Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise Of The Dragons

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Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise Of The Dragons (Xbox Series X) – Review

Before there was ‘Final Fight’, ‘Streets of Rage’ or even ‘The Simpsons’ or ‘Ninja Turtles’ beating down crooks in the streets, there was ‘Double Dragon’, the legendary arcade series that pioneered the beat ’em up genre. Since its arcade debut in 1987 thanks to Taito, the Lee brothers, Billy and Jimmy (not to be mistaken as Bimmy and Jimmy) have been and are still gaming icons to this day. ‘Double Dragon’ saw its best years in the late 80s and early 90s, even mixing it up with the ‘Battletoads’, entered the fighting genre, had their own forgotten cartoon series, and even a live-action movie we wish we could forget.

Even though every single gamer new and old has heard of ‘Double Dragon’, sadly the series had its fall from grace, especially when 3D games were on the rise. For over 20 years, many have tried to recreate the success it had during its glory days, but to no avail. This time, publishers Modus Games and Joystick with the help of Singapore-based studio, Secret Base Pte Ltd enter the fray to raise the franchise from the ashes with ‘Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons’, now available on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4|5, Nintendo Switch and PC.

The year is 199X and nuclear war has devastated New York City, leaving its citizens to fight to survive as riots and crime have overwhelmed the streets. The city has been overtaken by criminal gangs who terrorise its ruins as they battle for total dominance. Unwilling to endure these conditions any longer, the Lee brothers, Billy and Jimmy take it upon themselves to drive the gangs out of their city.

This latest game in the series seems to be either a prequel or a reboot, focusing on Billy and Jimmy’s early days taking down street gangs. Beginning the game, four characters will be available with an additional nine to be unlocked. They of course include the Lee Brothers, plus Marian and Uncle Matin. Billy and Jimmy play slightly differently from each other and are the most well-rounded showcasing their martial arts.

Marian is most remembered in the original game for getting punched in the stomach and carried away, but this time she’s armed with a gun and even a rocket launcher, a lot different from her guest appearance in River City Girls 2. Uncle Matin is the muscle of the team, armed with a riot shield, and can perform devastating grapple moves. The nine unlockable characters are actually the bosses that players will encounter, which include many familiar faces and each comes with their own unique movesets.

The controls are simple, smooth, and responsive. The overall gameplay stays true to its roots which will no doubt appeal to old-school fans, while also being beginner friendly for newcomers. The game only allows for up to two players, but each player will pick two characters and use the game’s tag feature, very much the same way as seen in a lot of fighting games. Players can easily switch between their two chosen characters to mix things up, extend combos, allow one character to recover some health while tagged out, or if one is KO’d, then the other will jump in. The combo possibilities seem endless with the tag feature, the environment, and if two players are working together. Sadly there is no online play at this time, but the developer has stated it will be included at a later date.

The graphics also stick to the classic games’ cartoonish style, but with a slightly modern take and the animation looks incredibly smooth, and the soundtrack features remixes of familiar tunes that perfectly compliment the game’s art style. Players will see various locations while taking on hordes of enemies before reaching each boss.

The stages can actually be played in any order before reaching the final stage and it will actually affect how things play out in the later stages. More enemies could appear in some stages and certain bosses will become more powerful if players encounter them later than earlier. This creates a brand new and unique adventure with each playthrough, giving the game a ton of replay value. It rarely feels like you’re playing the same game twice.

The majority of the game is spent beating down waves of enemies, which never gets old, but there are actually some platforming elements in some stages. These can actually get pretty frustrating since it’s difficult to see how far or close some platforms are when trying to jump and land on them. Players can get used to them after some practice and memorise the layout, but they still aren’t as fun and dampen the experience a little. Thankfully everything else the game has to offer more than makes up for it.

Players will have a limited number of tokens to use for continues, just like playing in a real arcade. The tokens can be set to unlimited, but the harder the conditions are set, the bigger the rewards are. After a game over, players can use their remaining tokens to continue or keep them to buy items in the store. The store includes additional playable characters, artwork, and even gaming tips.

The additional characters are of course a lot of fun to play as and the various artwork are fantastic to look at, but the gaming tips really don’t feel that necessary to buy, since it just feels like they’re stating the obvious and most other games just have that content in the loading screens. It’s best to leave them until last and buy all the good stuff first. The best part of the unlockable content is that it doesn’t cost any real-life money and it really does feel like an old-school game, by actually earning the rewards and not having to buy them via paid DLC.

It’s been a long time coming for gaming legends, Billy Lee and Jimmy Lee to finally get their due and be brought to the modern day. Old school beat ’em up games have been experiencing a big resurgence in the past few years, whether it’s classics from the 80s and 90s like ‘Streets of Rage’ and ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’, or even brand new titles such as ‘The TakeOver’ and ‘Final Vendetta’.

It’ll be interesting to see what other beat ’em ups get the modern retro treatment, maybe ‘Golden Axe’ or ‘Final Fight’? For now though, it’s time for the Dragons to rise from the ashes and beat down the streets once again, with hours upon hours of old-school couch co-op fun and soon, online as well. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is the long overdue modern classic that fans have been waiting for.

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The Good

  • Finally a good new Double Dragon after so long
  • Classic beat ’em up fun the stays true to its roots
  • Wide variety of playable characters
  • Endless combo opportunities
  • Even more fun with 2 players
  • Tag feature adds a whole new dynamic to the genre

The Bad

  • Platforming segments can be frustrating
  • No online play (for now)

Written by: Sammy Hanson


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