Game Info:

South Park: The Stick of Truth
Developed by: Obsidian Entertainment
Published by: Ubisoft
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Available on: PC (reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360
Genre: RPG
Number of Players: Single-player
ESRB Rating: Mature 
Price: $59.99
(Amazon affiliate link)

Thank you Ubisoft for sending us this game to review!

In South Park: The Stick of Truth you start out as a new kid with a forgotten past.  Your parents encourage… no…wait, they pretty much force you to go out and make some new friends.  When you talk to people in this game, they may add you as a friend on their (virtual) Facebook page.  This is a good way to keep up on what’s going on in the small Colorado town.  

The first real friend your character meets is Butters who introduces you to king Cartman.  Cartman shows you around Kupa Keep and reveals his prized possession, the Stick of Truth.  It doesn’t take long before Kupa Keep is invaded by other kids dressed up as elves and they steal the stick.  

South Park: The Stick of Truth

Strong Points: True to the cartoon show
Weak Points: Some graphical glitches/ flickering
Moral Warnings: Extremely foul language, violence, sexual acts and nudity, drug and alcohol use, racism, gross humor 

It is during this scene that your character’s name and class is given.  No matter what name you type, you will be referred to as D-bag (spelled out) in the game.  The classes available are Fighter, Mage, Thief, and Jew.   When you hover over thief, Cartman says “Oh I never heard of a white thief before”.  Out of curiosity I played the Jew class.  My starting weapon was a staff and some of my unique powers include “Jew-Jitsu“ , “Circum-Scythe”, “Plagues of Egypt”,  and the “Sling of David” where I got to hurl a rock full of stones at my enemy.  Later in the game I earned a summon of the flamboyant Mr. Slave who sodomizes the enemies until they die.  There are three other summons that can be unlocked after completing some side quests.  One of these summons is Jesus if you successfully find him a few times.

There are plenty of side quests including the token “Getting rid of rats in a cellar.” You'll find multiple references to Elder Scrolls games; the hero is sometimes referred to as the dragon born and the fight music is clearly a mockery of Skyrim’s battle theme.  

The graphics are true to the South Park 2D style and have a lot of detail.  Sometimes there is way too much.  When I was in the police station I found a sketch of male genitalia.  It didn’t end there; as I was exploring the neighborhood I walked into houses where the owners were naked, masturbating or having sex (sometimes with animals).   

South Park: The Stick of Truth

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 86%
Gameplay - 17/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 0%
Violence - 0/10
Language - 0/10
Sexual Content - 0/10
Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 0/10

This is obviously not a game to be played by or near children.  I would recommend wearing headphones as a courtesy since the language in this game is horrible. F-bombs are dropped repeatedly, including mother-f’er.  The Lord’s name is also blasphemed numerous times.

North America has an uncensored version of the game while Africa, Australia, Austria, Europe, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan have the abortion and anal probe minigames removed.  It’s pretty safe to say that this game succeeds in offending everyone.  Even people with AIDS and diabetes are made fun of.  

South Park: The Stick of Truth should only be played by adults who are fans of the show, and know what to expect.  Use extreme caution when playing this game around children as it contains harsh language and full frontal nudity. Anyone that is easily offended, grossed out with potty or sexual humor, or pretty much anything else should pass this title up. Also anyone, Christian or otherwise, who is unsure, please skip this game.

Game Info:

Little Inferno
Developed and Published By: Tomorrow Corporation
Released: November 18, 2012
Available On: Linux, Mac OS X (reviewed), Windows, Wii U, iOS, Android
Genre: Puzzle
ESRB Rating: None
Number of Players: 1
Price: $10 (iOS, Steam, developer's Web site)

What do you get when you combine someone else's credit card, alphabet blocks and a package of lightbulbs? In “Little Inferno,” a game presented by Tomorrow Corporation, the answer is simple – a nice, cozy fire. Just like with any of the other items that you can toss into the fireplace.

