Game Music Saturdays: Double Dragon Neon Original Soundtrack

Remember when video games were just made for pure fun? Remember when they didn’t have to have messages or meanings – just punching thing repeatedly was enough? Remember when negative stereotypes abounded in every form of media and everyone thought it was simply hilarious? When a villain could have a ridiculous name like Skullmageddon and nobody would bat an eye?

This game should fit the bill! Double Dragon Neon is quite a throwback to the “good old days” and nostalgia of the late 1980s. Double Dragon was one of the defining games of the era, unapologetic in its relatively simplistic (though definitely challenging) mechanics. Double Dragon Neon doesn’t try to change this at all.  Unbelievably self-aware of its own awesomeness/cheesiness/stupidity, it doesn’t try to hide its simplicity nor its debt to the Reagan years. To no one’s surprise, the music follows suit, exploiting every single genre that was popular at the time, integrating them into the game, and then letting fly. It also contains remixes of Double Dragon tunes from back in the day, although it’s truly hard to tell with how these songs have been crafted for this new game.

To my surprise, however, I can’t believe how awesome the soundtrack is.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Jake Kaufmann, otherwise known as “virt” in the video game music scene, has been rising in the ranks as a prominent chiptune musician, but his recent work has branched out quite far from those origins. Rock and roll and synth music combine in a perfect combo of catchy tunes and nostalgia.

So, let’s begin, shall we?

The title theme captures all that’s great about video game music: a great beat, unique synthesized sounds (some of which sound like a mixture of soundchips from various systems) and a sense of fun. Heck, the guitar solos don’t hurt either. It sets the tone for the rest of the album so well: epic, cheesy 80s music. City Streets 1 captures that epic feel that only progressive rock can bring, compressed into a three minute time span. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to beat dudes up with this cranked all the way to 11? I love the keyboard solos too; how many of those have you heard lately?

City Streets 2 presents us with some 80s pop music, almost as if a lost Laura Branigan track emerged out of a nowhere. It wouldn’t be out of place with “Self-Control”, to be sure. Even the lyrics capture that sense of vapid senselessness that all these songs displayed at one point or another. Why does it talk about kittens? Does it matter? All I care about is how poppy and upbeat it makes you feel. No one’s expecting any depth from these songs, but that’s not the purpose. Space Dojo 2 does the same thing, except it uses male vocals instead, more like Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks” than anything else, or “Eye of the Tiger”. An attractive man drives and drives for a million miles driving to paradise – nonsensical, but fun!

The Skullmageddon boss music almost sounds like a Konami boss battle theme (anyone who ever played a Konami arcade game knows exactly what I’m talking about). Crazily fast-paced and pumped up electronic with little bits of chiptune, guitars, and kickpedals all over the place, it’ll make you want to punch dudes in the face. Of course, just about every track in the game was explicitly designed for that purpose. All the boss music sounds appropriately menacing while also staying true to the feel of the game’s light-hearted atmosphere.

Space Dojo 1 takes us to another level…space! And what a track it is; imagine a funk band plus a swing band with electronic instrumentation and you’ve got an idea of what this sounds like. As Patrick Gann tweeted a few days ago: “Track 8 will punch you in the face SO HARD)”. So it does! I’m surprised at the amount of “funky” tracks that go for an entirely new sound that still captures the feel of the 80s. Final Palace gets this same vibe, even in the last level of the game. Apparently, it can work anywhere if you’ve got enough confidence in the music.

One word captures the feeling: joyous. It’s just a soundtrack that revels in its own excesses and absolutely jubilant. I’ve not heard anything that sounds so happy in a great while. It’s not somber, it’s not contemplative, and it’s not meant to be any of those things. It’s just pure joy and fun-loving superficiality. I think everybody needs some light-hearted moments; otherwise, you’ll be that pretentious guy that just never stops being serious. Have a little fun once and a while.

There’s plenty of moments in Scripture with the downtrodden and the weak, but there are also moments of joy and rejoicing. Why not have both? It’s more representative of life. Not to say this music is appropriate at all times,  but not all the Psalms have serious contemplation of the horrendous things that happen (like Psalm 58, for example). Many just praise the Lord without any conceptions of grandeur or status. Psalm 47:

47 O clap your hands, all peoples;
Shout to God with the voice of joy.
For the Lord Most High is to be feared,
A great King over all the earth.
He subdues peoples under us
And nations under our feet.
He chooses our inheritance for us,
The glory of Jacob whom He loves. Selah.

God has ascended with a shout,
The Lord, with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
Sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises with a skillful psalm.
God reigns over the nations,
God sits on His holy throne.
The princes of the people have assembled themselves as the people of the God of Abraham,
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
He is highly exalted.

Exaltation require joy, and joy can equate to fun. If you can’t have a little fun every once and a while, you’re just going to burn yourself out. Being downtrodden and so worried about world affairs places the priority on what WE can do, not what God can do. As C.S. Lewis said, “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” If you want to act as if the new world is already here, spread the joy for God’s sake! Thanks to Double Dragon Neon’s excellent soundtrack, I’m doing that right now!

Get it here.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.