It’s fair to say side scrolling beat ’em ups are having a good time just now, with a number of classic franchises seeing brand new releases years after we last seen them. We are talking about the likes of Streets of Rage 4, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge and River City Girls 2; so it was only a matter of time before the legendary Double Dragon series saw action again. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of The Dragons is a full fat new release for the series, which dates all the way back to 1987, and looks to capture the classic core, which is a thing more recent Double Dragon games have failed to really pull off.
Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of The Dragons is set sometime in the 90s, a nuclear war has devastated New York City, leaving its citizens to fight for survival, with riots and crime truly engulfing these truly mean streets. The city is overrun by criminal gangs who terrorise its ruins, as they endlessly fight for total dominance. Unwilling to live under this street rule any longer, series heroes young Billy and Jimmy Lee decide enough is enough and are going to drive the gangs out of their city once and for all. As tales go… it’s OK and just a frame to hold you from one brawl to the next, which for the most part it does well, but don’t expect it to be nominated for an Oscar anytime soon. The first thing that will hit you is the visuals of the game as its gone for a more stylised pixel art look, with a real River City Girls or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game vibe, but it lacks that extra layer of polish those titles seem to have, meaning it’s a bit flat and dare we say it… dull. What’s not dull though is the soundtrack, as it takes more than a few classic Double Dragon tracks and gives them a slick new remix.
So it’s up to Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of The Dragons’ gameplay to blow your socks off and… it’s a bit confused in ways. It pitches itself as a sort of roguelike seeing you have to battle four different gangs around the city, though who and when you fight is totally up to you; which is an interesting move, as with each gang defeated, the others will grow stronger. The game also lets you pick two characters to take on levels, so there is a sort of tag team system at play. This adds a slick spin on the way health works as if you get beat up, a chunk of your health bar will be blue – this part will heal up if you tag out, which encourages you to switch between your fighters often. Doing so will also let you have access your characters different move sets and abilities, so shaking it up a little adds a bit of variety to combat over the signature button mashing tour de force.
This is a bit of an issue in Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of The Dragons as most modern beat ’em ups have evolved the core fight, whereas here it’s all a bit hollow feeling and overly simplistic and that’s before you play as Marian or Uncle Matin – who are a sort of easy mode in ways, using firearms and even a rocket launcher. It also brings in a question of character balancing, as they are far from it, but this may be an intentional move to add in extra layers of difficulty to things. There is a crowd control system in the game, where if you kill 3 or more enemies at once you’ll unlock a health item. But Marian is rocking a rocket launcher special move, so she is making it rain health items compared to the other characters and their special moves.
As you complete missions you’ll bank cash that you can spend on stats and attack buffs and boosts, seeing you getting stronger. There is a nice feature as well where if you’re playing co-op you can pool your cash, to help buy items the team really needs. The cash system is where the roguelike element is also strongest, as you can buy back fallen allies with the price upping with every buy back until you run out of money. Also worth noting is your general speed is very slow like you’re stuck in treacle at times, which is a bit jarring. This isn’t helped by a few of the enemies attacks being extremely overpowered as well, so failing to dodge them can and will often see you losing half your health bar. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of The Dragons is a real middle of the road title, it has all the elements to be great, but just falls short and with the current crop of beat ’em ups being of such a high standard it’s going to have a real fight on its hands.
An Xbox review copy of Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise Of The Dragons was provided by Modus Games’ PR team, and it’s available now on Xbox, PlayStation and Switch for around £25.