That's the premise behind Little Inferno. Burn stuff. Pick up the coins they leave behind. Shop through the bizarre catalogs that the Tomorrow Corporation sends to you and order things. Then burn them, too.  Once you have managed to obtain all the things in the catalog, you can purchase the next catalog, which has even more items. Oddly enough, the catalogs are one of the few things you can't burn in the game. This makes sense, in a way. If you burned the catalogs, there would be no way to order more stuff.

While burning items, you will receive letters from other people – updates from the Weather Man, advertisements and advice from “Miss Nancy,” who is the apparent head of the Tomorrow Corporation, and a friend who lives close by named Sugar Plumps. Through their letters you are able to learn that the world outside has been experiencing winter for several years, and there is no end in sight. So it would probably be best to stay inside and keep warm by your Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace, brought to you by the Tomorrow Corporation. (Yes, the company that made the game also appears in the game as the manufacturer of the entertainment fireplace. Yes, the game is that odd.)

Yes, you can burn the letters they send to you.

Little Inferno

Strong Points: Interesting game world, creative concept
Weak Points: Somewhat repetitive gameplay, short
Moral Warnings: Drug use, voluptuous figures, toilet humor, some items respond with horror when burned

Although you don't have to burn everything you manage to obtain, there is a limit to the items that you can hold. You start with four slots in your “mailbox,” but these can be expanded with the in-game currency you obtain by burning things. If you find yourself running short on money, all you need to do is wait. Tiny, one-eyed spiders will crawl down from the chimney, and they will drop coins by burning them.

The game itself poses extremely little challenge. It is exceedingly easy to gain money in the game (for the most part, items will drop more coins than it cost to purchase them). The only real difficulty lies in trying to determine what items you need to burn together in order to achieve “combos.” A drop-down list will show you the names of the combos, but it's up to you to determine what items will fulfill each requirement. Some are self-explanatory – for example “Bike Pirate Combo” - but others are much more obscure. Successfully figuring out a combo will net you two stamps, which you can place on items you've ordered to make them delivered instantly to your mailbox, rather than waiting for several seconds. Stamps also drop occasionally from burning spiders and, of course, burning items.

Some items react to fire – and sometimes each other – in different ways. For example, bricks burn very slowly, while cardboard items burn extremely quickly. Glass items have a tendency to shatter, even when not on fire. Bombs and vehicles tend to explode. A few items will even put out fires when they're triggered by the flames. Part of the fun is figuring out how to get items to be in the fireplace at the same time without destroying each other so you can get credit for the combos... or just tossing random items in there and seeing what they do while they burn.

If this abstract game doesn't sound like much of a game, you're probably right. Little Inferno was designed to be a bit of playful criticism towards casual games like those found on Facebook. You work to obtain something, then move on to the next goal, then the next, etc., without any real clear ending in sight. The game also jabs at materialism – you work to obtain things, only to simply dispose of them once you're finished. It even chides you subtly about the amount of time you've spent “burning your toys.” 

Little Inferno
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 80%
Gameplay - 14/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 71%
Violence - 6.5/10
Language - 8.5/10
Sexual Content - 8.5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

It doesn't take too much time to burn through the game, though. This reviewer was able to get through the entire game in about six hours, and that was even with time experimenting with trying to unlock all the different combos. Those who don't care about 100% completion could get through the game even faster. After the ending credits roll, it's possible to go back and keep burning things in the Little Inferno fireplace, but other than idle curiosity or an attempt to unlock all the combinations, there is little reason to do so. 

Controls were sharp and responsive, and extremely intuitive. Drag items into your fireplace from your mailbox, then just drag-and drop to place them. To light things, simply click in the fireplace - not on top of an object - to generate a flame at that point. You can continue to hold down the mouse button (or, presumably, keep your finger pressed to the screen on handheld devices) and move the pointer to focus the flame on other portions of your fireplace. Like, for instance, that nice wooden block sculpture you spent five minutes building and now want to reduce to a pile of ash. The sound quality is top-notch. The background music was peppy while shopping through the catalog and a bit somber when looking at combos... but otherwise completely absent during the main gameplay. Instead, it gives atmospheric echoes and breezy sounds, adding to a feeling of isolation in a cold world. The graphics tend to be colorful, but the scenery never changes, since the majority of the game is spent staring into the fireplace (for the most part, the rest of the game is spent flipping through the catalogs). My computer experienced an occasional graphic flicker, but this was very seldom.

