Before you had your Golden Axe, your Final Fight, and your Streets of Rage there were a pair of Dragons—Double Dragons you might say. Ones that ruled the arcade. Things are different now and it’s been far too long since Billy and Jimmy Lee got a new title in the series. Fortunately, Secret Base has got you eager street fighters covered. They’ve been hard at work with Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons. Will it be a high score or walk left right past the game? Let’s find out!
Let The Streets Rage On
Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons follows the basic story of the original Double Dragon. The once damsel-in-distress Marian is now an officer of the law and her uncle is busy training with the Lee Brothers. A new Mayor for the town gets appointed and he wants the help of the Lee Brothers, Marian, and Uncle Matin. The job? To bring the four major gangs into line and bring peace to the city once again.
Unlike the oft-composed River City Girls 2, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons isn’t exactly narrative-heavy. It falls more into the traditional arcade camp with only a few cutscenes of dialogue explaining why you’re beating everyone up and a bit of back-and-forth between the boss and your chosen characters. It’s not laden with plot points and you certainly won’t be getting the chalkboard out to work out how it connects with the other Double Dragon and River City games. It’ll do for the genre and that’s about as much as I can comment on.
Kick, Punch, It’s All In The Mind
Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is a fusion of traditional Beat ‘Em Up/Belt Action with the ever-increasing and all-consuming Roguelike genre. This means it has less in common with the last released title Double Dragon Neon and a lot more with Secret Base’s previous release Streets of Red: Devil’s Dare Deluxe, like A LOT more.
First off, I’ll be the first to admit that Double Dragon has always been one of the slower, slightly clunkier franchises of the genre. While that was expected of the debut title, it kind of became its signature feel and is still felt in the last developed title Double Dragon IV. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is a much faster, more intricate combat experience than previously presented in the series. Even with the larger characters, it feels a whole more responsive and almost twitch-like compared to the previous Lee brother adventures.
The enemy count in this title is also a massive step up from what previous players might expect. You’ll be coming up against upwards of 10 enemies on screen at any time. Fortunately, the speed and responsiveness of the controls make it an absolute joy and just hits that part of the brain that explodes when you clear a section of enemies and your high score rises. It’s a true arcade experience and a perfect example of why the genre is still so popular.
The controls are simple enough. You’ve got a jump, a standard combo attack with one button, a grab/pick up item button, a special attack button, and if you’re playing single-player, a tag button. The game has a focus on multiplayer and tag moves; while you can’t have an A.I. partner, you can press a button to tag out to your chosen partner should your special meter be filled. This also extends combos and opens up movement options should you be cornered. Sadly, the multiplayer aspect is local only which is a massive killer. I would love to play this title online.
I Bet You Can’t Do This On A Credit
Where Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons differs from most Beat ‘Em Up titles isn’t just its roguelike nature. It’s also its heavy focus on building a cash pot while you play.
Aside from finding money on the street or in items, the main way to build up money is by defeating foes with a special attack or via a weapon. The more enemies defeated simultaneously, the more money. On top of this, a healing item is spawned. If you’re at full health, then you gain money from the item too. The money ties into the roguelike system; it’s used for permanent power-ups to your character which you purchase from a store at the end of each section in a level. Alternatively, they are also used at the end of your current run to exchange for tokens, which unlock bonus content including more playable characters.
You can choose the order you tackle the stages in and this determines how much of each stage you see. On your first chosen stage you only see the first section before you reach its boss. The next stage lets you see more of it, and so on until your final stage where you get the full stage and an enhanced version of the boss fight. Along with the roguelike upgrade system allows plenty of potential for each run to go completely differently, especially if you’re aiming for the true ending or just want to stuff your pockets with tokens.
Rogue, Belt Action, Fusion
When you put everything together you have a mighty fun-sounding game, albeit one that may not sound like a Double Dragon title to franchise fans. Usually, this wouldn’t be a good thing, but the addictive and random nature of the roguelike systems, along with some damn fine controls do create a great beat ’em up. The focus on money does bring out some great moments of greed too, where you’ll play extra dangerously to earn a little more of the filthy lucre. It is a unique experience almost like the original was all those years ago.
A run can last about two hours with two possible endings. The difficulty is fully customizable and determines how much money can be earned. This ranges from varying the enemy spawn amount to how much damage you give and take, which makes it a truly tailored experience. There is a load of content to unlock too, including quite a few iconic Double Dragon characters to enlist. One character alone costs 50 tokens and an average run afforded me around 10 tokens, so you’ll find yourself replaying it quite a bit to unlock everything
Cute But Deadly
Visually, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons has an almost super-deformed “chibi” art style. Again, this is not quite in line with other Double Dragon titles but it works for the most part. I will no doubt see Abobo in my nightmares for the foreseeable though!
It’s a colorful title with a very strong art direction and some gorgeous animations in the characters. It almost pulls off Saturday morning cartoon levels of charm, something the actual Double Dragon cartoon itself couldn’t pull off.
The soundtrack is an arrangement of toe-tapping new tracks and iconic songs from previous titles, much like River City games. Double Dragon also brings its A-game when it comes to music, and when you hear that Stage 2 theme from Double Dragon 1 kick in, your blood will pump harder than the blood from your foe’s exposed wounds.
The only real issue I came across is likely exclusive to the Nintendo Switch version and that was painful load times. Considering that other titles in the genre are usually instantaneous, I didn’t expect that Double Dragon would have me staring at the load screen for thirty seconds to a minute at a time.
I loved Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons as a fan of the genre and a fan of the franchise. The Gaiden moniker is certainly apt as this doesn’t look or feel like a traditional Double Dragon, but as we haven’t had an original title from the series in six years, it’s hard to argue whether this is a side or mainline release at this point.
Its addictive and random nature is fantastic for the genre, but I can imagine that coupled with the art direction, it isn’t going to be a street everyone will want to walk down. Tokens cashed in, this is a fantastic addition to the genre and franchise and hopefully, it spurs more Dragons in the future!
DOUBLE DRAGON GAIDEN: RISE OF THE DRAGONS IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Secret Base for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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Pride of utopia & greatest thing ever, I found the One Piece, Collected the Dragon Balls & won the Mortal Kombat Tournament in one night, it was quiet for me that night! Follow me on Twitter @powahdunk