When I first heard that another company was working on a Double Dragon game, I was very skeptical about it. Double Dragon has had so many ups and downs that It was starting to feel like the Sonic cycle had rubbed off on Double Dragon. But being the fan that I am, I held fast. Finally, getting some hands-on with Double Dragon Gaiden, I’m a believer, and if you’re someone who enjoyed the golden days of Double Dragon and wished the series would make a return, then this game may be what you’re looking for.
Game Name: Double Dragon Gaiden Platform(s): PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch Publisher(s): Modus Games
Developer(s): Secret Base
Release Date: July 27, 2023
Being someone who’s played damned near every Double Dragon game out there, which also includes the terrible Double Dragon IV, I wasn’t sure what to expect going in. On one hand, this is Double Dragon, one of my favorite brawling series. But on the other hand, is the word “Roguelite Elements,” and I wasn’t too keen on that. Thankfully, my fears turned out to be for nothing, as Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is a fantastic return to a franchise that has had its fair of ups and downs. Just ask Matt McMuscles.
The return of the once 2D beat ’em up king
This is a new Double Dragon, and the story isn’t connected to any of the other games, and it feels like some sort of alternate timeline. Here, the world has suffered through a nuclear war and is now in decay. Now gangs run rampant and do what they want. So, a random mayor approaches the Lee boys and asks for their help, and being the goody two shoes that they are, they leap into action.
While Jimmy and Billy Lee look similar and dish out the same standard punches and kicks, they have unique special move sets that allow them to stand out. Marian is back, but she isn’t the damsel in distress anymore and is actually a police officer, packing a sidearm, a mine that draws in surrounding enemies and is great for setting up combos, and even a rocking launcher. The newcomer to the crew is Uncle Matin, the caretaker of the Lee boys, and is a slow, hulking character that packs a punch and loves to grapple things. Each character has a uniqueness to them, and I love that about them. While these are the default characters, you’ll be able to unlock other characters with tokens that you’ll earn throughout the game.
The controls are spot on, and during my time with the game, I didn’t have any issues moving my characters or getting smacked in the face due to sloppy controls. I do have an issue with having a dedicated run button. Being so used to double tapping a direction is second nature anymore, and not having this as an option, I feel, is a missed opportunity.
Yes, the game is yet another retro pixelated game, and if you didn’t know any better, you’d swear you were playing on a Nintendo Entertainment System. However, the game is beautiful when in motion, and there’s no way an 8-bit console could replicate this experience. There’s no hint of slowdown, and the game ran perfectly on my main PC, which is completely overkill for this game, the ROG Ally, and Steam Deck. On the latter, it was an awesome experience playing this wherever I went.
While Double Dragon has traditionally been a two-player game, the developer added the ability to tag in other characters. If you’re playing solo, you can select two different characters and any time throughout the game, and assuming you meant the requirements, you can tag in someone else. It’s similar to the character swap function in the Marvel versus Capcom games.
Another interesting implementation is the levels. At the start, there are only four levels, and at first, you’d think the game is pretty short. However, that’s very misleading. Once you finish the first level, which you can select prior, the game switches things up, and for every additional level in order, the levels get longer and tougher. For example, the second level has two parts, the third level will now have three parts, and the final level will have four parts. In this, you’ll have to do some experimenting to see which levels are going to cause you the most trouble at the end, seeing how it does get harder.
Double Dragon Gaiden’s combat is enjoyable
Do you want combat? Well, Rise of the Dragon gives it to you in spades. Along with traditional punches, kicks, and throws, there are plenty of OTGs, wall bounces, and various ways to keep the combo meter going. If you’re playing in the single-player Tag mode, then you can even use the tag ability to keep combos going. I’ve found myself trying to perform one special move and immediately forcing another special move to be performed.
There’s also another interesting addition called the Special KO system. This is nothing more than an incentive to kick more ass than normal. Taking out more than three enemies at a time with a special move will cause the game to scream out “Special KO” while causing a yummy health item to appear on the screen. Sadly, you can’t turn that off, and it does get annoying after a while. If you’re full, then the health item will be converted into money which can be used to purchase upgrades for your characters or tokens at the end of the stage. But more on this later in the review.
Nostalgia is everywhere
All throughout Double Dragon Gaiden, I’ve noticed things such as images from older Double Dragon games and a few others. While it is pixelated, you can definitely make them out, such as the image of the Nintendo Entertainment System Battletoads cover. Even the loading screen gets in on the act by showing the default four playable characters as if they were pulled from the NES Double Dragon game.
The soundtrack is full of arranged tracks from prior Double Dragon titles, and I found myself pausing the game just to listen to them. These are some great arrangements of music I enjoyed when I was much younger.
Double Dragon Gaiden allows players to enjoy the game by themselves with the ability to swap characters or two players with the same ability. However, the game only supports local cooperative play, which could cause some people to become frustrated. It’s true, I would also rather be cracking some bad guy’s skulls with an online friend. Thankfully, online cooperative play is planned as a post-launch update later this year.
What about the Roguelite stuff
Alright, let’s talk about the roguelite stuff, and it’s not as bad as you think it is. In fact, the way that the roguelite elements have been added has been done tastefully. For starters, you can use modifiers to customize several aspects of the game before starting out, such as your character’s health, how much continues cost, how aggressive enemies are, and their health. or even activate a permadeath mode – yet, if you run out of continues, your game will be deleted. All these elements will determine how the game plays and also how much money tokens will cost.
Tokens are interesting, as the only way to get them is to purchase them. Yet, the only way to do that is to basically cash out your game. In other words, you will need to delete your current game run, and based on any modifiers you may have used, it will dictate how much these tokens will cost you when you do cash out. Tokens can be used to unlock extra characters, music tracks from the game, art, and other things.
After finishing a level, you’re given the option to choose from several random options that do everything from giving you a health boost, power-up your attacks, increasing your SP power, and more. Or, you can forgo that and take the money, bypassing any of roguelite elements.
A smashing good time
Overall, Secret Base has done an exceptional job of handling the Double Dragon license. Sure, the game is more retro than anything and doesn’t fulfill my wish that a developer would bring Double Dragon into the modern age, and I suppose that’s fine. Instead, they’ve done to Double Dragon, just like what was done to Streets of Rage 4 or Shredder’s Revenge. This is perfectly fine for this retro head, and I suspect it will be just fine for others as well.
Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons releases on July 27, 2023, for the PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Switch, and PC.
Review Disclosure Statement: This copy of Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons was provided to us by Modus Games for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
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Double Dragon Gaiden is a new take on a beat ’em up series that refuses to go away and is one of the better Double Dragon games released in a while. While some will be tired of the pixelated look that many retro games have adapted, it fits, and the combat is as apparent as a punch to the face. Tossing in a pinch of nostalgia with some new roguelite elements that don’t break the game, you have a beat ’em up that fans of the genre will gobble up and ask for seconds.
The combat is simply amazing
The ability to customize the game to your liking
The nostalgia is plentiful and enjoyable
Swapping characters brings a new element into the game
Not a fan of the run button
Some stages get a bit too hard
No online co-op (yet)
I wish I could turn off the Special KO sound effect