As the beat-‘em-up revival continues, Double Dragon is the latest series to make a return to a gaming platform near you. Brothers Jimmy and Billy Lee are back in Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, with an expanded roster, to do what they do best: kick ass to save their city.
When the city’s new Mayor appears in their doorway, carrying an injured Marian in his arms, it’s up to the brothers to take down the gangs that hurt their friend and make the city a safer place for everyone. With the Mayor in their corner, and both Marian and her uncle Matin providing backup, no one is spared from a good old-fashioned thrashing!
Classic foundations with some new mechanics
When you take the classic formula and throw in some new mechanics that bring the brothers Lee into the modern age, you have the recipe for fun times bashing heads. The city is meaner, the gangs more dangerous, and the combat way more refined. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons isn’t reinventing the wheel, but some new mechanics spice up the traditional beat-‘em-up salad.
You’ve got single-player or two-player co-op – honestly, the best way to experience a beat-‘em-up – with side-scrolling, level-based action across a variety of common locales, with hordes of goons and unique end-stage bosses to take down.
The first breath of fresh air comes from the “Tag Team” mechanic, which sees each player controlling two characters, which they can switch between at any time. This lets you switch up your play styles as you could use Marian, who relies almost entirely on firearms to fight, paired up with one of the brothers whose specialty is in close combat. Tagging out between characters gives you some breathing room as nearby enemies take damage or get knocked back, while also letting the injured character restore a fraction of their health.
There are also no classic “lives”, here unless you count your second character as one, and there are very limited food drops to heal yourself with either – all of which makes tactical play important as the game throws waves of enemies at you. What you do get is a fair amount of cash that can be traded in for tokens, which can then be used for “continue” tokens, unlockable artwork, and extra characters for your roster.
Tying all of this together is a novel rogue-lite take on the IP. As you might expect, death is the end of a run and you have to start a new run from the beginning as your checkpoint save gets deleted. However, at the end of each sub-level, all of that cash you collect can be spent on character upgrades – including more health, damage, and tag team specialties – while any left at the end of a run is converted into tokens for the aforementioned unlockables.
You can customise your runs when you start a new one by changing up the difficulty, enemy health, and aggression levels along with some other modifiers that determine how much money you’ll need to convert to a token. Suffice it to say, the harder you make your run, the less cash a token will cost you if you survive. Thankfully, if you choose to quit a run in the middle of a stage, when you restart the game you’ll start back at the campaign mission screen, so you don’t have to worry about losing progress unless you die.
Fewer missions but greater replayability
This structure is significant as Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons only has four missions for you to play, and all are immediately available on the mission screen. However, each mission gets successively harder and longer depending on the order you play them in; the idea being the gangs are reacting to your efforts and beefing up their defences.
In reality, it just works out to longer and more sub-levels per mission, along with more boss fights to get through. What does change significantly are the mechanics of each boss depending on when you fight them, changing many from walkovers to tough and complex encounters. Of course, this rogue-like design would mean nothing if the game didn’t play well and, thankfully, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is honestly, wonderfully fun.
The combat system, which features moves from across the series history, has been refined quite a bit and there’s a huge emphasis on crowd control above all else. You move slower than in other recent beat-’em-ups, but it feels appropriate for the tactical approach the developers want. Crowd control is very important, and not just because of the number of enemies that swarm you, but also because taking out huge crowds at the same time can spawn much-needed food to keep you going.
Each character also plays differently thanks to all the moves they could draw and their unique supers. The brothers obviously specialize in close-quarters combos, Marian is a firearm expert, and Matin is the wrestler/tank with slower moves but also the wonderful ability to grab and power slam goons and bosses. There are also plenty of unlockable characters to play with, including the bosses and some of the IP’s favourite bad guys.
Let the bodies hit the floor!
Overall, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of The Dragons is a solid new entry in this long-running franchise and a good fit for the Switch with crisp visuals, smooth animations, and solid performance. That said it changes up its character designs and visual style for this new outing, which may prove an acquired taste. Regardless, the combat mechanics are fantastic and it encourages more tactical play. The rogue-like elements didn’t make the game as difficult as I was expecting, but the many unlockable characters and the ways boss fights can change have prompted me to tackle multiple, increasingly tough runs. Both fans of the franchise and fans of beat-‘em-ups in general should find a lot to love.
Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC, Xbox One/Series S|X, and PS4/PS5.
Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons (Nintendo Switch) ReviewDouble Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons (Nintendo Switch) Review
- Large roster of unlockable characters
- Updated combat mechanics are still fun
- Bosses get tougher depending on the order you tackle them
- Not as difficult as some may want it to be