Review: Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons brings the Lee boys back to town

Double Dragon Gaiden Rise of the Dragons

Double Dragon is a mainstay within the beat ‘em up genre, no doubt about it, but let’s face it: it’s been a while since there has been a great game in the series. Developed by Singaporean studio Secret Base Pte and published by Modus Games, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is here, hoping to right all wrongs with the franchise and bring it back to the limelight. Does it do the name any justice? Well, if justice is what you’re after, then be ready to serve it with your fists.

As the newly-elected mayor’s only hope of ridding New York City of the rise of gangs that have taken the town over, the Lee boys have their work cut out for them. Alongside Marion and her uncle at the start, Billy and Jimmy are out for blood once again, gangbanger blood that is. They’re gonna have to tear through four continuing sprawling levels in order to take down the baddies, but things aren’t as straightforward as they used to be back in the old days.

That’s because Rise of the Dragons is an all-out brawler with a unique quirk in the form of roguelite-ish elements. With each new level that you beat, the others still left to play get bigger and more complex, with more enemies to beat and bigger challenges to partake in. By completing the game’s challenges, such as beating a boss with a special move, you’ll accrue more and more money.

Money comes into play when gaining chips, and the chips are used to unlock all manner of stuff whenever you finish the campaign, such as new characters to play as, which include the baddies that you defeated, with some names you might be familiar with if you’ve ever played a Double Dragon game before, such as Machine Gun Willie and Abobo, as well as some newcomers. 

Double Dragon Gaiden Rise of the Dragons
Using special moves is a great way to keep a crowd of enemies under control.

The other use that cash has is buying upgrades between every level, which go away whenever you start a new run. These can range from mere health meter upgrades to new specials and even entrance effects whenever you switch a character out. Every level that you play you’re able to bring in a couple of heroes to tag in and out, or on the off chance you might be playing with a friend, it’ll be them.

While the preview material might have touted these roguelite features as a big deal within the game, the best aspect of Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons have got to be the host of options that you get to tweak whenever you start a new game. You can change just about anything, like your starting health, the enemies’, their attack power, the number of continues you have at your disposal, the works. Whenever you change these values, however, the exchange rate for chips varies, so the easier you make the game for yourself, the more expensive unlocking bonuses gets, and vice-versa. 

Since Rise of the Dragons only has a handful of levels, a run usually doesn’t take that long to finish, so you’re bound to come up with enough tokens to unlock everything that you want fairly quickly. Then again, that requires playing the game repeatedly, and considering that there are only a few stages to play, it can get repetitive to do so by your lonesome.

On the other hand, new characters do play differently, and there’s always the option to play co-op, which is where this new Double Dragon, as expected, truly shines. The brawling gameplay is satisfyingly good when playing with someone else since there’s just enough stagger when hitting enemies that having an extra pair of hands and feet is enough to speed things up considerably.

Double Dragon Rise of the Dragons
Rise of the Dragons’ boss fights get increasingly more chaotic the further you make it into the game.

As with the older games, there’s a fair bit of awkward platforming in this game that’s baffling since it manages to be as bad as ever to pull off. Thankfully, it doesn’t really penalize you for failing, but it’s just filler in the grand scheme of things, getting in the way of punching more and more thugs. Come on, guys, this is a brawler, not a Mario game!

There is some depth to the fighting outside of merely hitting punks along the way. For one, you can charge up a super move by attacking thugs. Plus, there are special K.Os that you can pull off by eliminating more than 2 enemies at a time which give you health boost items in case you need them, and as mentioned before, part of the challenges that the game proposes are tied to finishing off bosses that way. 

Graphically, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is quite colorful and the pixelated art style used for the characters, having them be chibi versions of the more adult-looking counterparts from the previous games is very endearing. Enemy variety isn’t, though, and they tend to repeat fairly often. 

Speaking of repetition, there’s the sound, or better put, the voices. There are voice samples that play whenever an item is picked up and a special move is pulled off that plays a few too many times over the course of a level and gets old real quick. Switching out characters does alleviate the matter somewhat, but still, there’s only one line for each of them.

Double Dragon Rise of the Dragons
Never thought that playing as Machine Gun Willie would be this fun.

True to its nature as a beat ‘em up, there’s only so much going on for Rise of the Dragons, and similarly to the many games in the genre from the past, your enjoyment of this will hinge on how much you’re likely to take away from it in regards to its unlockable and the ways the game can be played by tackling its levels in different order.

Outside of that, the core loop of this new Double Dragon might prove to be a little bereft of content for those looking for something to really sink their teeth in and enjoy in the long run. In short bursts, though, and with a like-minded pal to play together with, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons can serve as a decent distraction in the Switch multiplayer space.        

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