Invoking the traditional side-scrolling beat ’em up action that popularized the genre in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons really takes advantage of this style. Players will punch, kick, and grapple their way through swarms of adversaries on several levels in a post-nuclear war New York City as the series’ protagonists Jimmy and Billy Lee.
Story – Two Brothers Versus Apocalyptic Gangs
The story of Double Dragon Rise of the Dragons places brothers Jimmy and Billy Lee in a future in which a nuclear war has destroyed New York City. Violent gangs are now out of control and terrorizing the general population as civilization collapses.
The new mayor approaches Jimmy and Billy and requests that they rid the city of its four largest gangs in order to clean up the streets. The brothers, who are experts in martial arts, eagerly accept this assignment. Their formidable caregiver Uncle Matin and Marian, Billy’s police officer girlfriend, join them as allies.
Although the plot is straightforward, it does a good job of establishing the scene for slapping hordes of punks and thugs. It serves only to set the scene for the thrilling fight, as is the case with most beat ’em ups. The grim, post-apocalyptic atmosphere adds a little something to a bare-bones story.
Cutscenes between levels further the narrative a bit while showcasing the characters’ personalities. But ultimately the gameplay takes center stage over storytelling and for fans of the genre, that is expected.
Gameplay – A Nostalgic Beat ‘Em Up That Packs A Modern Punch
The signature combat still feels great, with simple combos and special moves that are easy to pull off. Lacing special attacks between regular combos feels immensely satisfying. Finishing multiple foes at once with these flashy skills even grants health pickups, encouraging mixing up your offense. The controls are responsive and tight, making weaving around and doling out beatdowns a breeze.
While the core combat will be familiar to genre fans, Rise of the Dragons mixes in modern roguelite elements to keep each run feeling fresh. The mission select screen randomizes stage length, enemy numbers, and difficulty in clever ways. Stages get progressively longer and introduce more dangerous foes the further you get, forcing you to consider the best level order carefully.
After each stage section, you can spend earned cash on impactful buffs like increased health, stronger specials, or better item drops. Balancing these bonuses against saving up for meta-progression unlocks adds more strategic depth. Special goals for big money bonuses incentivize mastering the combat.
The gameplay overall strikes an excellent balance between honoring the old-school brawlers that paved the way while integrating new ideas. Fighting multiple enemies at once with combos and specials is still immensely fun. The roguelite aspects will keep dedicated fans on their toes run after run.
Visuals – Pixel Art Perfection Evoking Nostalgia
On the visual front, Double Dragon Rise of the Dragons employs a pixelated retro style clearly inspired by 80s and 90s beat ’em ups. The characters, backgrounds, animations – everything looks like it was pulled right from an arcade cabinet of yesteryear.
Yet despite the old-school aesthetic, the animation is silky smooth. Punches and kicks have real weight behind them thanks to excellent sound design on hits. Fireballs, electricity, and other special movement effects pop with flashy pixels. The detailed city environments are grimly atmospheric as you walk the streets.
Further setting it apart, Rise of the Dragons isn’t actually limited by old hardware. The action remains fast and fluid, with no slowdown even when the screen fills with goons. The visuals are enhanced by dynamic lighting, weather effects, and other subtle modern touches.
So while Rise of the Dragons trades on nostalgia, it represents the pinnacle of what classic pixel style can achieve. The aesthetics are nostalgic but the execution is top-notch. Fans of retro graphics will adore the eye candy. Modern tweaks make it more than just an imitator.
Final Verdict – A Must-Play Revitalization of Classic Brawling
In the end, Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is a superb modernization of the side-scrolling beat ’em up classics. The core combat will delight fans of the original games while newcomers will find it eminently playable. Roguelite mechanics keep successive runs interesting by randomizing stages and ramping up the difficulty.
Visually, it’s a retro pixel art dream while avoiding the limitations of antiquated hardware. The soundtrack and sound effects are stellar. Varied characters and unlockables give you plenty of reasons to keep returning to the crime-ridden streets.
For anyone pining for the glory days of beat ’em ups, or those just looking for a satisfying action romp, Rise of the Dragons is easy to recommend. It reminded me how much I missed these brawlers while demonstrating the untapped potential still left in the genre. This is a must-play beat ’em up that both honors the past and carves a bold new path into the future.