" Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons " Review . The power of friendship

I n a dystopian landscape of the year 199X, New York City lies in ruins following a devastating nuclear conflict, leaving its populace grapp...

In a dystopian landscape of the year 199X, New York City lies in ruins following a devastating nuclear conflict, leaving its populace grappling with survival amidst widespread chaos, riots, and escalating crime. Criminal factions have taken control of the city, instilling fear and lawlessness in every corner as they vie for absolute power. In a bid to reclaim their home from the clutches of tyranny, the resolute and valiant young brothers, Billy and Jimmy Lee, embark on a courageous mission upon behest of the newly elected mayor, to expel the menacing gangs and restore order to their beloved metropolis.

What is it?
Double Dragon is a long-standing beat 'em up style video game series was released as a hit arcade game in 1987. The series featured twin martial artists, Billy and Jimmy Lee, as they fight against various adversaries and rivals. The game was highly popular and ushered in a "Golden Age" for the beat 'em up genre resulting in a flood of beat 'em ups during the late 1980samd early 90's that followed many of the mechanics and style established by Double Dragon. With many followup games and releases on many home consoles following the game series even spawned an animated series even a live-action movie, both not well received by their target audience, which is not surprising with the historic failures we have seen of videogame to movie adaptations, until just recent years. 

Soon the game would be falling in more obscurity, despite its status as the godfather of modern beat 'em ups. They were simply overshadowed by better games in the genre and overall, by other genre games all together. Still nothing beats that feeling of the quarter sucking arcade or playing coop with a buddy on the sofa at home. There have been many re-releases, remakes and new attempts at reviving the series, but now a new challenger takes over and brings us a new take that aims to blend the esthetics of the old games with features of the modern game area.  

Presented as a prequel of sorts, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons chronicles the early endeavors of the iconic Double Dragon brothers as they unite with their allies to confront an array of merciless gangs wreaking havoc across the city in a brutal struggle for dominance. Players will assume the roles of Billy and Jimmy, empowered to strategize and execute their offensive against each gang, one by one. However, a word of caution resonates: vanquishing a single gang only serves to embolden the others, paving the way for increased recruitment and territorial expansion. Thus, the path to justice becomes all the more arduous and challenging, demanding astute decision-making and unwavering determination. As the ultimate showdown looms, the fate of New York City hangs in the balance, awaiting the daring heroes who dare to confront the rise of the dragons.


The first thing you will notice about the gameplay is that you will control two characters during your run in a tag team style tactic. At the select screen you pick your two heroes' out of an initial four with each their own play style. Billy and Jimmy are of course our martial arts experts, with Jimmy focused on hand style combat and Billy more of a foot master, kicking in skulls where needed. Their caretaker uncle-Matin is a big slow brute with a riot shield who feels more like a wrestler methodically body slamming his foes and Billy's girlfriend Marian is a weapons expert taking our enemies across the battlefield from a distance. Over the course of playing the game you can unlock 9 more characters all with a different style. 

The controls are simply designed with a jump, attack, special and action button to quickly jump into the action. A quick tap of one of the shoulder buttons and you sprint across the screen or when the energy is full a quick tap on one of the special attach buttons pulls of a devastating move. Hit enough people in a crowd and you get a crowd control bonus resulting in a drop of food from a hotdog to a burger to a complete turkey. Which of course is used to quickly restore energy.  IF you do get hit, parts of the health bar will first turn blue, quickly hit the tag button and switch to the other hero and allow the first on to rest up and gain health back, turning the blue part red again. go too far and the bar will be completed empty, and you pass out leaving your partner all alone. 

It took a bit to get used to the tag mechanic, and at times I tagged out when I did not want to, resulting in both characters getting a bit of an unneeded, and unwanted beating. The specials fill up quite quickly and allow for some great attacks, there are several and it is going to take you a little bit to find out how to exactly pick each version of your special and other attacks. Lucky the pause menu comes with a handy move list to get you started on your journey. 

The best thing of games like double dragon is playing with a friend, and the game comes with a great dose of couch coop. it was a surprise to see that the second player does not take control of the second character but in fact also controls a full two hero tag team. This CAN be the same as you are using, but to avoid confusion we played each with a unique set. 

