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Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Preview

Double Dragon Gaiden dishes up a deep and satisfying combat system with plenty of unlockable content.

With a few hours of the upcoming Double Dragon Gaiden under my belt, I can confidently say a few things. This game is very much in line with other high-profile beat ‘em up revivals we’ve seen spring up in recent years. Like 2020’s Battletoads and Streets of Rage 4, Double Dragon Gaiden smartly forgoes the trappings of 3D-style revivals that made Double Dragon Neon feel so divorced from its legacy.

Gaiden is freed up to lean into what made the original few games so great. Namely, the simplicity of their gameplay and distinct appeal of their 2D art style. Only modest traces of modern bells and whistles can be felt from time to time, like purchasable upgrades and a more refined, flexible combat system. It’s simply a great mix.

Double the dragon, double the power

Without sacrificing the pick-up-and-play feel of a classic Double Dragon game, Double Dragon Gaiden has deepened the combat. There are more combos, grabs, tagging in alternate characters, and a special attack that you can use nearly anytime you want thanks to it charging back up constantly. Similarly, it hangs on to that old-school difficulty. Albeit with a smoother difficulty curve than the sharp spikes of older beat ‘em ups.

My time with the game certainly started out on the easier side of the spectrum. But I had my rump handed to me by the third level. This led me to the rather brutal Game Over screen ultimatum. I had to choose between spending tokens to retry the level, or cash out my earnings and erase all of my progress (spoiler alert: I hadn’t earned any tokens yet). After a brief grieving process, I was back in the game, pummeling my way to where I left off.

Don’t let the new moves and more dynamic combat trick you into thinking this game isn’t ready for you. It most certainly is. Still yet, tweaking the difficulty in a number of ways will allieviate this. I’ll have to spend more time tinkering around with that to see what balance feels right to me.

Plenty to see and do

Something else I’m noticing is the sheer amount of unlockables in Double Dragon Gaiden. Tokens can also be spent on unlocking the 13 playable characters, 28 gameplay tips, artwork, and music tracks between runs. Whether or not the tips or artwork are worth spending these precious tokens on is going to vary from player to player. I can say the few characters I’ve unlocked so far are absolutely worth the trouble.

Each character feels distinct, with a much wider variety than I expected. Exploring the different characters and mastering the combinations of them should easily provide plenty of hours of playtime, well into the double digits.

While the presentation is certainly reminiscent of Double Dragon’s retro era, it isn’t what I would call 8-bit. Backgrounds have detail and depth that looks like what you would find in a 16, or even early 32-bit game. On-screen characters are unapologetically two-dimensional. But they are far too well-animated and clearly voiced to conjure more than a fleeting vibe of classic 80’s gaming.

There is certainly nothing wrong with that, and the game overall does look great. But Double Dragon Gaiden is unlikely to scratch that retro-itch with its visuals for those that are familiar enough with retro games to be able to differentiate them from modern 2D ones. It sits somewhere between the completely modern stylings of Streets of Rage 4 and more authentic throwbacks like Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. I think it fits the game well, given that the combat and general gameplay philosophy seem to come from a similar mindset of mixing new and old.

Double Dragon Gaiden throws back hard

I can’t say yet if this is the best outing in the Double Dragon series. Nor am I sure how it’s going to stack up against the other successful retro throwback revivals we’ve seen over the last few years. I can gladly report, however, that it’s shaping up to be one of the better beat ‘em ups since TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge. This is fitting, as I suspect it will appeal to the exact same audience when it’s all said and done.

Double Dragon Gaiden is developed by Secret Base and published by Modus Games. It will launch on July 27 for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

Thanks to Modus Games and Secret Base for providing us with a preview / review code for Double Dragon Gaiden.

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