With the passing of time, the video game landscape has seen the rise and fall of certain genres, and as a consequence, particular franchises as well. For fans of the beat ‘em up genre, the Double Dragon name is a hallowed one, albeit one whose shine has dulled over the last few decades. Attempting to change that is Modus Games and Secret Base’s Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, a valiant effort that doesn’t quite save the girl at the end.
While the plot is paper thin, there really is no better reason to get your fists dirty than cleaning up the streets of criminal gangs and their leaders. Leading the way are Billy and Jimmy, series heroes who return alongside Marian and new addition Uncle Matin. Each character brings their own combat style and flair to the proceedings, allowing players to choose from a variety of different approaches.
What makes it more interesting is the tag-team system for combat in Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, with players able to swap between two different characters at any given time. Naturally, this plays heavily into stringing together combos, extending air juggles, and dishing out more pain to those foolish enough to stand in the way.
In total, there will eventually be 14 different fighters to choose from, to form the most effective tag team there is, and the depth involved is one of the highlights of the experience throughout. Being able to overcome weaknesses with the help of a partner and enhancing the general efficiency when trading fists is always satisfying, as is messing around with crazy combinations that shouldn’t work on paper, but are still fun to try anyway.
Double Dragon Gaiden mixes things up even more with how it structures progression. At the start, players are free to choose from four different missions and tackle them in any order they wish, just like in Mega Man. The twist is that the rest of the missions will only get tougher as levels get bigger, enemies get tougher, and bosses evolve in different ways to up the ante. It is a nice iteration of a recognisable mechanic, even if that freshness doesn’t last for long.
That is simply because the level design can vary both in terms of visual and gameplay quality. There are maps of striking designs, such as the casino areas, while others are downright frustrating, such as the one that shrouds the entire gauntlet in darkness sans a solitary spotlight on the player character. There is a balance to be struck between being functionally enjoyable versus artificial difficulty not within the player’s control.
That malaise spreads further to the many environmental obstacles that can be found in each of the levels as well, such as spikes and falling rocks, which are made worse by the subpar platforming of Double Dragon Gaiden. The vertical movement of the characters can be exasperatingly slow and awkward, which makes some encounters even more annoying as enemies stream in from both the fore and background.
As for the enemies themselves, expect to see overwhelming numbers even on the regular difficulty; such is the staple of the genre. Players will have to learn fast and prioritise threats as much as possible, and if there is the possibility of having a couch co-op partner along for the ride, all the better. While each level will usually sport distinct foes, eventually, the later levels will contain all of the enemies within a limited variety at you, so each encounter is a valuable lesson.
All of the action will eventually lead players to face off against the bosses, and this is probably where the biggest change arrives in terms of the evolving mission structure. At the base level, these endgame fights are already hard enough, as bosses can chain damaging abilities effortlessly and require players to up their game to avoid the agonising taste of defeat.
However, picking a fight with them down the line only increases the danger. Besides becoming hardier, specific bosses will also transform their movesets entirely, forcing players to be on their toes at all times. This helps to keep things interesting, but also disappointingly showcases bosses that remain largely the same.
Survive and beat the stage, and the money accrued can then be spent on perks and buffs as part of the roguelike elements found in Double Dragon Gaiden. These can range from health refills and increases to damage boosts for special moves, and the randomness of it all means players cannot necessarily plan in advance a build. While it provides additional options, the implementation feels decisively less deep compared to the tag-team dynamic.
Once a run is completed, any remaining cash will then be exchanged for tokens. The valuable currency can be used to unlock new characters, art, music, and, a little weirdly, tips for playing the game. It is obvious that unlocking new characters will only add to the game, but the inclusion of purchasable tips doesn’t make much sense, especially when players can obtain more applicable information with a little research online.
The game ultimately can’t shake off the repetitiveness that eventually sets in, while the lack of rewarding incentives and awkward platforming do not help its cause. Yet, the combat delivers with great impact, helped by a colourful roster of unique characters and a smart tag-team system that expands the possibilities of combat approaches. All in all, Double Dragon Gaiden is a journey worth embarking on, even if it is for the first few runs to give players a taste of the various mechanics in play.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Beat ‘em up fun returns in Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, but it doesn’t last long enough as frustrating platforming and level design choices overshadow a competent combat system.
Gameplay - 8/10
Story - 6.5/10
Presentation - 7.5/10
Value - 7/10