The Double Dragon series has a special place in my nostalgic heart. It mainly stems from Super Double Dragonand Battletoads/Double Dragon on the SNES. My brother and I and my gamer friends would spend hours and hours playing those in the classic couch-co-op mode. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons may not capture that exact feeling of rush (and sometimes frustration) from the mid-90s, but it balances new and old beat-em-up styles.
Many entries into this now-revived genre include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revengeand Streets of Rage 4. Two knock-out titles that any gaming fan can have a good time with. So with those still mulling about in my mind, I was curious to see how Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise Of The Dragons would stack up and if it had the punches, kicks, throws, and combos to duke it out with the competition.
Jimmy and Billy are Back!
And they’ve brought some friends with them to fight crowds of enemies! The teams at Modus and Secret Base Games have morphed a 30-year-old series into a new roguelike beat’em up but have also hung on to many of the elements that made this series a success way back in the late 80s and early 90s.
As Billy and Jimmy Lee (the roster gets more extensive, but more on that in a moment), you’re hoping to turn the tables on the gangs of baddies that have overtaken New York City. Each with their locales and crew of thugs. These range from Egyptian inspired to typical street gangs and brawlers. What sets Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons apart from its predecessors is that every mission evolves depending on when you chose to clear it. I’ll explain:
If you defeat The Royals first, you’ll have to go through the stage with a boss fight at the end. Simple enough. But if you wait to defeat them third, you’ll work through multiple sections of this map, with more enemies, mini-boss fights, and a final boss that will have more help and more moves to contend with. This is how it works with each mission, keeping things fresh and challenging. Beat’m ups and brawlers can get tiresome and repetitive, but this is a fresh take on the Double Dragon series and the genre.
Double Dragon’s Goal-Oriented Butt-Kicking
Overall the fighting itself feels responsive and impactful. Each of the hero fighters you chose from has a different moveset that will let you do anything from a flying dragon kick or punches with the Lees, a monstrous grab and ground slam with Abobo, whipping enemies from a distance with Linda, or launching a rocket with Marian. You may recognize many playable characters from past games, each with quippy lines and a frenetic play style.
Another excellent addition to the series is playing as two fighters and swapping in and out of combat. Similar to fighters like Marvel vs. Capcom, when you’re low on health or feel overwhelmed, you can switch things up and turn the tide. Now you will have a teammate recovering, fresh legs, and a chance to clear the area without losing a life. This is also a blast to play around with, as you can combo your attacks and cause some chaos. Playing single player, the swamp-in swap-out mechanic worked for me and encouraged me to experiment with moves and combinations of fighters.
Within each mission, there are objectives and bounties. These are goals that will allow you to earn more money. That money can be turned into upgrades for your fighters at each checkpoint or banked to spend at the end of your run, no matter how successful it is.
Many of these objectives involved Crowd Control: using special attacks to simultaneously defeat three or more enemies. These also drop health pickups that award you various amounts of healing depending on how many thugs you’ve taken out at once. It’s another fresh idea that feels rewarding as the screen swells, enemies fly, and a giant turkey pops up on the screen with the narrator yelling, “Unbelievable!”
This is where the roguelike mechanics are introduced, which works in theory but not always in execution. For example, upgrading fighters as you go is a lot of fun. There’s some experimentation at play, and I found many of the options immediately impacted my runs.
Where this doesn’t work so well is the end-of-run rewards. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons lets you bank your money and exchange them for tokens in the main menu. It sounds simple enough, but most rewards are art, music, and, oddly, tips for playing the game. Sure, you can unlock more playable fighters, but the rewards are slim pickings afterward. I understand the risk-taking and push and pull of deciding whether or not to bank or spend your money and tokens, but the rewards just aren’t as satisfying as I hope they’d be. Trying out new characters and character combos was fun, so there is that.
Despite the underwhelming reward system, the gameplay was enough to keep me playing. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons succeeds where many predecessors did, in the satisfying fisticuffs, diving dragon kicks, and combo knockouts. The music is there, the character animations are a blast, and the fighting styles are fun and varied.
Even playing solo, the option to have a tag team-like system in place creates an excellent chance for experimentation and variability. It’s not just Jimmy and Billy’s story anymore, it’s about a team, and the new systems bring that to the forefront. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is one of the stand-out brawlers on the market and one that is worth sinking time into, especially if you have nostalgia for the series, as I do.
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: Switch
Review: Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons
Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons updates the classic brawling franchise with new mechanics and gameplay loops that feel fun, impactful, and chaotic in all the right ways.