Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review - Punch, Rinse, Repeat

Published: July 27, 2023 3:15 AM /

Reviewed By:

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review Image depicting our two heroes at work.

It’s a familiar story — the world’s been decimated by nuclear war, and rival gangs have taken over and are laying siege to New York City. The question is: do you have the skills, stamina, and pugilistic tendencies to make a difference? That’s the quandary at the heart of Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons, which we got the chance to play ahead of its release. We've previously reviewed Double Dragon IV, and put together preview impressions for Double Dragon Gaiden, but how does this new entry in the storied Double Dragon franchise feel to play today? Find out in our Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review - The Usual Suspects

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons centers around a post-nuclear New York City. As the city holds on to its sanity by a thread, four distinct rival gangs are amassing power. But hope still remains, as our favorite Double Dragon heroes — Billy, Jimmy, Marion, and Uncle Martin — know just what to do (punch and kick their way through thousands of gang goons).

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review Image of our four heroes
You know 'em, you love 'em, it's the Double Dragon crew!

The four gangs trying to take over NYC each look vastly different from one another, even if their move-sets and abilities are very similar. First, there’s the Killers gang, led by the machine-gun-toting Willy. This gang makes their home in a burnt-out office high-rise, and looks like your typical city gang members.

The Royals are led by the skilled martial artist Duke and spruce up the subways with their nice duds. Lady Okada and her Okada Gang take their inspiration from traditional Japanese dwellings and style. And finally, there’s my favorite of all the villains, the Triangle Gang and their leader, Anubis. Towering atop a pyramid of trash, the Triangle Gang is deeply inspired by Egyptian themes and motifs.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review Image depicting Anubis
Who is the mysterious Anubis!?

The game's art direction really does a wonderful job of bringing the 2D side-scrolling genre into the modern era. The illustrations of each character are bright and full of personality, from the lowliest gang member to our sparkling heroes. I really like their animations, too, which are highly evocative (and sometimes downright funny).

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review - The Gameplay Loop

In Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons the core gameplay will be super familiar to long-time fans of the series. This side-scrolling beat-em-up sees you choosing two different heroes - one main character and a side character - to go through level after level, punching foes. You have a normal attack and a series of special attacks that can be triggered when a meter is filled, and that special attack rewards the player with money and, potentially, health (more on money in the game in a bit).

Smaller characters can pick up weapons to deal additional damage, while bigger, beefier characters are limited to their own movesets. When your meter is full, you can switch between characters, and if one of your characters dies, the other will swap in automatically.

In my playthrough of the game, it took me a while to get a good sense of flow between characters. But eventually, I was a master of swapping between characters, saving my stronger fighters for the inevitably tough boss fights.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review Image depicting Marion
Marion faces off against Anubis deep in his junkyard pyramid!

Landing that perfect special attack feels really good, and if you can catch three or more enemies in your special (Marion, with her grenade launcher, is especially adept at this) you'll even gain a health consumable. The controls were smooth as silk, which you'd expect from such a fine-tuned franchise.

Where this game really pivots from previous incarnations is its roguelike progression. After defeating a mini-boss or boss, you'll have the chance to trade in some cash you've acquired for small buffs to your characters.

These could be anything from lowering the time it takes to build up your special meter, to dealing more damage when you're injured, and so on. Careful purchasing, combined with a bit of luck, can lead to pretty powerful characters as you progress through the game.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review image depicting Burnov catching multiple enemies in his special attack

After you defeat one gang, the other gangs sense that power vacuum and grow in strength. This manifests in-game with additional sections being added to their respective stages. If I defeat Anubis first, I'll only see the ground level of his impressive junkyard pyramid. But if I save him for last, by that point I'll have to travel deep into the inner workings of his pyramid, defeating waves of enemies and mini-bosses.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review - Tokens Please!

The other big change comes in between runs of the game. Should you die, the cash you earned is converted into tokens. The baseline exchange rate is 1000 cash for 1 token, but this can be adjusted up or down depending by changing the difficulty of the game. Want enemies to hit harder? That'll make that exchange rate more favorable. Want more life for your characters? That'll make the exchange more expensive. It's a fun, fluid system that rewards careful tweaking.

But what do you spend these tokens on? The game offers several different ways to trade in your tokens, only one of which I found especially compelling. You can trade in tokens to unlock new fighters.

These new fighters are comprised of the various mini-bosses and end-level bosses of the game. I particularly enjoyed bashing heads as Anubis, using my electrical magic and illusion spells to befuddle and shock my opponents.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review image depicting gameplay tips
This cost a token to unlock???

Where I was less satisfied, however, are the other ways in which you can spend tokens. Aside from purchasing new characters, I found I could only purchase "gameplay tips," which gave very simple (and, honestly, non-helpful) little nuggets of gameplay info, artwork, and music. And while it was fun to hear the various music tracks, including some unused songs, they don't play through once you start a new game.

For such a cool concept, it's a shame that the only game-changing thing I could spend tokens on was additional characters. I would have loved the opportunity to spend additional tokens on things like new enemy types, new stages, or even different color schemes for my heroes.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Review | Final Thoughts

There's a lot to love about Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons. The core gameplay loop of knowing when to bow out to trade in your cash for tokens adds a level of interactivity and planning unheard of in previous Double Dragon games. And the artwork, style, and flow all make this game a pleasure to play, with the controls handling immaculately.

Where the game falters a bit is, as mentioned above, its lack of options in the token menu. Also, though all of the ground-level thugs in the game look different from one another, there are really only four or five different types of enemies, and many are re-skinned to fit into the four different gangs.

This can lead to a bit of a repetitive feeling, but that's normal for the genre. Where it relieves some of that repetition is in how each enemy stage grows in length after other enemy stages are defeated. This left me wanting to come back and try the stages in different orders, just to see how they shift, change, and grow more challenging.

All in all, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is a lot of fun to work through, and if you set your sights on unlocking all the different characters in the game, you'll find a lot of variety and surprises intermingled with its more repetitive aspects.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons was previewed on the Nintendo Switch using a code provided by the publisher over the course of around 10 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.

Review Summary

With fun, bright graphics and a novel approach to level design, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons refreshes the classic beat-em-up genre, even if it can sometimes feel a bit repetitive. (Review Policy)


  • Seamless controls keep the action moving
  • The cash/token system adds a fun push your luck element
  • The game's visual style is bright, clear, and exciting


  • The token shop only has one "game changing" way to spend tokens
  • Similar ground-level enemies leads to repetition


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