Lately, we’ve been seeing a trend of reboots and reimaginings in the world of entertainment. It’s as if our childhoods consisted of nothing more than mere extended product shills and action figure commercials disguised as cartoons that are being revisited to once again have the same effect on today’s young. Video games live in a fairly synced world with the movie industry, sequels and at times loosely connected remakes are always around the corner and ready for the nostalgic mind to revisit. There have been a few successes; Bionic Commando ReArmed retained its classic gameplay and sound while mixing it with new mechanics and electronic sound. Street Fighter IV brought life back into the fighting arena with balanced combat and a competent, though forgettable soundtrack with some great arrangements of the old songs we remember from SFII, and Punch Out bringing back boxing in the best of Rocky fashion.
Then there’s Double Dragon Neon. Based on the sidescrolling beat-em-up classic, the game that birthed the whole genre in 1987, Neon is both a tribute and remake by Wayforward timed with the 25th anniversary of the original, rebooting the franchises while nodding to Technos’s legendary series of Double Dragon games releases over the years. Music has always been a memorable part of the long running series, and for Neon, none other than Jake Kaufman was put to the task of bringing all the classics back, and make a few of his own.
Find out if soundtrack matches up with its inspiration after the jump.
Double Dragon Neon is a game that quite obviously roots itself in the 80’s and is self-aware of its own outdated fashion and slang, featuring hilarious voice overs that over-act just enough to make them believable characters, plenty of hairspray and lots and lots of neon lights. But its soundtrack is in no shape or form outdated. Jake Kaufman is no stranger to the 80’s, he’s still stuck there and discovering hair in his armpits to this very day just like back then, and that is the reason why the soundtrack succeeds well above the game itself, which is in its own right a fantastic tribute and awesome co-op experience.
The sound is varied and the style of music diverse. The soundtrack is very much crafted like a mixtape of the times it is based around, and so each stage brings something new to keep things entertaining. The synth patches and harmonies that Kaufman employs in each song are perfectly selected, and sounds as authentic as they sound nostalgic. In certain ways, the game and its soundtrack does not only pay tribute to the Double Dragon series, but the brawler genre in general, and many familiar sounds and settings bring back memories far beyond what’s expected.
But for its title track to start it out, there really was no other way than taking the Double Dragon theme and arranging it into a powerful melodic rock anthem with wonderful solos spliced in. The live guitar is backed by synth and 16-bit Turtles in Time hits, and truly brings out both the spirit of the game along with its roots at the same time, and the sound follows through into the first stage theme, which is an arrangement of the first stage theme from Double Dragon. It is a near flawless buildup bringing the game back in style with the use of effective music.
But it is on the second stage theme that you get the taste of the versatility of Kaufman that makes this game shine so bright. “Neon Jungle” is an original vocal track, a scary inclusion and gutsy to boot, because the result could have quickly turned the game’s sound into a cheesy gimmick. But the opposite is true for Double Dragon Neon. Kaufman is not a man that simply emulates the sound of the 1980’s, it is his musical identity, and the result is that the music he composes feels true. Sung by Jessie Seely under the name Mango Tango, the vocals are in style of a Kim Wilde pop song and sounds absolutely fantastic, becoming a highly infectious and catchy theme for the stage.
The inclusion of the vocal tracks really brings the particular identity to the soundtrack that makes it stand out. While “Neon Jungle” illustrates the poppy side, “Firebird” brings the rock ‘n’ roll sounds with energetic lyrics that would make Stan Bush proud, while “Glad I Am” brings shades of Konami’s arcade brawler Violent Storm. One track in the game, “Pick Yourself Up and Dance”, was to have vocals inspired by Michael Jackson according to Kaufman on his radio preview of the soundtrack, but due to the lack of appropriate talent available, this didn’t come to be. However the result is probably the best track in the game, and its lack of vocals with its placement makes it stand out, maybe proving beneficial despite plans falling through as the jazz funk fusion track is absolutely spectacular, and among the very best Kaufman has ever composed.
For those who still prefer their music without words, the game is not lacking original instrumental music to say the least. The boss tracks, in particular “Mecha Biker” (a blue robot who rides a rush bike and has an arm cannon, figure that one out.) is a heavy frantic melodic rock track with overt Japan influenced guitar harmonies and hard percussion. “Countryside” is something almost out of Bloodsport had Frank Dux fought 50 ninjas with the help of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which is probably a way to explain most of the sound in the game. Tracks such as “Tube Ride” provides the throwback to the classic Double Dragon music, arranging the Palace theme from the first game in a surf rock style, and “Final Palace” bringing Hong Kong action style suspense and determination with brass and bass, reminiscent of Enter The Dragon and the many scores of Michael Lai. The game perfectly blends classic tracks with original music that compliment eachother brilliantly, but never outdo one another.
Some hidden gems can be found in the mixtapes that the game provides. In-game, players can collect mixtapes to unlock new moves and abilities, and each of these mixtapes come with a 20 second music clip. It’s clear that Kaufman wanted to make every single second count, and he really went to town on these ones, bringing back every genre that the 80’s made us fall in love with, and practically begging for a full version in a form of a mixtape arrange album. Take “Bomb Toss” for example, a Rick Ashtley inspired masterpiece with a very familiar voice singing… Or “Balance”, an Enya style hymn of the Double Dragon theme. The mixtapes might be just seconds in length, but they are as memorable as the longest song in the game due to them being so incredibly catchy.
Double Dragon Neon is a truly great throwback to a simple genre that provided hours of endless entertainment and cooperation with friends when we were young. Whereas most games today attempts to bring a bit too much sophistication into the system, Neon just brings the impact and the cheese that we want and understands perfectly what made the genre so fun to begin with. But Jake Kaufman is the reason why the game stands the test above all else, because with his sound, he does not merely capture the essence of the sound of both Double Dragon and the 1980’s, he brings himself into the music, being not just incredibly fun and vibrant, but also passionate and personal. Double Dragon Neon is the best soundtrack of 2012, and a new benchmark for others to overcome. We can only hope Kaufman is already hard at work to do just that.
You might have noticed we did not mention the credits theme? Well, buy the game, finish it, and see for yourself why infact it is the best soundtrack of the year. Double Dragon Neon is available on PSN for $9.99 (free on PSN+) and 800 MS Points on XBLA. The soundtrack is available for a pay-what-you-want amount at Jake Kaufman’s Bandcamp.Tags: Double Dragon, Double Dragon Neon, Jake Kaufman, Reviews, virt, Wayforward