Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons PC Review

It was only a couple of weeks ago when I jumped into the new entry in the Double Dragon series, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragon. I discovered from the initial 90 minutes that blending the beat ‘em up genre with roguelite elements was a great surprise, like how I imagine the person who first discovered being able to milk a cow and drink it. I mentioned how shocked I was that more developers have not mixed the two genres together already. This is something I would have expected to come from an unknown title made by a small indie team. Alas, the game is now finally out, so its time to see how my view has evolved after spending more time slicing, pile driving and knocking a few teeth out on the thugs that poison the streets of New York, to see if it matches the mostly positive preview that was published.

You can catch a lot of the stuff in the preview that still holds true now, but just to recap, the game takes the beat ‘em up formula and throws a little bit of roguelite elements into it to increase the replayability of the title through the cash system, which is used to buy skills at the end of a sector. Cash is also used for tokens at the end of a session, which can be used to unlock goodies in the shop. As a famous person once said, Tokens win prizes…well it was something similar at least…

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is not one that cares about the story. There is minimal text at the start to set up the plot, a couple of lines between each mission and then a choice at the end that can open a final level or not depending on that selected dialogue. This choice is a nice inclusion to allow players to cash out with an ending and gain a cash reward (although a smaller amount than a proper finish) without having to beat a final challenging level and potentially lose all that stashed money and reduce the ability to buy more tokens. It takes about 90 minutes to get through a run, so like other beat ‘em ups, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is not a particularly long game, but it wants the player to replay it multiple times with different characters (13 in total) on various difficulty setting sliders to offer a variety of challenges on each play.

Bringing in the classic beat ‘em up action means that the general flow of the action is straightforward. Pick from an option of four bosses and progress through the sectors until reaching the boss and defeating them. These sectors are straightforward, mostly walking from left to right for 95% of them, beating up thugs, and continuing until the boss. The level design is decent, with some variety in their themes and events, such as one area only lit up by lights on the roof, making it hard to see what’s hiding in the shadows, or another area in an abandoned building that has plenty of jumping and vertically to get over destroyed stairs or corridors. The downside is that I do wish there were more bosses in the game. Ideally, eight would have been a nice balance.

There is a neat feature to this that I mentioned in the preview, in that the first level only has one sector, the next boss gains two sectors, and then the final two bosses have three sectors. Sectors are basically levels. The boss that is picked last before the final showdown gains a different attack pattern, as the ones that appear during sectors 1 or 2 when picking them as either a first or second boss fight changes their battle compared to the final selection, which is another way of adding variety and discovering what each boss is truly like in their true form. if you take all the content, there are in essence around 13 levels with five bosses, it just requires multiple runs to get through them all. It does eventually get a little repetitive, which is why I think more levels would have helped with future playthroughs.

In the preview, I mentioned combat was simple, and I still stand by that comment, but as more time was invested in the game, I began to figure out ways to extend combos that kept the enemies within hit stun either on the ground or in the air. This is due to the run button that cancels out any animation delay on combos, and in conjunction with the three special moves and unique moves that every character has that can also cancel the animation, it adds in experimentation to see how much can be performed before the enemy hits the invincibility of being down on the ground. It is not as advanced as something like Streets of Rage 4, but its simplicity and added tag combat helps break up the flow when your character is in stun lock, the only real area of defence in the game, help keeps things feeling good enough to be enjoyable over a few story runs.

What helps the combat is the number of characters available, eventually 13 once all of them have been unlocked through the shop token system. With two characters per run, thanks to the tag mechanic, and each one having its own bespoke combo string and specials, it keeps things fresh and exciting. I hope more arrive through downloadable content, as on the topic of unlocking, the only worthwhile stuff that adds to the game are those characters. The rest of the content in the shop is music, art and tips, which are fine for unlocks, but I was hoping to get more added to the game, such as modifiers. There could have been plenty of ways to keep the unlock content going and twist each run into something else, such as modifiers that added more enemies, bosses as enemies, one-hit kills, an unlimited special energy, and weapons only, there is so much that could be done with this roguelite mechanic in the game that is missed opportunity in the unlocks.

I felt the same with the buff unlocks at the end of each sector. My worry was in the preview that they were a lot of simple buffs, such as extra health, more damage specials, faster special recovery, enemy knockdowns when a partner dies, etc., but Iit never really moves from that typical stat increase. For most of the characters I was building them to get as much special as possible, as those moves are the best attacks to abuse and having it in the game where specials can be used with nearly every action makes it all crazy, plus plenty of health drops, thanks to the special KO system that rewards food when 3 or more enemies are killed in a special move. They still have not sorted out the splash screen, as that continues to pop up full screen and pauses the action for a second. It interrupts the gameplay, especially when things are in the midst of the action.

There are no other modes apart from the story mode, so once those sliders have been maxed out for the hardest handicap, there is not much else to do. Cooperative is available, local only, and behaves like having another tag team, which means another two characters in the action and more special moves to abuse. It does make the action more fun combating the same enemy in the air, bouncing off each attack from both human players. One thing to note with having cooperative means that money is used across all purchases of buffs at the end of sector, so it is worth noting that when aiming for that cash-to-token conversation at the end of the run.

One thing that I picked up from the preview comments was that fans of Double Dragon seem to be in the mix about the visual style the developers have gone for in this sequel. Me, personally, I found the style fine. It is bright, colourful and on the cartoony side, with the characters having larger heads than they normally do, adding a sort of cube, chibi vibe to each sprite. This seems to be against the dark contrast and colours of most of the previous releases, but the style is clean with this pixelated visual art. The soundtrack is catchy and fits all the action on screen. Fans will enjoy some of the modern takes on old tunes with their increased audio quality and remixed twist.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons adds some interesting ideas to the beat ‘em up genre that offer a neat twist on the standard formula the series and genre offers. It feels like a first step into something that could be amazing. The blend of roguelite and beat ‘em up shows signs of greatness, but Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons does not go all in with some of those parts. The concept of having changing levels depending on the order they are attempted in is neat, but the skills purchase system could do with more exciting elements. So could the token cash system by adding more characters and even modding the gameplay, such as modifiers or new abilities. Still, what is here is a good attempt to change up the genre. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is a solid beat ‘em up that fans will enjoy in solo or cooperative play. It might not be the greatest beat ‘em up that has been released over the last few years, and the lack of online in a time where most people will be playing cooperatively this way is a big shame, but even so, this release is certainly one of the more interesting ones in the genre and offers fun for a few hours to grind through the unlocks in the shop.

7 out of 10