If you knew nothing about Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, the start screen would tell you everything you needed. An void engulfed by raging, low-bit fire features in its center a pair of snarling dragons holding the menu. It’s arcade action with no holds barred.
The side-scrolling beat ’em up takes place in an alternative universe ’90s where various gangs hold power in a ravaged New York. There’s a quick narrative scene which, honestly, isn’t the point of the game. So, I appreciate that it wraps up quickly and introduces our heroes: The Lee brothers.The pair are sons of the famous martial artist who has gone missing who decide they can’t wait around for him to fix things.
I have a lot of options, partly because of the game’s focus on updating the series for a modern audience. Story mode allows me to change whether it costs me or not to continue after losing all my lives, or, indeed, if I want to up the ante and play with permadeath. I can jump into a selectable mission with character options ranging from the high-kicking protagonists to some of the baddies I encounters and unlock later on. Each fighter has their own special and the option to tag team with another character.
Rightfully, the action is the star of the title. Bombastic specials, fast combos, and calling in a partner to take over and knock out every enemy is frantic and strategic. Hitting targets, and getting hit, fills a special meter that lets me unleash a move that dominates a nearby crowd, which is always entertaining to watch. Money spills out in all directions from a defeated foe, adding more flash to the already energetic combat.
The money is not just for show, but feeds into the game’s roguelike elements. At the end of a successful mission, I’m able to spend some hard-earned cash to upgrade my abilities. This can include things like increasing the damage of my main fighter’s regular combo or decreasing how long it takes for the special meter to fill up. One of my favorite options, though, was being able to knock enemies back when I switched between characters, leaving them open to a flurry of blows.
I haven’t made my way through the game yet, but Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is already easy to recommend to arcade-style beat ’em up fans.