Title: Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons
Developer: Secret Base
Release Date: July 27, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Modus Games, Joystick
Genre: Beat 'Em Up
Growing up in the 80s and 90s definitely had its perks. Arguably, the era was obsessed with defining what is “cool,” and with that, we were introduced to some pretty cool video game characters. From this, Double Dragon was born. At its core, Double Dragon doesn’t really have a narrative, but typically something happens that only violence can solve, and the two brothers, Billy and Jimmy, step up to the plate. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons acts as a spinoff to the mainline series and captures so much of what makes beat ’em ups so fun. However, the roguelike structure is somewhat unnecessary in a game that’s already challenging enough.
Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons tells the story of a town overrun by gang activities. One day, twin brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee are training when the mayor bursts in and says he needs their help. That pretty much sets up the adventure, and players are then able to choose which area of the city they want to help first.
The narrative is sparse, which falls in line with the series. I mean, I don’t need much more of an excuse other than gangs are taking over to want to beat down some baddies. Each level has a boss and theme that features some unique enemy types and level designs, but the gameplay is consistent no matter which level you play. It’s a beat ’em up; what’d you expect?
Depending on which area you visit first, the remaining areas will become more difficult. These levels vary slightly in complexity the further you play, which makes sense, given they are beefing up defenses the more ass you kick. However, this increase in challenge is no joke, and soon you will be overrun with enemies. Thankfully, each playable character is capable of crowd control, which is rewarded with health drops.
Dying comes at a price, literally. The main drop from taking down enemies and clearing stages is cash, which can be used to revive your fallen party, but the price increases each time. This means dying in the late game can cost over $5,000, and if you don’t have it, then you can use a Token, which are pretty rare, especially on your first playthrough. So, you go back to the start, receive a few Tokens for your hard work, and fight again.
At first, this feature frustrated me because the last thing I want to do after dying 2 hours into a beat ’em up game is restart from the beginning, but the dynamic levels do offer some differences upon each arrival. Money can also be used to buy upgrades. Each character receives a random batch of purchasable upgrades, but from the few presented, you can only buy one each shop visit.
When it came to upgrades, I mainly focused on speed and attack power, but some of the more helpful options revolve around the Switch mechanic. No matter if you play with one or two players, you are able to switch to another character. This is extremely useful because it allows you to break enemy combos or get you out of a rough spot. I was even able to use it to save me from falling down a pit by using the switch to add a boost to a jump.
Fighting is pretty straightforward, but each character has a range of different attacks. Similar to past entries, there is a combo system and attacks that require specific button inputs. However, you can button-mash your way through most encounters. Regardless of how you play, combat is extremely responsive, you’re able to attack and switch directions easily, but the grab feature takes some getting used to. More often than not, I took damage after grabbing an enemy because throwing them away feels a little delayed.
Bosses are mostly fun, but they come with their own set of challenges. If you hope to make it through without dying, you’ll have to plan attacks and time your specials to hit multiple enemies and get some health pick-ups. The game is constantly evolving, though. As you unlock new characters, the approach to combat changes offering room for replayability, given this isn’t a very long game at all.
That said, even with these added mechanics, the repetitive structure does weigh on the experience. Further, the roguelike feature may leave some players playing through the same early levels multiple times before making any real progress. Currently, there seem to only be local multiplayer options, which means no online action with your online friends. On top of it all, the combat systems just seem a little too safe. All the inputs and systems don’t move the series or the genre in any direction. This mostly came off as a Double Dragon reunion game with 13 playable characters and replay options.
Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons may seem like a side dish to the main course, but it still manages to be a fun beat ’em up experience. The combat mechanics are responsive, and the ever-growing challenge across each stage makes subsequent playthroughs unique, further defined by the characters you choose. One thing is for certain, even after all these years, Double Dragon remains just as cool as ever.
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