Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons PlayStation 5 Review

Rock-solid beat 'em up with a simple but enjoyable roguelike concept.

By RON, Posted 18 Aug 2023

The Double Dragon series clearly has its head in the sand. The tremendous comeback of the genre in recent years, with games like Streets of Rage 4, The Takeover, River City Girls, Fight'N Rage, and Final Vendetta, has completely eclipsed the original games in the series. So, from the moment Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons begins, the background music completely immerses you and prepares you for what's to come.

And soon you realize that the latest installment in the long-running Double Dragon series, Rise of the Dragons, is one of the best beat 'em ups of the series and possibly even the greatest. Rise of the Dragons is a breakthrough in retro revivals because it successfully combines classic arcade principles with a trendy aesthetic and a good bit of creative design to unify the two.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, PS5, Review, Beat 'em up, Roguelike, Screenshots, Marian

Since 1987, the Double Dragon series has established a solid reputation over the course of 15 games. However, it hasn't gotten a new one since 2017's Double Dragon 4, which is widely neglected, and for good reasons. This game seems to deliver exactly what fans of the franchise have been asking for a new entry in the series that feels a lot like the classic NES titles that many of us vividly recall. Again, there are some exceptional games that have endured the years, but if we're being really forthright, we have to admit that some of the Double Dragon ports are among them.

Fortunately, it also has its standout titles, as well as those that have modified the concept an awful lot, leaving this new addition in an odd place. You may find that not everything in the Double Dragon universe lives up to your fondest memories. So several titles have taken the same concept and twisted it in unexpected directions to create something truly original, and now here comes Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons. Thankfully, Rise of the Dragons corrects the blunders of its predecessor and delivers an experience that is largely original.

In the year 199X, a nuclear war breaks out and set the stage for the events of Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons. As could be expected, cities have been devastated, and people generally seem to be having a bad time. Multiple gangs have seized power in New York City, and the city is in disarray as they battle one another for dominance. After being injured in one of these gang battles, Marian was taken to the dojo, where Jimmy Lee and Billy Lee vowed to eliminate the gangs from their city by any means necessary.

The mayor appears to have visited the dojo in search of the master in an effort to dismantle the many gangs operating in the area. We discover that Master Lee has disappeared and that Billy and Jimmy are his sons and students. Out of nowhere, Marian is no longer hurt, and she begs Matin, who is tending to Billy and Jimmy, to do something quickly to alleviate the plight of the town's residents. Even more pleadingly, Billy and Jimmy join in and ask Matin to accompany them.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, PS5, Review, Beat 'em up, Roguelike, Screenshots, Final Mission

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons has a total of 13 playable characters, 9 of which are unavailable until the player completes certain challenges. You can play the game in either single-player or co-op, with the latter mode allowing you to choose two characters and switch between them as you progress through the tasks. However, you can't tag out until your power meter is full. Therefore, you should weigh the benefits of dealing more damage against the convenience of switching to a different character when things become rough. It doesn't take long for the game's difficulty to ramp up to an unacceptable level.

In a single turn, you can go from wiping the floor with hordes of foes to being completely cornered and slaughtered. The tag system does not provide a seamless transition to the following character, which does not assist matters. The character attempting the tag out is still at risk of being caught in the barrage of damage they were meant to avoid and may not survive long enough to exit the screen. I'm not mad at the mechanic per so, but rather at the decision they made. When your character gets knocked unconscious, and the character you tag in does minimal damage and then gets beaten to a pulp, it makes the game really frustrating.

There are four missions to pick from, and their difficulty and the number of unlocked areas vary depending on the sequence in which you complete them. Playing the game many more will yield unique results if the player switches up the order in which the missions are completed. Each successive mission will feature an increasing number of sections; the first mission will have one, the second mission will have two, and the third and fourth missions will have three. Bosses will increase in difficulty as you continue through the game, with the ultimate form of the mission boss appearing in the fourth level. There will be a boss fight at the end of each chapter, with the mission boss appearing at the end of the final chapter.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, PS5, Review, Beat 'em up, Roguelike, Screenshots, Tag Team, Marian, NoobFeed

In addition to these progressively more difficult levels, you also gain access to character improvements at the end of each act of a mission. This includes upgrades to your health, speed, and recovery, as well as damage increases for your strikes. You can either choose to acquire one of four random enhancements or go with the fifth option to receive cash. There is no penalty for selecting cash, and some players may even choose to forego all improvements in favor of pure playing. Tokens can be purchased for real money and used to buy things like continues after a game is over, artwork, music, advice from the in-game shop, and more. At the outset of each new game, you have the option of adjusting the game's settings to make it easier or harder. When difficulty increases, token rewards also increase.

