The game title Billy, Jimmy, Marian and Uncle Martin stand tall in the center ready to kick butt

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review

Game: Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons
Genre: Action, Adventure,
System: Nintendo Switch (Also on Steam (Windows), Xbox and PS4)
Developer|Publisher: Secret Base | Modus Games
Age Rating: EU 12 | US Everyone 10+
Price:  US $24.99 | UK £20.13 | EU € 24,99
Release Date: July 27th, 2023

Review code provided with many thanks to Dead Good Media

Billy, Jimmy and Marian Return

For a long time, I would never have considered myself a Double Dragon fan. My first foray into the series was the Amstrad port. Anyone familiar with the microcomputer era of gaming will know that version was not the best representation of the series. While I didn’t mind it, it quickly got overshadowed by Golden Axe and Streets of Rage when we upgraded to the Mega Drive.

For years I barely thought about the series despite being a big retro fan. That all changed with Double Dragon Neon, a sort of revival of the series released on Xbox 360 and other systems of the time. This game blew me away and ignited a new interest in the series to the extent I went back and played the originals to see what I missed. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons maintains the brawling spirit. However, it has a few tricks of its own, creating an entertaining formula that will make brawler and retro fans happy.

New York City

The year is 199x, and the city of New York is in chaos following a nuclear disaster. Criminal gangs run the city, and it’s up to the masters of martial arts, Billy and Jimmy Lee, along with Marian and Uncle Martin, to clean up the city and restore order. The story is presented in still panels giving a retro feel in terms of its simplicity. In-game graphics make use of a cute kiddie pixel art style. Going for a more comical feel rather than something rough, as its setting may suggest.

Initially, I wasn’t sure what to make of this design, but it quickly grew on me. It’s fun and family-friendly, one of the more happy ways to present a distressed city if you can imagine that. The soundtrack is pretty good. If you know the series, you will hear remixed versions of familiar themes, such as the main Double Dragon theme, which still holds up very well today. I also found the game ran very well in handheld and TV modes though loading does take some time despite a cool pixel art look.

Billy taking out some bad guys with a special move
The brothers return to clean up the city

Big on Brawling Light on Roguelike

Double Dragon Gaiden focuses on brawling gameplay. Controls are easy to pick up and play, even if you are new to the series. You have your basic attack, a jump and various special moves, which can be activated once your blue bar fills. And that won’t take long at all.

KO three or more enemies with a special, and you will be awarded with a health item. Finding just the right moment to do this proved really fun. Especially when the gaming stars aligned and you managed to wipe out a huge group of enemies when you were hanging on by a slither of health. You can also run; oddly, one of the shoulder buttons is used instead of the familiar double tap of the D-pad you might expect. It’s not a problem, but it takes some getting used to initially. Lastly, you have an action button which allows characters like Billy and Jimmy to pick up dropped weapons. But for most of the other characters, it adds an extra move like a dodge or grapple move. 

Begin with Four Characters 

Speaking of characters, you begin the game with four. Billy and Jimmy Lee will be known to the fan base and act as good all-rounders regarding attacks and moves. Uncle Martin adds more muscle to the mix bringing in more slow but deadly attacks. Then you have Marian, who brings ranged weapons to fist fights. Marian uses a handgun for standard attacks and then potentially a rocket launcher for her special, making her quite the force to be reckoned with, at least at long range. She doesn’t fare so well at close.

What’s interesting about Gaiden is that it’s not your typical solo gaming experience where you just choose one character and do your best. You actually get to pick two and swap them out during gameplay, meaning you can pick two characters to complement the other’s weaknesses. Provided your special meter is full, you can tag in your partner if you’re backed into a corner or struggling to escape a grapple situation. This design makes the single-player much more interesting compared to other brawlers.

Of course, you do have the two-player local co-op, which is very much welcome. But it’s very nice to see a brawler add more layers to the single-player experience. As well as the core four characters, there are nine more to unlock. Additionally, some characters will be very familiar to fans of the series. What’s impressive is even these characters all have a unique feel to their attacks and movements, giving plenty of incentive to replay the game again.

Marian shooting a rocket launcher at a bad guy
Marian brings a rocket launcher to a fistfight


Another element added is very light roguelike mechanics. I say light because they really don’t interfere much with the gameplay compared to those that use this design as their main focus. Essentially money drives your upgrades and unlocks. Between levels, money can be used to add light upgrades to each character, such as buff health or special attacks, or if you prefer, just add more cash to your total pool. When a run ends, all the money you have accumulated is converted to tokens. Then using the tokens, you can unlock new characters, art, in-game hints or, if you prefer, as credits to continue in the main game.

Before you begin a run, you can tweak various game settings such as permadeath, health and enemy aggression. By adjusting these sliders, you can see the money-to-token ratio payout. So if you want to focus on unlocking new characters, you may want to bump things up. But if you want to just relax with a good brawling run, you can focus on that. I didn’t notice a huge difference in gameplay when playing with these sliders, but I still found plenty of enjoyment in each run.

Level Design

Something I really liked about the game design is the level structure. You are given four levels to choose from right from the start (with a fifth and final unlocked after each is conquered). All of these have a unique feel and design and enemy minions to them. Most, of course, focus on brawling, but sometimes you’ll be content with light platform areas.

My favourite area was the train level which always tends to be the best level in video games. Once one level is finished, the other levels become progressively more difficult. Adding more enemies and extra levels to contend with. This gives a lot of incentive to replay and try things in a different order to see what you missed. This is helped even further by just how fun the game is to control. Even after many failed runs, I found it very hard not to dive back into another run. One of the few niggles I have is it’s a shame the co-op is not online, as this would be great to play with a buddy abroad.

Jimmy taking on three sumo boses
Not sure I’d make a good lunch

Conclusion: More Than a Side Story

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is a very good brawler, not just for fans of the series but for anyone that wants to sit down for a satisfying blast of one-two-punch action. It’s great to see a brawler add more depth to the single-player experience by allowing you to pick two characters and swap between them on the fly. It’s not quite as enjoyable as playing in local co-op mode with a friend, but it’s a welcome feature.

Gaiden may be a side story compared to the main series, but it’s easily one of the best entries I’ve played. It’s just such a blast to jump in and attempt a run. With a similar feeling I got playing brawlers back in the retro days; only the controls are much tighter. Whether alone or with a friend, Gaiden will surely keep you entertained on your next game night.

Final Verdict: I Like it a Lot

I like it a lot

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *