Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons – PS5 Review 3

The beat ’em up renaissance has been interesting to see. Whilst it does play on people’s nostalgia, the higher profile efforts have been of a pretty good quality. Next to return to the fray is Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of The Dragons. The series itself hasn’t always hit the right marks.  Thankfully, Secret Base have done a good job of giving an established genre a new twist.

As with most of the series, the story is more of a familiar premise. The world is in a bad way thanks to nuclear war. New York City is in the grip of four gangs with Billy and Jimmy Lee offering their assistance to the new mayor. The brothers team up with Marian and Uncle Matin and set about ridding the city of crime. Don’t expect many twists or surprises but, at the very least, you’ve got an excuse to batter thousands of criminals.

Controls are very simple to understand. Square deals out regular attacks and some basic combos. It’s the main source of damage and the hits have a good weight to them. I often think a brawler can hinge on the general feel of combat. There is a good thump to it and I’ve yet to bore of it. Crowd control is primarily handled by your special attacks. Triangle is a dedicated special button so, providing you have the meter for it, you can unleash flamboyant finishers. These are very flashy and serve a key purpose in controlling the crowd.  You can tackle the game solo or with couch co-op.  Doing the former turns it into a tag game which ultimately gives players another mechanic to tinker with.

Finishing three or more enemies with special moves rewards you with food which can then be picked up to replenish health. The risk of whiffing attacks is outweighed by the chance to clear the room. It’s a really nice mechanic and the frequency of these opportunities keep the pace of combat at a nice height. To go with these you have jump attacks and grabs which round out your basic moveset. There’s not huge depth to it but the simplicity helped me focus more on dealing with the enemies at hand.

There’s four characters initially to pick from. The Lee brothers are the natural default but Marian is no damsel in distress as she favours gunplay. Uncle Matin rounds out the quartet and all four of them have individual movesets. Martin feels like a bruiser with his larger sprite and riot shield specials. Each of them has their own quirks with Marian having a dodge roll that delivers a quick backhand. She cannot pick up dropped weapons but she’s the only one of our heroes that is a dedicated ranged attacker.

The run-based structure does present a gradual challenge. There are four gangs to topple in Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of The Dragons. Each has their own stronghold and, depending on your route, you might see more of it. It is not a roguelite. The levels have different sectors with the first choice on your route having just the one before fighting the kingpin. The second will see you face two sectors with a mini-boss in-between and so on. As such, the challenge can be predicted. It allowed me to improve my execution rather than relying on luck.

The spoils of fighting typically comes monetarily. You can pick up cash regularly by smashing crates and every cleared sector allows you to purchase perks. These deliver opportunities to improve your duo and, whilst they are random, they’re all positive benefits. Tokens can be bought to trade in for continues or items from the shop. These include new characters, music and tips. I do enjoy how tangible the rewards feel and there’s plenty to work towards.

The runs themselves can be accomplished in a single sitting. At the beginning of each run you can pick your two characters and set variables like your starting health and continues. I didn’t find it trivialised the experience too much. Money does feel plentiful until revives come into play. These are exponential in cost so repeated deaths can easily eat up your bank balance. It all seems well pitched with the difficulty ramping up in a smooth fashion. You can resume any save at your last checkpoint so you don’t have to tackle things in one go. I prefer the marathon as it fits more with the series’ arcade origins.

I do like the visual style. They’ve moved away from the NES sprites and gone for a more animated look that feels more in touch with the arcade roots. Moves look fluid and the action is really easy to parse. Enemy design has a good variety to them. Each level has a unique set of villains and the different areas have their own motif. There’s a great sense of ascending a criminal empire. Opposition is easy to read and it doesn’t often appear too busy on screen.

The music is equally solid, although I struggle to recall much of the soundtrack. You have the traditional Double Dragon theme playing in menus but the score does play back into the level motifs. There’s an Egyptian theme to accompany the Triangle gang’s trash pyramid. It fits but is perhaps not as memorable. Maybe it’s good that the music doesn’t overshadow the action and the visuals do their best to clearly convey what’s going on. Special attack combos are treated like an event and enemies grey out once defeated.  There’s still some enemy types that can absolutely lock you in place.  Firearms are to be avoided at all costs and big brutes can often tag you with areas of effect.  It’s nothing new for the genre but it can be annoying to be pummelled to death.  At least tags off a potential escape.

I really like what Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is trying to do. Initially, I thought the selection of four ganglands would deliver a short experience but the potential for variety had me changing my route each run. The combat is very solid with each hit having a satisfying weight to it. Managing crowds can be tactical and crucial to keep you in the fight and the action never lets up.  Whilst it will get repetitive,  I’ve found it  enjoyable.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons
8 Overall
+ Fun and fast-paced combat.
+ Crowd control is satisfying.
+ The run-based structure adds variety to your route through the game.
+ Colourful and action that is easy to read.
- Can get repetitive.
- Some annoying enemy types will lock you in place.
- Revives can get expensive fast.
- Could do with some more stages.
Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is a surprisingly clever and fun brawler that manages to add some neat touches to a well-trodden genre. The run-based nature of it gives players plenty of decisions to make and the game is good at giving you options. The pixel aesthetic works well and the action is very easy to read. There's a lot to manage on screen but I find the special attacks provide frequent and effective crowd control. The gameplay is familiar but the new tweaks have been really refreshing.

About Mike

Mike gets all the racing games because he understands that stuff even though he doesn't drive.

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