On the moral side of things, even though the language is pretty clean, the content is less so. An instructional video that the Tomorrow Corporation sends to you early in the game depicts children gleefully tossing their screaming toys into the fire before their house burns down and they perish themselves. Several of the toys depicting women – and even Miss Nancy – are quite voluptuous. One of the toys defecates a lot when it's on fire. A few objects scream and attempt to flee the flames. Some of the items you can burn include alcohol, cigarettes and drugs (including syringes). Many of these items you may have to burn more than once, in order to get every single combination, and they all have to be purchased at least once in order to unlock the next catalog, or to get to the end of the game. While burning items – especially living creatures – is not particularly gruesome, some of the cries or reactions they make can be a bit disturbing.

All in all, Little Inferno is an odd, interesting game. While an idle waste of time for a brief period, it is mercifully short, and leaves you with little incentive to go back. Ironically, this may have been what the developers intended when they created the game in the first place. 

Game Info:

Joint Pain
Developed by: Hybris Studios
Release Date: Feburary 7th, 2014
Available on: iPad, PC, Mac
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: Not Rated
Price: $1.99
(Amazon affiliate link)

Thank you Hybris Studios for sending us this game to review!

Joint Pain is the first game developed by Hybris Studios and it is powered by the Unity engine.  The goal of this 2D action platformer is to survive the waves of skeletons to make it to the next level.   The skeletons come in various colors and are equipped with different abilities and attacks.   Some have shields and swords, while others hurl magic orbs in your general direction.  To make matters worse, most levels have environmental dangers like fires and volcanoes, or flying arrows to dodge.   

Fortunately, you can and often have to use the environment to your advantage.  The enemy AI isn’t very intelligent and blindly follows your character’s position.  It’s not very difficult to lure them into fire, shooting lava or off the level completely.

joint pain

Strong Points: Unique and challenging game play; inexpensive
Weak Points: Dumb AI; graphical glitches
Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; magic

To compensate for their stupidity and make this game challenging, the nameless hero only has one life.  When he perishes, the game saves your progress and lets you resume from the same level.  He starts off with 14 hearts and can max it out to 16 by collecting hearts that appear throughout the level.  Each time he is touched by an enemy or object, he loses a heart.

Hearts are not the only dropped power ups; there is also a powerful hammer that can appear.  Unlike the hearts, it will explode if not collected quickly.  With this hammer, you can take out foes in one hit for a short amount of time.  Without the powerful hammer, you’re limited to sword attacks and shield bashes.

The default controls use the WASD keys.  The movement is not fluid, especially when it comes to jumping.  For example, when enemies surround your character, jumping becomes difficult to do.

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 68%
Gameplay - 14/20
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 6/10
Stability - 3/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 90%
Violence - 8/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

While the hero and skeletons have a fair amount of detail, the levels are a bit basic in comparison.  Joint Pain has multiple themes for the levels including colorful jungle, volcano and sky themed ones.  I’m not sure why, but the text is all hand drawn and doesn’t look professional.   To make matters worse, when you press the escape key to quit the game, the text jumbles up and is hard to read.

The sound effects are another mixed bag.  The background music was nice, but not seamlessly looped.  The enemy noises sounded like distorted baby sounds and were odd to say the least.  

My kids enjoyed watching me play (I think the silly sound effects drew them in) and kept track of how many hearts I had remaining.  While there is cartoon violence, there is no blood.  Magic in this game is minimal and not used by the player at all.

