Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons review for PlayStation, Xbox, Switch

Platform: PS4
Also On: PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Switch, PC
Publisher: Modus Games/Arc System Works
Developer: Secret Base
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-2
Online: None
ESRB: E10+

The Double Dragons never truly left us, but man it’s been a while since they’ve had the spotlight. They’ve kept top of mind with cameos in titles such as River City Girls 1 & 2, but thanks to the team at Secret Base, Billy and Jimmy Lee are no longer minding the dojo and are hitting the streets again.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons takes us back to the heady times of 199X. New York City was savaged by a nuclear blast and in its wake four criminal gangs have vivisected the area for their own. The militant Killers, the cult-like Triangle (Diamond Dallas Page, please don’t sue), the rogue-ish Royals and the business minded Okada (Is someone on the team a wrestling fan…what’s going on here?) are who you’ll need to take down at the behest of the Mayor.

Joined by their caretaker Uncle Matin, and their childhood friend Marian, the Lee Brothers set out to restore peace and order in the town. Your quest will have you choosing the order of the territories you want to tackle. As you progress the remaining gangs will be aware of your actions and will reinforce their territory in anticipation of your arrival. So tackling the Okadas as 1 choice will be easier than tackling them as the last gang.

Fighting through the territories will have you fighting through a variety of troops, with each gang having unique units. Pummel them with your fists if you like, but to yield greater rewards, utilize your characters special attacks to earn additional resources. In a twist on most beat’em up, using specials is actually encouraged as opposed to being a risky proposition. Knocking out more than 3 enemies with a single special is considered a crowd control maneuver and this is what brings the fun to the title. Crowd control helps keep enemy numbers manageable, but it’s one of the ways to get health items in game. If you’re prudent with your play your health should never be less than 100% as you wade through enemy territory. What’s also great about the title is any food picked up at full health will give you cash instead…and in this game, Cash Rules Everything Around Me!

Cash? Really? Even in the pseudo-post apocalypse? Yes! After each stage segment you have the option to upgrade your character(s) with 5 randomly selected options. Some choices are better than others or you can straight up skip this upgrade and pocket some additional cash. However the option to refill your special immediately after a successful crowd control attack and the boost to Marian’s SP2 are definitely buy on sight! For you hoarders, you use your precious earnings as an insurance policy because continues are funded by cash, although every time you use one, the price goes up the next time. Lastly your coins can be converted into tokens and this is why you’ll be replaying the game. As tokens will allow you to purchase the unlockables the games have to offer. From additional playable characters, tips, art, and music tracks, these will cost you plenty of tokens so be ready to farm a lot of cash to convert to tokens.

Engaging gameplay aside there are certain things that could hinder this title from being one of the greats. For one, only 2 characters are able to pick up weapons (The Lee Brothers) and with a good chunk of the game featuring enemies that throw dynamite at you…your only defensive option with them is to run from the dynamite once thrown. I wish there was a tad more structure in the token shop, like having the boss characters gated behind some sort of requirement before you’re allowed to buy them (like beating them X number of times), being able to purchase and use the final boss after a few playthroughs really threw the balance of the game for a loop.

Also I don’t see a point in having a save system…let alone 3 save slots. A session of this game isn’t that lengthy, and you can’t even carry over any purchased upgrades in your playthroughs, so it almost feels like you’re better off penny pinching than investing in your characters. While online multiplayer is incoming, there’s a dearth of modes…where’s the obligatory vs mode? Once I unlocked everything in the token shop, the only reason I was playing was to refresh my memory on the game’s mechanics for this review.

That said, I did have a fun time with the title and hope that Secret Base can get a second crack at this IP, perhaps the Lees can call their toad buddies for another romp. They definitely did put an interesting spin on the beat’em genre with things like the increasing length and difficulty depending on the order of selection, the crowd control system and the rogue-like elements. If you’re a connoisseur of the beat’em up genre, these boys are on the rise and they’re definitely worth a playthrough.

Note: Modus Games provided us with a Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons PS4/PS5 for review purposes.

Grade: B+