As soon as you lay eyes on Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, you'll understand that the game's hook is to line up your rivals, inflict massive damage on them, and then finish them off. You probably won't be able to pull this off on your first few tries, and happily, not all foes encourage this play style, especially in the later levels. You might not think you'll become hooked on this type of gameplay at first, but after you see how much content there is, you won't be able to stop. In contrast to most games of this type, your progress through the game isn't the primary focus, at least not on your first or even second try. However, the game features so many unique unlockables and gameplay twists that the way you play any given stage will always be different depending on which option you select or how far you get through the stage.

You can, for instance, pick Billy and Jimmy to be your tag team carry characters and then pick the first level you want to play from among all of them. After making your way through, ideally gaining the additional abilities along the way, and finally eliminating the final bad guy, you will have successfully eliminated the gang from that area. You must now proceed to Level 2 in order to proceed with your journey. The gang in Level 2 has gotten stronger while you were busy defeating them in Level 1. Therefore, Level 2 will be longer and, of course, harder. There are further bonuses waiting for you as you progress. It's a nice twist on the formula that makes you play more than once and requires more precision. Because there is a correlation between how well you play and the benefits you gain.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, PS5, Review, Beat 'em up, Roguelike, Screenshots, Special Power

The fighting in Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is very different from what you'd find in other beat 'em ups. The lack of earning potential through successive moves means that everything is available immediately. The game can't be completed without the one-button-operated specials. The system is complex, and the way each character is played is unique. This game's combo system, however, is fantastic. This game takes a different approach than Streets of Rage 4, opting instead for a style similar to that of Jitsu Squad in terms of the complexity of the movements available. The combo bar is important to the gameplay, and it can be filled much more quickly than in other beat 'em ups. If you're using every button on your controller, you can quickly eliminate waves of opponents by chain-killing them.

You can chain special moves together, or use them to initiate tag team moves, etc. The combo bar determines not only when you can tag in and out but also when you can perform special moves. However, as long as your bar is blue, you are free to chain together any moves you like. When many adversaries are eliminated at once, the excitement level rises dramatically. Killing multiple enemies at once with a powerful attack is a lot of fun. The larger your combos, the more health you'll gain from the food you'll receive. The minimum number of food items needed to heal is 3, and for every 5 items killed, the player receives either 100 health or 100 gold, depending on their current health status. And after every successful combination kill, a guy would congratulate you and show you a picture of the upcoming meal drop.

In addition to the extra money; enemies drop when defeated with weapons, specific achievements can be obtained, such as eliminating five opponents at once or achieving a certain hit combo, as I stated before. If you're prepared and in full health, you can earn a lot more money by killing multiple foes at once as they drop various types of food. There are also a ton of other challenges, such as "quote-unquote" bosses, that need to be defeated in a set amount of time. To make actual game advancement, you'll need that cash. When you defeat a boss or sub-boss, you gain experience and money that may be spent on new weapons, armor, and even new playable characters. You might also try to avoid spending any extra cash and instead just save it. And you might want to do that because there is no more to this game after this. That is unless you want to pay for them, and the more you want them, the more they cost.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, PS5, Review, Beat 'em up, Roguelike, Screenshots, Gameplay

This may all seem quite intricate, and unfortunately, not every detail is covered in Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons. Simply pick a difficulty level, engage in combat, gain experience and equipment upgrades, and repeat. Progressing to higher levels of exploration is an inherent part of the process. It becomes addictive as you play more because you want to see what more your characters can accomplish and what else you can find in this universe. Its gambling mechanics will have you on the edge of your seat. You're never quite sure if you should spend your money on raising your character's level or on buying poker chips to gain access to additional materials. Whatever route you take, you'll want more cash, and the only way to get that is to play precisely, striking off all of your enemies at once (or "crowd control," as the game calls it).

After a slow beginning, the game opens up and starts throwing more enemies at you. Repeated practice will gradually simplify earlier steps and subsequently increase the difficulty of later steps. The more you do this, the more skill you'll develop, and you'll gain new skills as you go. Line up the bad guys, take them out, watch as the camera zooms in on crowd control, and listen to the ecstatic announcer—it's quite addicting. The game's Tag Team system is its greatest strength. It's gratifying to use your second character in a combo for effective crowd management.

