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Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons

Developer: Secret Base
Publisher: Modus Games
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Windows (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch
Release Date: 27 July 2023
Price: $24.99 USD / $36.75 AUD – Available Here (US Switch), Available Here (AU Switch), and Available Here (PC)


Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is the newest installment in the long-standing series. Double Dragon was first released in arcades in 1987. It spawned a number of sequels and ports that were released on multiple platforms. The game enjoyed immense popularity back in its day. It established the foundation for many other fighting action games that came afterwards. The Lee brothers even starred in a live-action movie, but suffice to say, it failed on all counts. Nowadays, the Double Dragon IP belongs to Arc System Works. Even then, the series has been relegated to spin-offs and cameos in games from the same universe. Double Dragon Gaiden is one such spin-off, but does it live up to the franchise’s past glory?


In the aftermath of an all-out nuclear war, New York City is now ruled by four powerful gangs. One day, a cop named Marian is injured while engaged in conflict with the ruffians who assault the city daily. She’s brought by the newly-elected mayor to the Sou-Setsu-Ken dojo, where her friends, the twin brothers Billy Lee and Jimmy Lee, live with their father and master. The mayor wants to enlist master Lee to help put an end to the chaos that has engulfed the city. Unfortunately, Master Lee is currently missing, so it falls in the hands of the Lee brothers, Marian, and a new character known as Uncle Matin to put an end to the gangs’ rule of terror.

What’s interesting about the story is how the developers took the scrapped-out script from Super Double Dragon for the SNES and added their own touch to it. They even went as far as creating a new character, “Uncle Matin”, exclusively for Gaiden; “Matin” is just a random word displayed on Billy’s garage in the arcade version of the first Double Dragon; it’s especulated that that’s how this character got his name.

The story plays out using cutscenes featuring pixel art stills, similar to how the story was presented in Double Dragon III on the NES. It’s pretty cool to see that the developers did their homework and went on with including these little tidbits. Besides these brief curiosities and an obvious twist at the end, that’s all for Double Dragon Gaiden’s story.


Double Dragon Gaiden plays similarly to developer Secret Base’s Streets of Red. It combines beat ’em up action with some rogue-like elements such as the option to buy randomly rotating power-ups between checkpoints. The game uses a tag team system which means players get to swap – almost freely once the mechanic is understood – between two characters, be it to extend combos or to save a partner taking a beating.

At first, players are able to choose from four characters: Billy, Jimmy, Marian, and Uncle Matin. The first two are masters of Sou-Setsu-Ken, but they use it distinctly; Billy is fast and has a versatile move set while Jimmy focuses more on strong punches and grabs. Uncle Matin is a burly brawler with moves that combine defense, offense and grappling. As a cop, Marian uses her tools of the trade to attack from a distance and set traps that stun enemies.

When all is said and done, it’s time to hit the streets. Stages can be beaten in any order, and as players complete them, the following stages go through a makeover which adds one extra area and also new bosses. To see everything, a minimum of four runs is necessary, but new players will probably need a bit more than that as they get used to the flow of the game. This is a neat mechanic that gives the game a decent amount of content while keeping its arcade feel. 

Difficulty is highly customizable. Players are able to choose characters’ health level, enemy aggression and stats among other things. This also affects how many tokens players can get at the end of each run. These tokens can be traded for artwork, music, game tips, and, more importantly, playable bosses hailing from all mainline Double Dragon games.

At a glance, Gaiden plays like what you’d expect from a Double Dragon game. Players can make use of the series’ signature moves, like combos, grabs and special attacks. Stages are also designed in a familiar fashion. Players traverse areas that scroll in multiple directions while taking down hordes of enemies. Traps are set up in some areas, but instead of being a real threat – like in older games – they serve mostly to slow down the game’s pacing.

Gameplay is deliberately slow. This is made even more evident by how heavily telegraphed enemy attacks are. Playable characters are, in turn, balanced around this particularity. At first, It’s hard to get used to the flow of the game due to how sluggish it feels. Things get much better once you understand how to play, but that information isn’t free; players need to go through a few runs and collect some tokens, before they can buy tips that teach how the game is supposed to be played. This design choice is as curious as it’s baffling, but once players understand the game’s mechanics, it feels nice to take down multiple enemies at a time while swapping to your secondary character to keep the combo – and the body count – high.


The choice of using an art style that calls back to the NES era makes sense since those versions were always much more accessible to players than their arcade counterparts. However, it’s disheartening to see the grittier, more detailed pixel art from the arcade games disappear. Regardless, Double Dragon Gaiden does a good job looking like a modernized 8-Bit console game. Main characters and bosses are reasonably well-drawn and animated. Stages are varied and colorful, but this standard isn’t maintained across the entire game. Enemy design is what drags down the visuals the most. They sometimes look like they were put together at the last minute. Many enemies simply use the same sprite with minor differences and swapped move sets.


While sound effects work well, they’re not really notable. The real outlier in this department is the soundtrack. Many classic tunes were rearranged. Their new incarnations range from faithful to the source material to mildly mixed up. Overall, Gaiden’s soundtrack is pretty good, even if some of my favorite tunes weren’t included.


Double Dragon Gaiden delivers a decent, albeit flawed, beat ‘em up experience. Its rogue-lite mechanics are, indeed, very light; they don’t do enough to mix things up in a way that justifies their inclusion. It can still be a pretty good time especially when it’s played in co-op.

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A call back to the Double Dragon series golden days. Gaiden offers a fair beat 'em up experience, but its rogue-lite mechanics aren't well implemented.
Claudio Meira
Claudio Meirahttps://www.capsulecomputers.com.au/
I have been playing video games for 36 years. I should be put in a museum by now, but here I am, writing about them.
A call back to the Double Dragon series golden days. Gaiden offers a fair beat 'em up experience, but its rogue-lite mechanics aren't well implemented. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review