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Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review – Belt Action With a Roguelike Twist

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It’s a good time to be a side-scrolling beat ’em up fan right now, what with the likes of Streets of Rage 4, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge and more being released in recent years. Now there’s another new entry in the genre, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, which tries to liven things up by adding a roguelike twist.

Set in New York City in the year 199X, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons finds brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee taking it upon themselves to drive a number of gangs out of the city, but they’re not alone. Marian, Billy Lee’s girlfriend, and Uncle Martin also accompany them on their quest.

Start a new run of Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, and you’ll find that you select two of those characters – that’s because it features a tag mechanic. At any point while the Special gauge is full, you can switch between your two chosen characters so you can make use of their unique skills. Even better, the character in reserve will slowly restore some health while on the sideline, allowing you to keep them in the fight that bit longer. It adds a bit of a strategic element to the game.

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The Special meter can also be used to perform a range of special attacks when combined with directions. Playing as Marian, for example, who attacks at range with a pistol by default, the Special button can be used to place a mine that sucks enemies in, and also pull out a rocket launcher that can easily blast groups of enemies. Each character also has a unique skill at their disposal, such as being able to dash a short distance to grab enemies.

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While performing a single standard combo can get old pretty quickly then, there are enough options available to keep the gameplay fairly interesting on the whole. Especially when you also factor in the perks available to purchase at the end of every stage. You earn money as you play Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, dispatching enemies with special moves and suchlike, and at the end of each stage you’re able to buy a range of upgrades to improve your chances of survival. There’s also an incentive to keep hold of your cash, though, as at the end of a run it can be converted to Tokens.

You see, cash can’t be carried over from one run to the next, but Tokens can. And with Tokens you have no need to fear a Game Over: you can continue. Tokens can be used to buy extras, too; nine additional playable characters are up for grabs, as well as pieces of artwork, hints, and more. In order to earn more Tokens, players can tweak the difficulty upon starting a new run, with harder settings making the conversion rate between cash and Tokens more favourable. On the flip side, players can also make the game considerably easier if they wish, though they’ll earn less Tokens in the process.

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Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons has yet more features that make it feel pretty unique, too. One is its focus on you performing crowd-controlling attacks to replenish your health. Knock down three enemies or more at once with an attack and a food item will be spawned. Another is the actual structure of the game; you can choose the order in which you deal with New York City’s gangs, but after dealing with each one the others get beefed up, making their members more powerful and adding additional stages.

The latter is a bit of a double-edged sword: with the third and fourth gangs you choose to tackle consisting of three stages each, the action can eventually begin to feel drawn out. Thankfully you can quit the game part way through and resume from where you left off later on. Chances are you’ll also encounter some awful difficulty spikes in the later stages, with some enemies being effective at avoiding your special attacks, and getting knocked off your feet often resulting in you being juggled by multiple enemies until there’s not much left of your health bar.

It’s commendable that Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons tries to do something a little new with the formula – although Streets of Rage 4 did get their first with its Survival mode which also features roguelike elements. There is fun to be had here, but ultimately, the late-game difficulty spikes are a major hurdle to get over – and the moment-to-moment action never reaches the heights of some of the best in the genre.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review – GameSpew’s Score

GameSpew Our Score 6

This review of Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is based on the PS5 version, with a code provided by the game’s publisher. It’s available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch and PC.

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Editor in Chief // An avid gamer since discovering the wonders of the Acorn Electron in the '80s, Rich has nearly played more games than he's had hot dinners. Not one to put all his eggs in one basket, Rich is happy to play games of all genres, but he particularly enjoys racing games and anything that's full of non-stop action, especially if it includes a good dose of humour, horror or crudeness!