nap from one to four.

          He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious. 

      • George_Liquor

        …because it’s fly soup, Sir. That’s why.

  • NakedSnake

     I powered through the first half half of this game with a friend and had a great time. Whenever one of us died, the other guy would just resurrect him. Progress was fast. The next day, I thought I would power up this game and just play it through to the end. Only to discover: this game is really hard. So I stopped playing. Now I like a challenge, but somehow, for this game, challenge seemed innapropriate. Everything in the game – soundtrack, style, dialogue – was so unselfserious and simply fun that extreme difficulty didn’t seem to fit it with the overall theme of the game. Basically, things got too real.

  • scortiusthecharioteer

    If you haven’t watched Grum’s videos off this album, do yourself a favor and head over to youtube.  Through the Night’s video in particular is hysterical.

  • Jess Ragan

    Oh man, I could scarcely imagine playing Double Dragon Neon with anything other than the default soundtrack. I mean, have you heard Mango Tango? It’s probably my favorite song of 2012 *and* 1987.

    • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

      Have I heard Mango Tango?

      That’s exactly what I was getting at here, though. There are only a handful of tracks that delicious in the soundtrack, the rest are faithful to Double Dragon history and entirely too safe.

  • zpoccc

    did you just make up the term “dancehouse”? is it sort of like “moshmetal”?