Co-Optimus - Review - Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Co-op Review

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise Of The Dragons

  • Couch Co-Op: 2 Players
  • + Co-Op Campaign

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons Co-op Review - Page 2


Double Dragon Gaiden Rise of the Dragons Xbox

Gaiden consists of five missions (stages), the first four of which can be played in any order. The catch is that beating each mission will increase the length and difficulty of the remaining missions. For instance, the first mission contains only a single section and ends with the fight against the gang’s boss, but later missions will last for two or three sections with mini-bosses leading up to the gang bosses. Later missions also gain extra bonus objectives. This structure is a clever way of creating an increasing difficulty curve, and it piles on the replay value since players won’t see all that most stages have to offer during a single playthrough.

Double Dragon Gaiden Rise of the Dragons Xbox

The stages themselves span a relatively diverse array of environments despite all taking place in one city. The team will fight through numerous city and industrial environments, inside a subway train (à la Final Fight), on top of a cargo train, a cliffside, through a junkyard, on top of an exposed elevator/helicopter landing pad as it climbs through the sky, and more. Not only that, but the actual design of the levels is far more creative than most modern beat ‘em ups. Rather than just walking from left to right like in Jitsu Squad, players will explore forked paths, weave in and out of rooms, and climb and descend vertical pathways. The occasional need for platforming never feels unfair like it does in Double Dragon IV; it just adds variety to the experience.

In our developer interview, the game’s director told developer told us that his Double Dragon experience came primarily from the NES games. Those games had larger, more interesting levels than the arcade games, and that influence really pays off in this one.

Is it a Roguelite?

Double Dragon Gaiden Rise of the Dragons Xbox Token Shop

While Gaiden has sometimes been touted as a roguelite, it really just incorporates a handful of roguelite elements into a traditional game structure. For starters, the game is only as hard as you want it to be. When starting a new save, players can tweak six different difficulty settings. The easier you make it, the more expensive the tokens that are used to unlock things become. If both of a player’s characters die, continuing will cost gold, reducing how many tokens you’ll get at the end. Thus, pretty much anybody should be able to beat the game, but stronger players can unlock things faster.

The metagame element that encourages replay is the token shop. The shop offers four categories of unlockables: Game (characters), Tips, Art, and Music. Characters are obviously the most desirable unlocks, so they cost the most tokens. Tips are cheap and offer decently useful advice. Art includes 28 pieces of concept art, and the music category contains 28 songs (some of which don’t appear during the actual game). There are no permanent upgrades to buy, just perks that cost gold last for the remainder of the run, for better or worse. How enticing you find the token shop's unlockables will likely affect the replay value you get from the game.

Art and Music

Double Dragon Gaiden Rise of the Dragons Xbox

Gaiden doesn’t just play a bit differently than other Double Dragons; it looks different too. The sprites are drawn with a big-headed, “chibi” art style that somewhat resembles that of TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge (although the style here is actually an evolution of Secret Base’s work on Streets of Red). Gaiden’s slightly cartoony visuals have attracted online criticism and trolling from a vocal minority that would prefer a more realistic style.

Double Dragon Gaiden Rise of the Dragons Xbox

The argument over style is both silly and frustrating. Nothing about Double Dragon precludes the use of stylized artwork, and developers should work with whatever styles come naturally to them. That said, the character selection/cinematic art for Billy Lee, the main character of the series, is pretty derpy here. Given that nearly every other character’s face is drawn more attractively, it’s surprising that Billy’s derp face made it through development.

As for the soundtrack, it’s amazing! Nearly every song is a high-quality remix of a classic Double Dragon tune. As explained in our developer interview, Secret Base contracted songs from several different musicians rather than just one or two. The result is one of the best soundtracks in the series, and I deeply hope that the album gets a digital release someday.

All-Star Beat ‘em Up

Double Dragon Gaiden Rise of the Dragons Xbox Machine Gun Willy

The developer has described Double Dragon Gaiden as an “All-stars” version of Double Dragon, which isn’t a bad description. Using the first game as a starting point, this one brings in enemies, bosses, and references from all four numbered Double Dragons. Some of those boss battles, like the final version of the Machine Gun Willy fight are incredible! The gameplay is creative and tight (other than limitations of the tag mechanic), the level design is some of the best the genre has seen in years, and the music rocks. Adjustable and totally fair difficulty and lots of stuff to unlock make the game both approachable and replayable. The age and enduring popularity of the Double Dragon series has resulted in some unique games over the years, and Gaiden numbers among the best of those interpretations.

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons sells for $24.99 digitally on XboxPlayStationSwitch, and Steam. Physical versions for Xbox, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Switch cost $29.99. The Steam version is fully Steam Deck compatible.

Xbox and Steam download codes were provided by the publisher for this review.


Co-Op Score

The Co-Op Experience: Grab a friend and clean up the city streets together in local co-op! When starting a 2-player game, both players select two characters for their personal tag teams. Players share the money they collect, but each player buys their own perks upon beating a level. Online co-op is planned for the future.

Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.