Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review – A Confused Throwback

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review

Billy and Jimmy are back from the prolific eighties for another round of glorious old-school arcade brawling. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is the new pixel-art fighting game where the two brothers are once again called into action, this time to rid a post-nuclear war New York City of criminal gangs. Roguelite elements and tag team action go hand-in-hand… or should I say foot-in-face with the two-player cooperative game mode, but is this a successful comeback?

The Golden Era of Brawlers

Double Dragon Gaiden puts you in this pixel-art style that feels both like an update and a tribute to the first games in the franchise. The looks of both Billy and Jimmy may not be to everyone’s taste, with a hint of chibi that is bound to divide opinions, especially when the character portrait artwork here is remarkable, but overall, the graphical choices are cute and give the game a cheerful style. Still, it is more reminiscent of 16-bit console games than the arcades of yesteryear.

Double Dragon Gaiden brings a new take to the series with the introduction of roguelite elements. Nothing too deep or complicated, some may even call this addition somewhat shallow; just a few features managing to add choices to a brawler that could otherwise offer a standard linear progression system. You can select one level from the four starting stages and follow this approach as you clear one after the other, breaking some of the rigidity from other side-scrolling brawlers. The difficulty of each level increases accordingly to your stage in the adventure, modifying the number of enemies, stage length, and challenge, giving each playthrough a chance of feeling slightly different from the previous one.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review

The roguelite elements are also seen in the randomized selection of items that you purchase at the end of each stage with the collected coins. Additional health, improved attack efficiency, gaining shield, or simply grabbing a nice pile of cash are some of the options, many of them dependent on factors such as current health or tag partner defeated.

But this feels more of a gimmick than a real game changer. It’s still a fighting game with the kind of gameplay that isn’t too deep, and the roguelite elements are true to the name, being light in the way that they actually affect how the game unfolds. Stronger and tougher enemies may be a thing indeed, but it’s nothing that breaks the mold of the game in any fundamental or overly thought-provoking ways.

This is a game with a strong focus on the tag team aspect, allowing for two-player local cooperative play where each one selects two characters. Billy, Jimmy, Marian, and Uncle Matin are the starting options, with Marian’s choice of a pistol as her main weapon coming as a perfectly balanced alternative to the brothers’ familiar array of punches and kicks. There are nine other characters to unlock, and combining these during the game for crowd control and other moves should be your goal, increasing effectiveness and the number of coins and tokens to earn. It’s fun to experiment with fighters and see how the tag move works in some conditions, breaking enemy attacks, but you shouldn’t expect a deep offer in terms of moves for each character.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review

It’s a shame then that hit collision verges on the inaccurate side. Billy’s kicks often strike home even when he is clearly too far apart from scorpions or destructible objects, with the hit boxes seemingly fluctuating between good and awful. Fighters with short range aren’t much fun to play, so you’re likely going to want Marian in your team to use her ranged advantage anyway. Billy and Jimmy players are likely going to resort to flying kicks often, as normal attacks end up feeling short, and there’s the occasional feeling that movement errs on the side of sluggish. You end up getting used to it and the game remains partially fun, but it’s not quite there with the latest fast-paced, weighty, and engaging brawlers of the genre such as Streets of Rage 4.

Double Dragon Gaiden encourages you to go for crowd control moves for better rewards, which pretty much means using your wits to group up enemies and take them out with your special abilities. It is satisfying to do so, but the combo announcement interrupting the gameplay becomes tiresome; even if it’s just for a second, this ends up amounting to a lot and turns into an incessant stream of short breaks. A small and discreet pop-up somewhere on the screen would have a better effect, allowing for seamless gameplay.

Pulling Punches?

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review

Double Dragon Gaiden isn’t deprived of something to bring to the beat’em up genre, but it does feel like a game tailored to younger players, when it should in fact be designed with veterans in mind – those who have grown with the first games of the series, drawn to their brutal martial arts combat without any rules or complications getting in the way of relentless punishment. It’s not just the gameplay mechanics that feel light in terms of moves and combos, this despite the tag aspect; the visuals also support this idea that there’s some sort of indecision regarding the actual target audience.

There’s some undeniable fun to be had if you can look past the hit collision issues, or the lack of proprietary support for online coop. The roguelite elements are interesting but don’t feel essential in any sense, almost as if a mandatory box to tick and tickle the fancy of some fans. As a throwback to one of the all-time brawler greats, Double Dragon Gaiden is competent, but doesn’t really pack the punch that the series deserves.

Score: 7.5/10


  • Two-player coop play can be fun
  • Some welcome diversity to the campaign
  • Interesting choice of characters


  • Hit collision isn’t always up to current standards
  • Feels conflicted about its target audience
  • Despite the freedom of choice, roguelite elements still feel like an afterthought

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons review code was provided by the publisher. You can read MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here.

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