Double Dragon Neon is One of the Best Games of 2012

Borderlands 2 is out. I don’t care because I can’t stop playing Double Dragon Neon.

I’ve never played a beat-em-up like this before. No matter their depth, the brawler might be the easiest genre to pick-up-and-play. Punch people in the face, knock ’em down, and push on. Neon changes that.

You can’t call WayForward’s effort mindless. Walking around aimlessly and punching is a surefire way to find yourself on the ground blinking into death. There’s a layer of precision required rarely asked amongst genre entries, and a simple dodge mechanic is enough to ensure that you don’t look away.

What Neon loses in actual Double Dragon style, it gains by making flourishes of its own. It’s hilarious, with base level laughs and other materials you need to seek out. An annoying, puffy sidekick is undoubtedly Neon’s funniest inclusion, paying homage to Saturday morning cartoons with annoying voice work while impeding on the fighting.

Neon closes on a power ballad by the villain who loves himself as much as he does puns, a bony sword striker known as Skullmageddon. It’s the topper on one of the best soundtracks ever, another masterpiece by Jake Kaufman, and it doesn’t matter whether you have context or not. Just imagine the ’80s and Double Dragon’s classic battlegrounds as you indulge in the awesome material.

Reactions were mixed when Neon landed, including an IGN review that was flagrant in its critique. It’s a clear misunderstanding of the genre, its styles, the humor, and the length. Neon took three hours to complete on the first playthrough, IGN’s apparently took only one.  Even in co-op it takes longer than a brisk run simply based on game speed.

This isn’t the height of the series. Super Double Dragon is a pinnacle of this franchise and the genre. However, if some won’t take the time to appreciate what Neon is offering -and there is a definite learning curve, and that’s a rough period of time- then it’s hard to fathom what modern critics would have thought of Super. What WayForward has done is issue a love letter to an era while advancing mechanics ever so slightly to a point that this aged material feels fresh. It’s genius, and I’ll be the one to say it: I enjoyed myself more in Neon than in Borderlands 2.