Despite its flaws, Joint Pain is still a fun and unique game and is worth looking into. I look forward to future titles from Hybris Studios.  If you’re interested in Joint Pain, the price is a reasonable $1.99 and it is available on iTunes and Desura.    

Game Info:

Ys I & II Chronicles+
Developed By: Nihon Falcom
Published By: XSEED Games
Release Date: February 14, 2013
Available On: PC (reviewed), PSP
Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
Number of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: T for Alcohol Reference, Blood, Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Partial Nudity
MSRP: $14.99

(Click here to jump to the moral content!)

Ys I & II Chronicles+ is a compilation and remake of the first two Ys games from the late 1980s:  Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished: Omen and Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished: The Final Chapter.  Back in their day, these games were among the first Japanese Action RPGs on the market, and were very innovative in their time.  While some of the conventions that this game uses have not stood the test of time, they are still a blast to play, and are preserved and enhanced in this compilation, warts and all.  

After recently being introduced to the Ys series through the excellent Memories of Celceta, I quickly discovered that this series was also on Steam.  And, with the recent Winter sale, I snapped them up as soon as I could.  This series has struck a chord with me, like few others have.  I may have trouble restraining myself from playing each game, one after another.

These games have a nostalgic feel, with graphics harkening back to earlier days, with pixel based sprites and backgrounds.  They are all very colorful, with bright, high contrast colors used throughout.  There is also a whole lot of detail, despite the relatively low resolution.  Pixels are visible on the screen, with filtering options available if you prefer blur over pixels.  The game is played from a 2D overhead view, similar to classic games like Zelda or Secret of Mana.  The music is another topic; while the option for nostalgia is there with two different choices for either the original PC-88 music or the later synth tracks, in my opinion, it's the latest remake of the music, from the Chronicles release, that really takes the cake, but more on that later.

What is truly unique (and classic) about this game is the gameplay.  Like most games of that era, and even today, if an enemy hits you, you take damage.  But why not turn that around?  Why can't you hurt an enemy by touching them, too?  Well, that's what forms the basis of Ys I & II combat: the bump system.  If you hit an enemy directly head on, you both take damage.  If you hit an enemy off center, it counts as a hit on them, and you don't get a hit in return.  Hitting an enemy from an angle, or from behind, can also work well, as long as they don't turn towards you for the next hit.

Ys I & II Chronicles+

Strong Points: Fun and unique battle system; classic/nostalgic feel; well done pixel art; incredible music
Weak Points: Pixel art is fairly low resolution; widescreen mode is zoomed in, while 4:3 mode shows more gameplay area, but is pillarboxed
Moral Warnings: Violence slashing bad guys to bits, and there is left behind blood (can be turned off) and body chunks; alcohol used by several NPCs and offered to the player; some sexually suggestive conversations/innuendo, with things like 'Do you have a thing for older women?' and you can get a lady's 'measurements'; a cut scene has nude goddess characters with no details (no nipples, etc.); the game world has magic, demons, and goddesses; curse words like 'a*s' and 'h*ll', 'b*stard', 'd*mn'

While the bump system may seem strange, and in a sense it is, it lends itself to some really fast-paced gameplay.  And our hero, Adol Christin, known for his bright red hair, runs really, really, fast.  As you run from enemy to enemy, you end up building a really satisfying rhythm as you decimate one monster after another. Grinding becomes fun, and leveling can be very rewarding, too, as gaining just a few (or even one!) can make a huge difference in those fabulous boss battles.

Now the boss battles; those feel decidedly oldschool.  First of all, these can be really tough, especially if you don't like to move around much.  Each one of them has a pattern and weak points that you have to discover, memorize, and defeat.  And you have to dance around the screen to defeat these guys – and it can be very satisfying when you do finally defeat them.

