Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review

The beat ”em-up genre has a problem where gameplay can easily become a tedious and monotonous slog. The best entries in this genre emphasized variety and would typically have very short playtime. Over the years, there have been some breakthroughs in addressing the shortcomings while capturing the appeal of walking down a corridor and beating up waves of goons with a friend.

Double Dragon is a franchise that has been around since 1987. It has had its ups and downs, but its violent and sleazy 80s appeal has kept it relevant. Double Dragon: Neon managed to inject a surprising amount of depth into the combat; incorporating parrying, ducking, rolling, and fighting game-style inputs. It also had one of the greatest soundtracks to a Beat ’em-up ever.

Streets of Rage 4 managed to revitalize beat ’em-up gameplay in its own way and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge ended up being a highlight of 2022. Can Double Dragon maintain relevancy in this rising arms race for beat ’em up supremacy? Find out in this Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons review!

This is a review coupled with a supplemental video review. You can watch the video review or read the full review of the below:

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons
Developer: Secret Base Pte Ltd.
Publisher:
Joystic, Modus Games
Platforms: Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: July 27, 2023
Price: $24.99 USD

The year was 199X, a desolate era where nuclear chaos had torn through the heart of New York City, leaving nothing but wreckage and despair in its wake. Amidst the ruins, the once-proud metropolis now languished under the tyranny of criminal overlords, reigning with an iron fist over the helpless citizens.

As the city sank into a nightmarish abyss of riots and lawlessness, two young warriors, Billy and Jimmy Lee, emerged from the shadows, determined to wage a two-man war against the tide of darkness. Forged in the tempest of the hellish urban nightmare, they knew it was time to unleash the fury of their fists and bring justice back to these lawless streets.

Every shattered bone, every drop of blood shed: a testament to their unyielding pursuit of justice. In the face of overwhelming odds, they pushed forward, fueled by the belief that their indomitable spirit could bring salvation to their beloved city.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons marks a turning point, where destiny weaved an intricate tapestry, and the battle-hardened brothers, Billy and Jimmy Lee, found themselves flanked by unexpected allies.

Uncle Matin, a war veteran with a past drenched in mystery, lends his steel to the cause. With age, came wisdom and power, and Uncle Matin stood ready to unleash a lifetime of martial prowess upon those who sought to dominate the weak.

Marian, once a damsel in distress, now stood tall as a warrior in her own right. No longer content to be a bystander in her own story, she rose to join the battle, her resolve sharpened by the trials she had endured.

It wasn’t just the allies within their grasp that defined this tale. The shadows cast by old adversaries now hold potential for redemption. For a fee of a few tokens, former foes become friendly comrades in Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons.

This is a timeless tale that serves as the perfect excuse to take on hordes of creeps, punks, and thugs. Each playable character shares the same inputs, yet each one possesses a distinct feel that sets them apart.

Billy and Jimmy are two unique fighters with contrasting attack styles, speed, and health values. No longer mere palette swaps – they bring their brand of intensity to the fray. The rest of the cast, like the explosive-wielding Marian, offer their spin on the action, making her a formidable glass cannon.

The controls are snappy and fluid, ensuring every punch and kick lands with a satisfying crunch and bit-crushed smacking sound. The grappling and throwing animations carry a weightiness that complements the cute pixelated art style, making each move feel immersive and believable.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons will catch the attention of beat ’em up fans, but will notice the absence of helpful i-frames. The result? An unrelenting chain of fists, kicks, and lead pipes can leave players feeling overwhelmed.

Thankfully, Gaiden offers two brilliant options for coping with the relentless violence: the tag-team mechanic and crowd-control bonuses.

With the tag-team mechanic, players can switch to their secondary character to break free from the endless pummeling. This chance for redemption can turn the tide in their favor, and it adds a welcome diversity to the player’s moveset. Each character boasts unique moves and playstyles, enhancing the combat experience.

For those struggling to maintain their health amid the constant onslaught, the crowd-control module comes to the rescue.

Balancing HP replenishment becomes a breeze as goons caught in the crossfire of special attacks reward the player with heavenly hamburgers and hotdogs. Achieving a combo multiplier of five or more brings even greater rewards like an entire Thanksgiving turkey.

In Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, mastering the tag-team mechanic and crowd-control bonuses is the key to surviving the relentless mayhem. It is a refreshing dynamic and compounded with the range of options to customize the difficulty, players will always be on the edge of their seats when battling the gangs of New York.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons stands out for its remarkable replayability, courtesy of its “roguelite” elements and the engaging escalation system. Unlike traditional linear stages, players can tackle levels in any order, and they all start with an easy level of challenge. As each level is conquered, the difficulty ramps up significantly, introducing more dangerous foes and stronger bosses.

With every victory against a mid-boss or stage boss players can spend their hard-earned dollars on randomized permanent perks or upgrades, enhancing their abilities and combat prowess. The choice to spend money is optional, and those who save it all until the end can cash out for valuable tokens. These tokens serve as currency to unlock additional playable characters, art, or music.

Thanks to this ingenious system, Rise of the Dragons keeps the gameplay perpetually fresh and exciting, ensuring every playthrough feels different from the last. However, it’s worth noting that the Nintendo Switch version may suffer from longer load times, which is the only drawback in an otherwise immersive gaming experience.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons lives up to the legacy of its predecessor, Double Dragon: Neon, while offering a unique and captivating experience. While it may lack the bold and bombastic soundtrack of Neon, Rise of the Dragons compensates with incredibly varied gameplay that keeps players hooked.

The game’s only missed opportunity is the absence of scanline filter options, which could have enhanced the grungy and gritty 80s New York atmosphere even further. Despite this, beat ’em up fans are in for a treat, as Rise of the Dragons solidifies its place among the genre’s renaissance, adding another winner to the list.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided by Modus Games. Additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy can be found hereDouble Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.

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The Verdict: 8

The Good

  • Two-character tag-team mechanic allows mixing moves and playstyles
  • The randomized elements pay-off and deeply impact the gameplay
  • 13 playable characters that include classic thugs and bosses
  • Flexible difficulty system that rewards risky play and the satisfying tug-of-war of multiplier bonuses
  • Timeless local co-op gameplay and high replay value with an escalation system that keeps replays fresh

The Bad

  • Unfair stun-locking and lacking i-frames
  • Brutally long and frequent load times on Switch
  • A few scanline filters would have been nice

About

A youth destined for damnation.


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