If anyone stands a chance at a Double Dragon revival, the 2D maestros over at WayForward are the most likely to pull it off in a convincing way. Between beloved revivals of Contra and A Boy and His Blob under their belt, new takes on BloodRayne and Batman and side-scrolling classics like Shantae, the pedigree powering Double Dragon Neon knows its way around neo-retro. But Neon betrays WayForward's 2D pixel animation in favor of 3D models, a first for the studio and punting it into uncharted territory.
Considering the studio's resume we had high hopes for its take on Taito's classic beat-em-up, expecting fun new twists on an old, tired classic. Based on our time with Neon at PAX East, it's difficult to say just how far WayForward is taking Double Dragon. The build on show was quite early, possibly too early considering many of the new gameplay features planned were either placeholder or absent. The upgrade shop's doors were proverbially bolted shut, and the electric power meter under the health bar was completely static.
So what was on display showed the basic framework that WayForward intends to build upon, which is classic Double Dragon gameplay with a hint of what the nice man maintaining the demo called "bro-op," which amounts to a concise way of describing reciprocal power-up moves. For instance, Player 1 can initiate, say, a chest-bump with a button press, causing their character to stand at the ready, and if Player 2 goes over and reciprocates then the two bump chests and glow red, indicating a gain in strength. High-fives serve the purpose of giving health, and, to be a jerk about it, a sneaky low-five steals some away.
Our demo started in familiar Double Dragon streets, the world neon-drenched and the characters seemingly too large for the screen — we suppose it's faithful to the original, but it wouldn't hurt to have the option to pan back the camera a bit and alleviate some of the claustrophobia. The core combat had all of the same moves as expected — so plenty of jump kicks, punches and stray knives on the ground — and the rogues gallery featured the usual host of Double Dragon jerks, complete with a burst of giant Abobo. But, overall, the action felt a little too slow; granted, the build we played was considerably early and lacking a lot of core mechanics, and Double Dragon isn't a blazing game to begin with. Tweaks to all areas are to be expected, but whether the speed will pick up remains to be seen.
In fact, apart from the new lighting and polygonal nature, the Neon demo felt an awful lot like just another Double Dragon game that the world didn't necessarily ask for or need. However, WayForward seems keen on pulling the rug from under everyone and putting its own distinct stamp on Billy and Jimmy's world, as the demo ended with the bro's entering a dojo housing a giant, alien-looking samurai creature and rocketing off into space.
WayForward clearly has plans to take Double Dragon outside its comfort zone, and we'll have to wait until the game hits PSN this summer to see whether that's a good idea or not. Based on its back catalogue we have faith that WayForward can do justice to the franchise with Double Dragon Neon — the big question is whether it can prove that Double Dragon is a franchise worth resurrecting in the first place.