While I often find oldschool game mechanics a boon that adds to their charm, and this game is no exception, these games also aren't really modernized in other ways, too.  For example, puzzles are sometimes only solvable if you remember a hint given 30+ minutes earlier by a NPC.  The last boss in Ys I is similar.  In one part in Ys I, you use a hammer in a certain spot to continue... and no real clues are given as to where that place is.  So, given the 'dark side' of oldschool gaming is also present here along with the good, consider keeping a walkthrough handy.  I found Ys II much less walkthrough dependent, though there were still a few spots where I could see many gamers getting stuck without one.

Ys I is the shorter and less deep of the two games.  The first half of the game has you exploring a bit, helping people out, and fighting monsters.  Once you have saved everyone and are fully prepared, you get to go into Darm tower, which, after entering, you cannot exit.  You then ascend 26 levels of this tower, until finally defeating the last boss.  The adventure in Ys II takes place right where Ys I leaves off.

Ys I & II Chronicles+
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 88%
Gameplay - 16/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - -5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 60%
Violence - 6/10
Language - 7/10
Sexual Content - 3/10
Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

The bosses in Ys I are not so simple, however.  They are generally much, much harder than those in Ys II, though sometimes those deaths can feel cheap rather than deserved.  I found the first boss very annoying, though thankfully, you can level up some and make him much easier.  Two later bosses, the third and the last, are quite difficult.  The third is very hard, but once you figure out the pattern, with enough skill, you can feel like you earned the win. The last boss, well, he is just cheap.  I retried, probably at least twenty times, until I got lucky and finally beat him.  

Ys II still has the bump system, but it is also augmented with magic that you find throughout your adventure.  This, along with a much larger and more fleshed out tale, leads to a much more fulfilling adventure.  The bosses are not cheap, but still require skill to beat, and the bump system has been adjusted so that diagonal approaches will almost always succeed.  Since you gain the fire magic spell fairly early in your adventure, some boss battles feel more like classic shooter gameplay as you dodge your opponent and his shots, then place well timed shots into his weak points for the win.

The leveling system has also been improved.  In Ys I, there are only 10 levels – each level is a huge jump in power, defense, and HP.  You are typically max level about half way through the game.  The rest of the game is all skill, not leveling, to succeed.  In Ys II, the max level is 55, and as a result, it much more rewarding.  The last boss does not require you to be max level either, so if you are, it only makes it easier, like most games.  

The story in Ys is actually very interesting, and does a great job building between the two games.  These games must be played in order, and thankfully, are sold as a pair these days.  I beat Ys I in around ten hours, and Ys II in around fifteen.  I played on normal difficulty.  Many say that these games deserve a run through on nightmare; I can see their point.  Playing through, it is clear that these games are meant for those who really want a challenge, and they can provide it.  After beating the game on any difficulty level, there is a time attack mode unlocked, which puts you up against each boss in a row through to the last.  The tricky part is that the game predetermines your level and equipment; you don't get the luxury of overleveling here.  I was quickly reminded of how challenging some of these bosses are.

But really, in my mind Ys games are about two things: gameplay, and the music.  I think I already went into sufficient detail about how and why the games are so much fun: challenging gameplay, interesting and fast paced combat system, and exciting bosses.  But I only hinted at the incredible music that these games bring along.

Ys I & II Chronicles+

I have always found that game music is an interesting thing; it can make an average game amazing and a great game downright annoying.  It can set the mood for increased emotional impact, or it can make a seemingly serious scene into a joke. I find that if I don't like a game's music, I rarely enjoy the game – it's that simple.

Ys games, like many Falcom games, are composed and performed by their in-house rock band, called Falcom Sound Team jdk.  This game, like I mentioned before, has three different versions of the in game music.  The original PC-88 sound from the late 1980s, the Complete version from 2001, which is enhanced MIDI, and the Chronicles version from 2009 performed by their band.  All I have to say is that I left it at Chronicles – and was absolutely blown away.  While some of the themes are very well done orchestrations with violins, harps, flutes, pianos, and other orchestral and symphonic instruments, many of the battle and action tracks are full blown electric guitar, drums, and the works.  I heard it described as 'power rock' and I think that fits perfectly.  These are serious jams that I have been listening to outside of the game via the .ogg files included in the game install directory.  They also have much of their music on iTunes and on Amazon for MP3 download (and CDs, though those can be pricey, sadly).  If I could give this game a 15/10 in Sound/Music I would.

