Preview – 90 Minutes of Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of The Dragons PC
Ever since experiencing Streets of Rage on the Sega Mega Drive back in the young days of school hood, I have always had a soft spot for the beat ‘em up genre. Simple to pick up but highly addictive, there is something about the genre that remains highly entertaining when it comes together with great characters, gameplay, music and levels helping to elevate the enjoyment, even more so when friends join in the fun. For someone like me, and no doubt many other fans who enjoy this genre that once shined in the arcades, it has been a superb time over the last few years, because recently we have seen some great games fill in the void of a genre that was thought to be going the way of the dodo and be sent off into obscurity, as notable releases were often far between. Titles like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, Streets of Rage 4, River City Girls 2, and Fight’N Rage are just some of those that deserve the attention of beat ‘em up fans.
This moves on to Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, the latest entry in the 35-year-old series. I was given the chance to check out the game’s first 90 minutes to see how this new entry is changing up its mechanics against past iterations. Just from reading the game’s store page on Steam, it already makes clear that Billy and Jimmy’s return to the beat ‘em up genre is not as straightforward as before. This is a title that wants to throw in some additional features to add replay value by adding in the ever-popular genre that has grown massively over the years, Roguelite. Yep, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of The Dragons takes the beat ‘em up genre into roguelite territory, and you know what? I am surprised this mixture is not more popular.
Getting straight on with it, as 90 minutes is not a lot of time, I went into what seems to be currently the only game mode, dubbed “Story Mode”. This is where the first big change hits and begins its introduction to the roguelite mechanics. Each time story mode is started, the player can modifier the continue type (permadeath, three token resurrect are two examples), and other elements, such as the player’s health, upgrade cost and even enemy aggression. These modifiers change the exchange rate of tokens, with the default settings offering 1 token per $1000. The higher the difficulty, the cheaper it is to exchange money into tokens. Tokens equal unlocks in the shop
A quick story intro throws up explaining that the year is 199x A.D. and the world is in a state of decay, a nuclear war has ravaged cities and the population struggles to survive. Due to the lack of law in this state, New York City has found itself split into four areas, with each one controlled by a gang leader. Of course, the story sets it up that the newly elected Mayor needs help in cleaning up the streets. Billy, Jimmy, Marian and Uncle Matin, are the four default available characters to help with such a request. With the ability the tag a team member, the game now requires two characters to be selected before heading out to save New York City.
Unlike the typical structure of a beat ‘em up, Double Dragon Gaiden offers up four gang members to tackle in any order. In essence, this is a level select to change the flow of repeated plays. What I found interesting about this option is the order in which you attempt the missions, the left-over missions begin to extend. The first mission was one segment, but fighting the second gang member would make their level two segments, and the third would be three. I am not sure if the fourth area becomes four parts, as I purposely did not revive myself as I wanted to see how the roguelite elements were treated during a restart of the game. The boss fights remain no matter what order the level was picked, but depending on the segment changes how they will behave/attack. It is a simple way to have repeated runs feel a little different, and it will be interesting to see how this holds up after putting in a few hours into the game. Each mission has bonus rewards if attempting to complete their challenges, adding more cash to the reward to be able to exchange into buffs at the end of each level segment.
From the options available in these buffs, nothing seems out of the ordinary or wild. They mainly fall within increase stats, such as making a character’s move more powerful, be it when the tag partner is dead, or making standard/special moves stronger, reducing special move cost, increasing regeneration if health is below a certain percentage, stun enemies on death and a few others. I am not sure exactly how many are in, as I did see some repeat in my 90 minutes. There does not seem to be a massive number of modifiers unless more unlock as gameplay is repeated. Both characters spend the cash to gain these buffs. An option is available to skip the unlocks to save cash to exchange for more tokens at the end.
Over the course of 90 minutes, I manage to try five characters, as I unlocked a character from the token shop after my first run ended. I refused to continue the 4th gang boss to save tokens and see what I could buy with them. The token shop has plenty of goodies, such as pieces of art, music, and game tips, but the most important one is the titled “Game”. Here is where new characters can be unlocked. I could see 9 available during this preview run, so purchased Linda, a pink-haired knife and whip wielder and managed to get a few rounds of her in before the time ran out.
One thing that I noticed is that the combat is simple and a bit stiff at first. It is not until the end segment modifiers are unlocked that the speed begins to feel like it should, as after playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons feels much more coagulated than the fluid animation and combo strings of Tribute Games’ latest hit. Speaking of combat fluidity, there was one thing that breaks the action and the flow of fights. This is the healing reward that is generated when three or more people are KO’d in a hit. A graphic popup that freezes the game for a short amount of time to share this celebration, but it interrupts the action too many times that it really should just happen the first time. I did not see anything in the options related to this, but hopefully, the full game can add a toggle to turn it off.
There is nothing complex going on with its general controls. The nice spark to the gameplay is the introduction of being able to tag a teammate when the special bar is full. While this does not cost any metre, it is only available during that time. Tagging is great for getting out of tough situations, as it breaks an enemy’s combo as the tagged partner comes in with an attack to disperse the crowd and thereon the player takes control. In terms of buttons, there is an attack, a jump, an action (think unique move) and a special button. The attacks depend on the character. Jimmy is a heavy puncher and slower in movement than his brother Billy, who is faster and attacks with his feet. Marian on the other hand uses a pistol for her attack, shooting bullets at a slow pace, making her play different than other characters. It feels like for the five I played that the game is going for the characters to be the difference in the combat system, as the combos are basic, with the last hit of the combo doing heavy damage and pushing enemies away for a breather.
I initially thought combat was too simple, but I did start figuring out that the running button can help take characters out of their delayed action stance after a combo is finished, allowing characters to run and either attack or jump and attack already knocked away enemies to keep a combo chain going. Specials can also be cancelled into to do big damage, which is shown as their health bar above their models drains away. Three specials are available, casted when the special bar is full and if either neutral, up/down or left/right are held on the stick to change which special will be activated. Marian had an amazing clearance special with her rocket launcher not only causing huge damage but would often hit four plus enemies and send them flying backwards. There is stuff that seems abusable, making it more fun than the game first seems to be, and with new characters available in the shop, additional runs should be entertaining enough until all the characters are unlocked and had their go on the streets of New York City.
90 minutes was not enough to see how Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons sits within the list of some of the amazing beat ‘em up releases of the last few years. There is something cool with the idea of merging roguelite with the gameplay of a beat ‘em up that I want to see more. Depending how this plays out could determine how great the game is. It is clear that there is some good fun packed in this retro-infused package that I am sure fans of the series or beat ‘em ups, in general, will keep a keen out for when Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons launches on PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch July 27th 2023. We will have a review around the time of launch as well to see how the game turns out after more hours clearing the streets of criminals.