One of the grandfathers of the beat-em-up genre is Double Dragon, once the king of the Arcade, a few (a lot) of missteps saw DD fall into somewhat obscurity, or more so unsafe hands. A plethora of bad to terrible games, a so bad it’s good movie, and even a short lived cartoon, saw the franchise then end up as an almost laughing stock. It wasn’t until the more recent appearances of the game and it’s characters where we’ve had somewhat some stability. Anyway, 2023 saw Double Dragon: Gaiden Rise of the Dragons drop for all modern consoles and PC. Let’s see if the series stank is continuing to go away.
Developed by Secret Base Games and published by Modus Game, Rise of the Dragons acts asa spin-off to the original games, but remains consistant in the same universe. We see our faithful Billy and Jimmy trying to clear the streets of New York City, after a nuclear war has ravaged the city, criminal gangs are now terrorising the streets. Billy and Jimmy aren’t alone in their quest, they’re joined by Marian (Billy’s girlfriend and often damsel in distress), and new family member Uncle Matin, a former solder and obviously uncle to the two brothers.
All 4 are here as playable characters, and each offer a slight variation on play style, Billy and Jimmy are your two stand up guys, with both offering either a punch or kick based attach set, Marian is hugely weapon/gun based which I found a bit of a struggle to get to grips with, with her being a bit too slow for how I wanted to play, and Uncle Matin being a more power based character, with much stronger yet slower attacks. Each character also has a few special attacks linked to a single button command but can be different in different situations (eg jumping.), a nice little spin on things is the tag system in the game. From start you can pick your main protagonist and one of the other roster characters to play as in a tag format, so if you’re taking a beating as Billy, Jimmy can tag in and take off some of the heat.
There’s 4 main levels, with each of these having a different look and feel. Each of these are based around a different gang, and most levels have a decent variety of enemies and locales, you’ll find yourself fighting through warehouses, car parks, and even dilapidated buildings, these don’t always have a usual basic left to right run either, which is decent. You’ll have to climb through levels of buildings where the structure of the level will have you manoeuvring up and around scenery. It feels good, and let’s you fight your enemies with some different vantage or strategic points. Fans of the franchise will recognise characters quite easily, as most of the cast have been in previous games before, so Abobo, Burnov and Duke, you’ll see and more than definitely have a battle against. You’re also able to unlock a great deal of characters in the game too so that roster goes up to a massive 13 from the original 4.
Combat doesn’t hugely detract from the previous games, with your 4 face buttons being basic attach, jump, grab and special, there’s also a dash button and a grab. Without being hugely in depth, the combat feels fluid enough to get the job done, most attacks will chain quite easily to your jump attacks or your ground smashes, and enemies will stay airborne enough to get real good juggle combos, where you’ll be easy hitting 50-70 hit combos without too much effort.
The main struggle I found with the combat in DDG, whereas the game was somewhat not too challenging, there was a few moment which I felt were very cheap, but maybe somewhat suited to the old style of DD. A good example of this is being stun locked by characters with guns, especially if they had something like an automatic, your health will happily be depleted in a mater of seconds.
After completing each stage you’re given some options which the cash you’ve obtained through the level, these can usually be put towards continues for when you eventually die, or in a rogue-like twist, some buffs based combat or even recovery, this brings in some elements of the devs previous work on Streets of Red, which was a permadeath rogue-like beat-em-up. Something else that has been brought across though, is the continue system, as with the cash you unlock in the game, you can only use it for your run, whether being for power ups, it can also be put towards continues. These will only last for your current run, so you’ll find yourself playing more, to unlock more credits to eventually finish the game. This is a pretty good touch, as you wont find yourself just hammering the continue button every time you and your tagged partner have been downed. Any money obtained can be re-rolled so on your next playthrough you can get that little bit further. However this can be changed if you want a more casual playthrough with an infinite credits mode, and the total opposite if you want to tackle permadeath. There’s a good amount of options to keep players coming back for more here, you’ll just need to grind a bit to see everything, and there’s nothing wrong with that
Audio is really nice too, with some classic DD tracks remixed to fit with the new aesthetics, new and old fans will be bopping away to the tunes as they go in pretty hard. There’s no real voice acting in the game apart from the menu guy who sounds great, and an occasional line here and there. SFX sounds meaty which is what you expect from these games, punches and kicks have a nice bass to them, but still sounds like a retro fighting game.
Apart from my few remarks Gaiden feels good enough to continue the franchise in a positive light, with some nice features to keep new and old players. Like other beat-em-ups that have seen recent updates and sequels, Double Dragon Gaiden can sit happily with it’s compatriots with it’s head held high.
Great reintroduction to the franchise for new comers and old vets