One thing that really stuck out (outside of the music) while playing Ys I, but especially Ys II, is the care and attention to detail given to the NPCs.  For example, in Ys II, in your quest you gain an item that transforms you into a Roo, which is a cute little magical creature.  These creatures can talk to monsters/demons, and can understand their speech.  What is remarkable is that every single enemy in the entire game – and there are a whole lot of them – each has their own line that they can say when spoken to while in Roo form.  And if that wasn't enough, what they have to say can change based on what has happened.  One of the really neat and fun parts of the last area is how you have to talk to these enemies to gain clues on what to do next, gain passwords to get to restricted areas, and more.  It was really fun discovering a whole other side to these creatures – and then switching back to human form and slicing them to bits.  There is no remorse shown by your character when you do this, as demons are considered evil despite having a personality.  Interestingly, there is a side character that explains why this is so.  It's a neat story element the way it's handled.

Other than the aforementioned slaying of lots of demons in quick succession, there are other things to be aware of.  By default, the game will show blood and 'gibs' of enemies when they are defeated.  You can turn off the blood stains, but not the gibs.  In Ys I, there are several NPCs in pubs who desire to share with you their chosen alcoholic beverage.  One comments on how you are underage to do so.  There are also clearly drunk characters.  One guy is at the pub when his boss is expecting him to be working.

Ys I & II Chronicles+

When it comes to sexual content, there are a few things to be aware of.  When it comes to nudity itself, there is one cut scene depicting two nude goddesses with no features (no nipples, etc.).  The menu screen for Ys I shows a nude woman (belly button up) holding a large black globe, which covers up the important parts.  There is also a female blacksmith who wears bikini armor on the job, apparently.  She, and several other females, speak in subtle (and sometimes less subtle) innuendo.  A few girls clearly have a crush (or more) on Adol.  From what I understand, later games make jokes about the fact that he has girls falling all over him, but his only lady is adventure.  Others sometimes make comments (and jokes) about some of those possible relationships.  Several bits of dialogue made me laugh, but not all of them are appropriate for younger minds.

Other humorous (but not always appropriate) dialog includes a few easter eggs you can unlock.  One of them is simply that you can cast the fire spell on NPCs, to hilarious results.  Some comments include 'Am I to be a sacrifice to the fire in your heart?', 'Yeow! Some like it hot, but I do NOT!', 'Ooh, it burns so goood!', and 'Help! Help! My a*s is aflame!'.  If I were to list out all of the witty dialog, I probably could go on for half a page.

Another oddly funny (but totally inappropriate) easter egg, that honestly would be almost impossible to find if not for FAQs, is this: during each game, you have a temporary escort mission, where you have to take someone back to safety.  If you back this NPC into a certain corner, you can get their 'measurements'.  While it may not be obvious what is meant, it becomes more clear as their height, waist, hip, and bust size are displayed for you next to their character name.  The victims also make some comment about you crowding them out, acting creepy, or some such thing.  And to top it all off, you get a Steam achievement for it.  I am sure it's meant to be funny, and it is, but it's also more than a little bit 'pervy'.  From an adult point of view it may be something to laugh off, but I would definitely not want to have to explain what is happening to children.  While some of the irreverence in these games are part of their charm, it's also not all appropriate for everyone.

As already hinted at, there are some curse words spoken, though not particularly often.  A*s, b*stard, d*mn, jacka*s, and h*ll are spoken in dialog.  There are also goddesses in this game that everyone looks up to, though honestly, they seem more like angels, as while they do have great powers, they do not seem omniscient or all powerful.  They do have limits.  Interestingly, demons (the monster enemies around you) and magic are linked, and that link is explored in the story.

