Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is the latest attempt to revitalize the beat ’em up genre, which has struggled to stay relevant since its coin-op heyday. It arrives while the genre has some actual momentum, with Streets of Rage 4 and TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge showing that a highly polished brawler can still hit if it’s designed around replayability. Double Dragon’s latest offering adds in roguelite elements to give it some additional structure and camouflage its short length, but it’s not as revolutionary as it should be.
The core gameplay is technically solid, even if it doesn’t feel quite as good as the two aforementioned beat ’em ups. Characters are generally nimble and can jump around to outmaneuver throws. Players can use special attacks to take care of crowds of foes and even earn some food to replenish their health for taking out multiple baddies at once, rewarding solid execution. Those playing solo also can tag between two playable characters to get access to a bigger move set, although it’s often better to play in co-op since it’s easy to get overwhelmed when there are four or more foes on-screen.
There are only four main missions to go through and each has a boss associated with it, and the level’s length and overall difficulty are dependent on when it is chosen. For example, the first mission will be quite short since you only go through its initial third. However, later missions have you completing all three sections of a level and going up against a more powerful form of each boss. While that opens up the possibility of multiple routes, there are only two endings, and a run takes less than two hours to complete.
There are some decent unlockables that encourage replayability, and players can purchase them with in-game tokens that are either earned from currency at the end of a run or bought in place of power-ups. The nine characters are the highlight (which include playable versions of the bosses and past baddies like Abobo), but there are also concept art and music tracks to unlock, as well. It’ll take dozens of playthroughs for completionists to unlock everything, so it’s clearly built around running through multiple times.
But there are only four main missions (likely a throwback to the original) and consequentially not that much content to replay. If campaigns pulled from a bigger pool of levels but stayed the same length, there would at least be some more choice and variability. Players could avoid bosses they dislike or save the ones they prefer for later in the game. There’s still some of that here, but it doesn’t add much to the overall experience since players have to go through the same levels either way.
Starting over is also quite a drag, pointing another big issue with its roguelite structure. Unless you’re playing on an easy difficulty, characters have low health until they get upgraded, allowing cheaper enemies to quickly ruin runs. Almost everything is just busywork up until the latter areas where the access to more power-ups and abilities makes combat more engaging. Unlocking additional characters is appealing, but having to repeatedly trudge through the slow intro kills that appeal. Being able to buy permanent power-up unlocks or buffs à la Rogue Legacy could’ve solved this issue while still boosting its all-important replay value.
Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review: The final verdict
There’s a lot to like about Rise of the Dragons, even if it doesn’t fully click and deliver a new all-time great brawler. The core action is fluid and enjoyable, some of the unlockable characters are a blast to play, and the roguelite elements work well enough (even if it’d probably be better to just play as fully powered characters from the get-go). However, the stages and the boss fights aren’t unique enough to make this a truly memorable experience. It’s doesn’t add a ton to the franchise’s legacy, but it’s easy enough to settle into and be a worthwhile new diversion, especially in co-op.
Disclaimer: Our Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons review is based on a PS5 copy provided by the publisher. Reviewed on version 1.000.001.