From the outside, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise Of The Dragons looks like everything I’d want from a retro revival of the classic arcade beat-em up series. It’s a 2D side-scroller that remixes the linear progression with roguelite elements and packages the whole thing with an appealing pixel art presentation. Too bad it doesn’t all add up in practice.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of fun to be had with Secret Base’s take on Technōs Japan’s old street brawler formula. If you love the genre and have been hankering for something new that mixes fresh ideas within a familiar franchise, Double Dragon Gaiden can scratch that itch. There’s plenty of charm and the action controls competently enough to make defeating hundreds of enemies by mashing the same couple of buttons over and over again not immediately feel like a chore.
Out July 27 on PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, and PC, you play as brothers Jimmy and Bill Lee, a tag-teaming duo with slightly different builds and stats that complement one another. Instead of going from one stage to the next, you select which gang to take on first at the beginning of each new run. The other levels get increasingly difficult as you make your way through a Regan-era depiction of a crime ridden New York City, accompanied by a cash economy that lets you spend the money you earn on random upgrades or extra tokens to get a second chance when you die.
These are clever twists on the conventional Double Dragon beat-em up, but none of it clicks into place to make it feel like a fundamental rethinking of the franchise. While remixing each run by shifting the order of bosses livens things up for a bit, the upgrades between levels don’t drastically change the way you play, and the combat can be finicky enough to make final success feel more like a victory for brute force than honed muscle memory.
It’s still incredibly satisfying to pick up a knife or bottle and smash a wave of enemies with them, and one of my favorite things about Double Dragon Gaiden is how it rewards you with bonus health refills (hot dogs, roasted chickens) when you KO three or opponents simultaneously. The level designs are eye-catching for the most part as well, even if they feel uneven and short-lived. None of it can really compete with the likes of recent stellar brawlers like Streets of Rage 4, TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge, or Fight’N Rage.
The tokens you earn from each run can be used for unlocks in addition to respawns, including a host of additional characters you can choose to play as. It’s a nice carrot to chase even after you manage to successfully complete your first run, though ultimately Double Dragon Gaiden hasn’t really kept me hooked. I love the roguelite refresh on paper, but it never really commits to it in the way of something like Hades or its numerous clones. Without that extra depth, there’s not enough to make up for Double Dragon Gaiden’s occasionally floaty feel and less than exacting moment-to-moment combat. It’s not quite the Double Dragon renaissance I was hoping for.
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