Stages in Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons require even more improvisation when your health is shared between two individuals. And since there are so many playable characters to discover, it's an excellent method for assessing their capabilities and limitations. The ability to pick different stages for each playthrough is a great addition to the beat 'em up genre. Later in the game, whichever stages you select will be more challenging, last longer, and result in different boss fights.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, PS5, Review, Beat 'em up, Roguelike, Screenshots, Upgrade, NoobFeed

It's possible that having it pop up on the screen so frequently would drive you crazy, but it actually doesn't get that annoying. This game features the same kind of addicting juggling. Once you master the game, you can carelessly float around the screen while juggling foes and combos. My sole complaint pertains to the hostiles themselves. They are typically rather clumsy in their attempts to reach you, often throwing dynamite and then proceeding to walk directly on top of it. But I guess that's standard for the genre.

They can attack you from off-screen, as was frequent in older video games, with knives and other projectiles. In this regard, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons lags behind its contemporaries. Next, there are a few platforming sequences that are incredibly frustrating. The grinding is really real, and you might not like it, depending on the game you're playing. Rise Of The Dragons has no online multiplayer mode right now. Of course, though, the ideal way to enjoy a game like this is in cooperative mode. The enemy diversity isn't the best, and the game's major monsters don't appear as intimidating as they do in other games in the genre.

It's also the same old formula, so it can grow tedious even with new characters, plus the game is really long. I liked the extra story and levels the Double Dragon Neon mode offered. Unlike Super Double Dragon, there was no sense of urgency or need for revenge due to the absence of the Damsel and Shadow clans. Great fight sequences and soundtrack, but no substance. This turns a decent story-driven fighting game like Double Dragon into a meaningless beat 'em up.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, PS5, Review, Beat 'em up, Roguelike, Screenshots, Special KO

However, even in a saturated market, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons manages to stand apart. Most of the game's DNA comes from the underappreciated Streets of Rage game rather than the prior Double Dragon games. Because of the game's gambling element and "pay to stay in" gameplay hook, it can be quite frustrating to see the timer run out before you can defeat the ultimate boss you've been working towards. It occurred in their previous game, and it was simply too brilliant of an idea to leave out of this one.

The game's pixel art aesthetic may put some people off at first. As a whole, the combat seems oversimplified to me, although it's satisfying to attack foes who have skills. Feelings vary from one character to the next. For instance, Billy is more agile and has lighter attacks, whereas Jimmy is slower but more damaging. The game's pixel art appeals to me very much. The visual quality of each scene and figure is high, and the animations are superb. The animations of the character's strikes and reactions to being hit are also quite well done. The soundtrack is acceptable if monotonous, and the sound effects are excellent, providing a Genesis-style atmosphere and the kind of impact you want from a fighting game. All of the plot displays, however, are boring and uninteresting. However, after defeating a boss, a strange one-screen statement is made that is, well, kind of ridiculous.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is a good time, plain and simple. A game that towers over its rivals despite the difficulty they present. The game contains a lot of content to unlock and is challenging to go through more than once. It was easier to get hooked on constructing combinations without having to spend ridiculous amounts of time figuring out how to play. You can make your character seem completely unique from everyone else's, there are a ridiculous number of options for personalization, and the franchise has been given a much-needed shot in the arm.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, PS5, Review, Beat 'em up, Roguelike, Screenshots, Boss Fights, Jimmy Lee, Billy Lee, NoobFeed

Overall, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is one of the best games in the series, combining elements of a beat 'em up with those of a roguelike while maintaining the challenge for which Double Dragon is known. The sprite animation is superb. It's a decent buy for the price of $25. You can get a fantastic time on the standard difficulty. This game will put your understanding of beat 'em ups to the test on the more challenging modes. The fighting system is flexible, allowing you to make it as easy or difficult as you choose with the wide variety of options at your disposal. This game is a must-have for fans of the beat 'em up genre, and those who are new to the series should definitely pick up this game.

Sarwar Ron (@SarwarRon)

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General Information

Platform(s): PC, PS5, XBSX, Switch
Publisher(s): Modus Games, Joystick
Developer(s): Secret Base Pte Ltd
Genres: Beat-'Em-Up
Themes: Roguelike, Action, Adventure
Release Date: 2023-07-27

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