STAFF REVIEW of Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons (Xbox One)

Thursday, July 27, 2023.
by Adam Dileva

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Box art The last few years have been kind to side scrolling beat ‘em up fans with releases like River City Girls 2, Streets of Rage 4, and the fantastic TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge. Naturally, this clearly meant that one of the originals that started them all was due for a comeback, and here we are with Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, adding some new features like a different art style and even some roguelite elements to keep it fresh.

The Double Dragon's, brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee, are in for a new adventure in this alternative timeline prequel. NYC is plagued by crime and gangs, so the Mayor contacts the brothers to help end the problem the best way possible; with their fists. Set in the year 199X, a post nuclear New York is anything but safe, as gangs rule the streets, each trying to become dominant. You will try to bring peace to the city by taking down the four gang leaders, each a different faction and section of the city.

While you of course start with the iconic Lee brothers Billy and Jimmy, you’re also initially able to choose from Marian and Uncle Matin for playable characters. With 9 extra characters to unlock, each isn’t simply just a reskin or color swap, they all play quite unique and suit different play styles. Two player local co-op allows you and a friend to play on the same TV and you’re even able to customize the game settings to your liking in a variety of different ways depending if you want something easy or extremely challenging.

The more you play the more Tokens you’ll earn, allowing you to unlock a variety of different things, like Tips, Artwork, Music and of course, unlockable Characters. It will take numerous playthroughs if you want to unlock everything, but I appreciate something to always strive towards. While I was able to unlock a few characters and other things after a full playthrough, it’s up to you what you want to prioritize, though I’d suggest the characters first to find which you enjoy playing the most, making each subsequent play that much more entertaining.

Instead of your typical linear adventure getting from point A to B, fight boss and continue on, the level design is where some of the roguelite elements come into play. With four gangs to defeat, you can of course choose any to start with and defeat, but each boss bested in battle makes each remaining gangs more challenging. Not only that, beating one gang makes the mission length of the next longer and more challenging until all are defeated.

The first gang you fight has maybe one section or chapter with the boss at the end, the next gang will have two sections, and so on. So once you know the levels you like and dislike, you might want to play the gang you don’t enjoy as much first since the mission will be shorter. It’s an interesting system and certainly made me play through a few times to see what each level is like when it’s got more sections. There’s even mini bosses that will appear later on, including challenges you can try to achieve for bonus Tokens.

At the end of each section you’re given a randomized list of purchasable upgrades for the money you’ve been earning for defeating enemies and finding cash along the way. These can range from health upgrades, improve special damage, combo improvements and more. Or if you’re struggling, you might want to save your cash to buy revives if you die, whatever you think will have you survive longer to finish each run. Each player and character gets to make a choice of their upgrade and if you have left over cash at the end of a run, it will convert into Tokens for unlock purchases from the Main Menu.

While you begin with four playable characters, you can spend your earned Tokens on 9 others to unlock. While I won’t spoil who, you can expect some familiar faces if you know your Double Dragon lore. Billy was my favorite of the brothers, being much more quick and agile, whereas Jimmy is a bit slower but more powerful. Marian is meant for long range combat and can become overwhelmed easily, whereas Uncle Matin uses his shield to get close for grapples and AOE damage, so there’s plenty of character variety based on your play style. Each really does play unique, especially the unlockable ones, and I’m glad they weren’t simply reskins with each having their own strengths and weaknesses.

One of the main combat mechanics is able to tag your partner in. While you’ll most likely focus on one character, you swap in your partner when needed. This allows for some interesting combos or to get out of some hairy situations. Swapping out characters acts like a defensive move, knocking down the enemies surrounding you. Of course this has a cooldown, so you can’t simply spam it and will need to be strategic of when’s the best time to be used. The character that is tagged out can recover some of their lost health as well, so it’s a good thing to learn this early on.

You have a special meter that fills quicker the more damage you deal and take, but the coolest mechanic has to be that if you finish off multiple enemies with a special move, you’ll gain a food drop, which we all know means health in these beat ‘em ups. Knowing this, I’ll sometimes wrangle up a bunch of enemies, combo to low health, then finish them all at once and get food to replenish my health. It’s a clever way of not only relying on strategic gameplay, but not only relying on food drops from broken boxes, barrels and items. If you need health, you better think of a way to finish off enemies with a special.

Double Dragon wouldn’t be the same if there wasn’t weapons that enemies drop and then be used against them. You can expect a handful like typical knives, bats and more, each dealing incredible damage or can be thrown across the screen as well to stop charging enemies coming at you.

Local co-op supports up to two players, and while I’m glad it’s included, the lack of online multiplayer seems like a huge miss. I understand that it’s a smaller developer, but the latest TMNT game will have a great shelf life because of the online multiplayer, and given I don’t have friends over to play with me, I’ll sadly rarely come back to this once I’m done grinding for Tokens.

While I can see that some might not enjoy the chibi pixel artwork, it reminded me a lot of the Scott Pilgrim game, and the animations are all fluid and done quite well. It’s certainly a modern-retro take on the original and I believe it works for the most part. The audio is just as great, as attacks feel impactful, though the highlight is the soundtrack. I’ll say it, Double Dragon is one of the greatest gaming theme songs of all time, and hearing some remixes of different tracks warms the nostalgia in my heart and puts a smile on my face as I bop my head.

Other than the glaring lack of online multiplayer, I had little complaints overall. Sure combat can be a little chaotic and hectic, especially in the final stages, but that’s to be expected in the genre. I remember how long it took me to beat the original game on NES when I was a kid and trying to survive a fight against Abobo when they appeared. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons brings some of that nostalgia back, made for a modern audience, complete with iconic soundtrack and characters.

**Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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