The adventures of the Lee twins have been sporadic over the years, whether they’ve been referred to as Billy and Jimmy, Bimmy and Jimmy, or “dem dragon dudes”. Fortunately, Arc System Works seems to be doing an excellent job of rehabbing this once great name in the beat ‘em up genre, even if it’s mostly by releasing retro compilations or having the iconic dragons make appearances in games like River City Girls. After a few years of the main spotlight though, Arc Sys have handed Secret Base the keys to create Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, and the results are fantastic.
Leaning heavily into the post-apocalyptic silliness that some might not be aware has always been a part of Double Dragon lore, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons sees Billy and Jimmy Lee joined by friend/shared partner Marian, and newcomer and mentor Uncle Matin contend with a growing criminal element in the ruins of New York City. Four gangs have taken over, and its up to our heroes to restore order to the city once and for all.
A beat ‘em up with roguelike elements, Double Dragon Gaiden’s main gimmick (aside from being able to tag between your two chosen characters for massive combos) is that you can choose how you want to tackle the game’s four gangs, with the other gangs becoming tougher and tougher as a result of you knocking them off the board. New level sections, challenges and stronger enemies/bosses are all waiting for you as you progress through the run, giving the game a sense of both strategy and replayability.
With three total sections per gang, you’ll need multiple playthroughs to see everything that the game has to offer anyway, but after you’ve done that, strategies will begin to emerge on how to best complete your run. Bosses like Lady Okada are absolute run killers at the best of times, especially compared to base level Anubis, so do you take Okada out early and deal with an Anubis who’s so much tougher later on?
Decisions like these aren’t the only ones you’ll have to make throughout your run, as at the end of each section, you’ll be able to choose from several upgrades for both of your characters, adding more layers to the game’s strategy. Secret Base has actually included a decent amount of options here, more than were in the preview build, that can really cater to any playstyle, with one interesting method seeing a character receive massive buffs once their tag character is killed. If tagging between characters seems like too much effort for you, the sacrificial lamb build is definitely a viable option.
The replayability is also improved by the game’s rewards system and difficulty modifiers. At the end of your run, the cash you have is turned into tokens, which can be spent at the Token Shop on new artwork, music, tips to succeed at the game and, crucially, new characters. These characters also boast their own powers and abilities, meaning you’ll be playing for a long time in order to unlock and experience everything.
The difficulty system in Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is a stroke of genius though. Players can choose to make the game easier or harder for themselves, tinkering with settings like increased player stats, stronger enemies, more expensive upgrades and more, and doing so will affect the Token exchange rate. The tougher the game is, the less money you’ll need to earn a token, incentivising players to challenge themselves if they want the most Tokens.
The roguelike mechanics wouldn’t land so well if the core gameplay wasn’t also rock solid, with Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons benefitting from both simple controls, easy to input specials, and a lot of freedom for combo experimentation, especially when you start chaining special moves together. Once you start throwing tags into the mix, DDG’s combos become some of the best in the whole genre, and that’s without touching how ridiculous they could be in the two-player mode, where both players can tag between characters.
Where Double Dragon Gaiden falls down somewhat is the lack of modes. There’s only the roguelike campaign, while the game could really benefit from additional modes like a boss rush or maybe even a traditional arcade run, which streamlines the experience but adds lives to the mix. Maybe DDG could borrow from Streets of Rage 4’s survival mode too, as that proved to be an amazing roguelike take on the beat ‘em up genre. Finally, some online play would push DDG into the stratosphere, as not everyone has the ability to play the game in co-op locally. Options are always nice.
Still, those small issues can’t stop Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons from being an excellent entry in a series that has been crying out for a serious win for over a decade. Whether Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons will achieve the same success as the likes of Streets of Rage 4 or TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge remains to be seen, but there’s a lot to love here.
A Steam copy of Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is a smart, fun and well-executed roguelike take on the beat ‘em genre.
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