I downloaded the demo for Double Dragon Neon the other night. For the first 10 or so minutes of fiddling about with it, I was utterly seduced by it. I loved the current gen upgrade to the original layouts and was genuinely tickled to see that – barring some of the more overt S&M sound bytes proffered by the game’s under-dressed whip wielding femme fatales – the game’s aesthetic hadn’t really moved on from Walter Hill’s 1979 gang flick, The Warriors. However, after about half an hour I found myself stymied by the fact that the game’s move list didn’t include The Elbow.
Ah, The Elbow. The All-Powerful, All-Conquering Elbow. If you’ve never played Double Dragon, you probably won’t know what I’m talking about. If you did play it back in the day and you’re still confused as to what The Elbow is, take it from me, you were crap at this game.
The Elbow was a move that was activated by pressing the punch and kick buttons together. When you did this, whichever fighter you controlled leaned out with an elbow attack in the opposite direction to the one they were facing and made a noise which sounded like someone lifting a 50 tonne weight. The move dropped any enemies approaching your fighter from behind like a sack of potatoes, regardless of their height, strength and skill. Whether you were being approach by a bog-standard goon or the game’s final boss – if they were close enough for you to use The Elbow, they were going down.
The Elbow starts to come in really handy in the latter part of the game, when the move which involved grabbing an enemy’s hair and kneeing them in the face – by far the coolest-looking move in the entire game – gets blocked by every second goon you come across. It’s here, when you’re faced with mostly giants and emerald-coloured versions of the main two protagonist, that The Elbow becomes your go-to move. You still need some timing to pull it off, but it’s like have a one-shot cannon in your arsenal when everyone else around you is armed with a peashooter.
Such is the power of The Elbow that it’s actually kind of like a skeleton key to exploring every level in the game. Part of Double Dragon’s appeal, as far as I was concerned anyway, was the trashy gangland aesthetic, that gave way to forests, mountains, and, by the end, an ornate palace in the mountains with booby traps and moving statues that could quite easily double for a Bond villain’s HQ or a set in an Indiana Jones film. When I saw the revamped look of the opening stages of Double Dragon Neon, I couldn’t wait to use The Elbow to see what the game’s artists had done with the rest of the game.
So imagine my disappointment when I found The Elbow wasn’t readily available in Double Dragon Neon, right from the get-go. I can see why it’s been taken out, mind. (Or at least locked away. Tell me it’s been locked away rather than excised completely, WayForward, because if you’ve taken it out, you are bad, bad people). If you’re trying to reboot an arcade beat ’em up from the late 80s on current gen consoles, you’re aiming this sucker at the stick-twiddling, combo-learning fighter crowd, and you don’t win those people over by handing them a move they can beat the whole game with. But for someone like me, who used to instinctively reach for the punch and kick buttons every time I played Double Dragon, removing The Elbow move is like having your index finger cut off. (It’s kind of like removing all functionality from the D-pad in the new SSX game, although in Double Dragon Neon’s case, the omission is far more understandable – and forgiveable).
So let’s a hold a moment’s silence for Double Dragon’s skeleton key: The Elbow. It was such an integral part of my original experience with this franchise, the new game just doesn’t feel like a Double Dragon game without it. And think of the loss of its impact on pop culture if it had never been included in the first place…