Ys I & II: Chronicles+ is a different kind of game then is often produced today, and honestly, it is kind of refreshing.  It was a blast to play through these two episodes, and while the playtime is not as extraordinary as some RPG epics can be, it does invite additional playthroughs at higher difficulty levels, and there are online leaderboards for time attack on both Ys I and II.  While the graphics may seem safe for younger players, it's really not.  But if the content contained within is something you can look past, here is a pair of games that are an absolute blast to play, despite some shortcomings.


Game Info:

Double Dragon Neon 
Developed By: WayForward Technologies/Abstraction Games (PC)
Published By: Midnight City
Release Date: February 6, 2014/September 11, 2012
Available On: PC/PS3/Xbox 360
Version Reviewed: PC
Genre: Beat 'em up
Number of Players: 1-2
ESRB Rating: Teen for Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes, Partial Nudity 
MSRP: $9.99

Thank you Midnight City for sending us this game to review!

Growing up as a gamer in the 80s, many thought that video games were an anti-social activity.  Sometimes that can be the case, but for my brother and I, the Double Dragon games on the NES (as well as a few other coop classics like Contra and Super-C) were anything but.  Even to this very day (literally, I was at his house today) we will occasionally fire up an old copy of Double Dragon 2 or 3 and take out thugs like the old days.  

Double Dragon Neon is a modern day homage to those classic Double Dragons and the 1980s that spawned them.  Everything from the backgrounds and scenery, the level design, the enemies, and especially the music, pays tribute to one or more of those things.  

For those not indoctrinated into the Double Dragon universe, this was a classic side scrolling 2D beat 'em up from the late 1980s/early 1990s.  The stars of the series are Billy and Jimmy Lee.  Billy's girlfriend, Marian, has a knack for getting captured, and it is the brothers' job to rescue her.  In Neon, the game immediately starts with a thug punching Marian in the gut and taking her away, which is an obvious homage to the very similar beginning to the original Double Dragon.  There are also several other levels with obvious nods to others (especially Double Dragon 2) as well.

Double Dragon Neon

Strong Points: Fun, colorful graphics; fantastic soundtrack; fun beat 'em up action; corny but fun sayings throughout the action
Weak Points: Really challenging solo (if that's a con); classic hair grab move missing; a fair amount of bugs
Moral Warnings: Lots of violence; suggestive themes include the 'sadistic seductress' who uses phrases like 'naughty naughty' and 'time for some discipline' (while wielding a whip); these (and other) women wear extremely exposing clothing; some lines sound like curses when they are not (what the butt!)

While the classic games were simple two button affairs, Neon modernizes the formula somewhat.  There are strong and weak attack buttons, a jump button, a grab button, as well as run and dodge/roll buttons.  There is also a special attack button. There is also a light RPG system as well added on to make things a bit more modern, and encourage replays.

Special moves are called Sosetsitsu.  These use magic points, but can really do a lot of damage, or get you out of a tight spot.  There are also Stances, which improve your attack, defense, hit points, and magic points.  Enemies often drop random tapes, and there are a few shops hidden in levels that sell them as well. The more tapes you have of a particular type, the more powerful that stance or special move.  At the start, you max out at ten tapes.  To increase beyond ten, you need to spend mythril at a tapesmith, which increases this limit by ten each time. You can obtain mythril by defeating any boss.

By allowing character progression in this way, the game strongly encourages replay, and even grinding if you are stuck.  This is a good thing, as it takes only a few short hours to beat the game; it's possible for someone to rush through it in one hour or so.  But the replay value is very good.  Upon beating the game at a difficulty, additional ones are unlocked.  Later difficulties are nearly impossible without upgrades, and they reward more drops as well, which rewards more challenging and skillful play.

The combat, along with the RPG system, is done well enough that I find myself coming back for more often.  It really is fun to play.  It can be really satisfying to finally pound some of the more challenging bosses, or to put Abobo in his place one more time.  My biggest complaint is that most of the women wear pretty ridiculous outfits, with little more than a thong on their rears, and rather large bosoms.  Some also walk in highly suggestive ways, carrying whips, while saying things like 'naughty naughty!' and 'time for some discipline!'