What sets the game apart from previous iterations is the inclusion of some rogue lite elements. Now I can hear some of you groaning in the back but believe me it is integrated so finely it took me a good portion of playing before I noticed it being there. First of all, it starts with level select. Each gang has a territory and one leader. From the very beginning you can choose what order you want to take them out. However, after a relatively short and easy mission you take out their leader, but this creates a power vacuum that gets filled by the other remaining gangs. This means that the next area will be tougher and longer.  Yes longer, play the game in a different order and you will start seeing areas and enemies you did not see before in that level. This makes for a ton of replay and trial and error to see what the best approach is. One level giving you too many fits? maybe clear it fits and prevent even having to deal with those.

Between each level you get to pick upgrades or tokens, the upgrades help get stronger, but the tokens can allow you to unlock game items after you are done with the game. If both your heroes pass out, you can spend some of your earned money to revive them and if you can no longer afford that you can spend a token to start back at the save point. OR you can choose to collect your winnings and delete all other progress, allowing you to take your tokens with you and unlock things in the menu. 
All these new additions on top of a classic look and feel of the game made for a surprising effective combination and are a pleasure to play and the game can be surprisingly challenging.  The game offers some options before you start to make things easier, or harder as well to keep things in line with your skills and how you want to challenge yourself. 


Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons brings a lot of color and great design brough to you in strong 16-bit style pixelated action. With easy to understand controls and a ton of characters to fight and play with it is visually a treat to look at, especially if you are a fan of the original games or overall, a fan of retro style/pixel art games. The only issue I had was with boss battles where I found their energy bar obstructing my game too much causing me to miss pickups such as health restoring foods in the heat of battle.  Besides that, minor issues the visual ques are great and show impact and power during your fights. The various special attacks are well animated and a blast to pull off. It even seemed that some of these moves paid homage to some anime's such as jojo's bizarre adventure as Jimmy pulls of an "Ora Ora Ora" move or Billy gets into a "muda muda muda " style focus.
I am sure there are some we clearly missed. 

The Audio is snappy and punches, explosions as well as audio cues are crisp clear and on point with everything having a strong impact on the game. They are more than bleeps and bloops and unlike the classic style of the graphics in the game, the sounds were all high def and clear as a bell, including the voice lines in the game.  On top of the great sound effect is a solid soundtrack, and though not all of them were a hit for me they included some true bangers creating a total arcade style experience. There is just a basic story so there is not too much to mention there, but since this is an arcade experience it is not the most important feature. There are tons of unlockable characters, songs and arts to work towards too and keep playing. 

Parental Recommendation

This game is rated E10+ which means pretty much for everyone but perhaps under 10 years the game can be a bit challenging. Since there the controls are simple enough and there is couch coop, I feel it is entirely possible to have a kid mash the buttons and still do fine while an older sibling of a parent takes care of the rest. There is of course the animated violence but there is no blood or bad language.  And the animation style and character design are fun and colorful.

Final Thoughts

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is the next game in line next to the new " Teenage Ninja Turtles, shredders revenge" , The upcoming "Toxic Avenger" and many more games that look to fill the nostalgia hunger of an audience that long to the games from their youth as well as a new audience looking to experiences these old ip's but with added modern sensibilities. And in most parts the game succeeds in doing so. With additive gameplay and a unique way to discover more parts of the different areas you will experience a new way to play each time you push further into the game. The Tag team mechanic allows for tactics new to the series, but a part of me would have loved an option to for a four-player mode instead. At least as an option.  With crazy new and old characters brought into this series the game has a ton of content to offer and if you are a fan of beat-em ups, Double Dragons games, coop games or want to try a new style game with a retro feel you do no wrong picking this one up.

Game Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons 
PublisherMODUS Games
DeveloperSecret Base
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC
Release Date:  27 July 2023 (Price: $24,99 digital/ $29.99 Physical)
Review PlatformPS5
ESRB: E10+ 

About the writer: DadGeek (Rob) is the co-founder of GeeksVsGeeks. He is a product of the eighties and never let go of his geek interest and hobbies no matter how often someone told him to stop. His love for gaming and all things geeks has been part of his parenting style and permeates throughout the whole family. A family of Geeks vs Geeks  


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