Double Dragon Neon
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 88%
Gameplay - 17/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 3/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 62%
Violence - 5/10
Language - 6/10
Sexual Content - 5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

Other than the clearly sexualized women, and the expected violence against everyone, there is less wrong than you might expect in many modern games.  D*mn and h*ll are used, but most other things you think you hear as curse words, are not. For example, First time I heard 'what the butt!' I thought it was far worse, until I heard it again and listened more closely.  You also get to pound in the skulls of some undead as well.

There are a ton of silly puns in this game.  While using a baseball bat, you will often hear 'touchdown!' and 'hole in one!'.  Only occasionally will you hear an appropriate 'grand slam!'.  Other silliness includes knife wielders yelling 'stabular!' and whip users yelling 'kraken!' and 'whip it!'.  I really got a kick out of some of the bad guys.  One yells 'bang! bang! bang!' while shooting a gun, and another narrates some pretty silly stuff like 'don't worry, I have a replacement plan!' while you proceed to smash his big screen TVs to bits.  I admit that cheesy humor appeals to me, and this game comes through plenty.

The music is also great, with plenty of hair band flair.  None of the lyrics are inappropriate, which is a huge plus.  They are also fun to listen to.  Some of them are pretty ridiculous, like the mini song Training Wheels.  The soundtrack is free, even in high quality FLAC (audiophiles like me everywhere, rejoice!) here

The graphics are also neat, using a very colorful cell-shaded look.  I always prefer my games to have lots of color vs. the brown fests that infected games a few years ago, and I am glad that this one comes through.  Attack moves are convincing, and it rarely feels like the game cheats – if you die, it's because you messed up, and you can clearly see that.

Double Dragon Neon

This game also looks great at really high resolutions.  I run my monitor at 2560x1440, and when it's working, it really works great.  Unfortunately, the largest area of bugs that I found in this game related to setting the video mode. It offers three different modes: windowed, borderless window, and fullscreen. Fullscreen offers the 2560x1440 resolution option, but the game is running at 1920x1080, and it is clearly the case based on my monitor's OSD (On-screen display).  I was able to get it to run at the proper resolution when changing it to borderless window, and it looks great, but once I exit the game and restart it, it loses that setting and looks very blocky and low resolution.  Running it in a window at an odd setting did work, but the game was very clearly stretched in 4:3 modes.

Another problem I ran into was that the game would crash sometimes (but not all) when changing video modes.  Sometimes it was just resolution, but other times it was between fullscreen and windowed modes, for example.  I really hope they fix these things, as I had no crashing issues whatsoever during my normal playthroughs otherwise.

A brand new feature for the Steam release, which is not available on other platforms, is online multiplayer, called bro-op.  There is also local multiplayer with the second player using either the keyboard or another Xbox 360 gamepad (highly recommended).  Hot-plugging the controller in during gameplay proved to work perfectly as well.  To it's core, Double Dragon has always been about the bros working together, and this game pulls that off just fine.  The only thing that surprised me a bit is that the second player gets their own save and equipment.  This totally makes sense for online play, but for local, it is very possible for one player to have an end game tape selection, with the other starting off fresh.  This can make the game drastically easier or harder for the other player depending of the level chosen.  The one time I played online it actually went really well, but I have read about people in the forums having a ton of lag problems.  YMMV online, as always.

Double Dragon Neon is a really fun, 1980's honoring look back at the Double Dragon franchise, with some modern twists thrown in which I really enjoyed.  As a long time fan, I thought that, despite the lack of the iconic hair grab, it really does a very good job bringing back what made Double Dragon fun all those years ago. It's too bad that they had to bring back (in modern high resolution) some of the artistic choices for the women's outfits, but beyond that, it is an enjoyable romp that I would recommend to any fans of the genre.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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