The humble beat-‘em-up, like so many fan favourite franchises, is enjoying something of a renaissance on modern consoles, like PS5 and PS4. With the likes of Streets of Rage 4 and TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge proving immensely popular on PlayStation platforms, it was only a matter of time before Double Dragon returned to the limelight.
Of course, this isn’t the only new game starring Billy and Jimmy in the past decade: Double Dragon Neon attracted a lot of attention in the latter days of the PS3’s lifecycle, while Double Dragon 4 was a modern attempt at recapturing the feel and flavour of the NES originals by Technos Japan. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons sits somewhere in the middle, remaining faithful to the beat-‘em-up gameplay of the originals while adding in contemporary new features, like a roguelite structure.
We caught up with developer Secret Base’s Raymond Teo to learn a little more about the game and its ambitions. Please note, throughout this article you’ll find a hand-picked selection of exclusive screenshots, kindly provided to us by the developer.
Push Square: Double Dragon is obviously a legendary franchise. How did the opportunity to make Rise of the Dragons come about, and how does it feel to be a custodian of such an iconic series?
Raymond Teo: When I released my parody zombie beat-’em-up Devil’s Dare (later re-released as Streets of Red) in 2014, I was approached by Arc System Works, which if I recall correctly, was exploring the idea of publishing games on Steam. We had some discussion, but as I already had the publisher then, we did not have the chance to collaborate.
Fast forward to 2018, when I was exploring my next game, I learnt that Arc System Works acquired Double Dragon and released Double Dragon IV. It was an amazing tribute to the classic NES experience made by the original developers. But I thought that if they’ve just done that, maybe they would be open for someone else to try and take the IP in a different direction, so I reached out and made my pitch.
And since my idea from the very beginning was to reinvent, or reinvigorate the franchise, I knew there were changes to be made, so it has always been a bit of a balancing act making sure we introduce enough new and fun elements, while maintaining the core fundamental identity of the series.
Obviously Billy and Jimmy are back, but they're joined by Marian this time who's absolutely not a damsel in distress. Can you talk a little more about her design and how you settled upon it?
I knew early on that the game would feature multiple playable characters with unique playstyle, so it was just a question of who would make the starting line up. In that sense, Marian was quite an easy pick, as she was not only highly recognisable, she was also sometimes written as a police officer and trained with the brothers growing up. That gave her a strong identity and play style, especially as a gun user that would be drastically different from the brothers.
As for her looks, she was actually inspired by her appearance on the PC Engine Double Dragon II, with the ‘80s fluffy hair. However, since Double Dragon Gaiden takes place in an alternate timeline even before the original Double Dragon, she’s younger and has shorter hair.
There's also a playable newcomer in Uncle Matin. Can you explain how you decided upon his design and moveset? What were some inspirations that led to his creation?
I knew that I wanted some classic characters, but I also wanted to introduce new characters. So after Marian had been decided, I felt like the new character could be a new character to the Double Dragon universe.
I looked at what other play styles would be fun and contrasting to the rest of the cast, and came up with the idea of a grappler. On top of that, he was given a shield as a fun gameplay mechanic, but also to be the polar opposite of Marian.
Finally, there was also the idea that a lot of the players would already be older now, playing the game with kids, so I made Uncle Matin an older, fatherly figure to the brothers, so older players can play as Uncle Matin and protect the younger gamer. I think there’s something sweet in that.
You've adopted roguelite elements to bring a more contemporary flavour to the traditional Double Dragon gameplay. Can you explain why you decided to go that route, as opposed to just making a traditional level-based brawler similar to the originals?
This goes back to my original pitch to bring the game into a new direction, rather than an extension to the classic. I’ve always felt that beat-’em-up was a lot of fun in the arcade, but loses a lot of the charm when consoles started taking over. And a big part of that is because these console games are getting bigger and longer, but when a beat-’em-up tries to be bigger and longer, they often end up getting a bit tiring.
So instead of making the game bigger and longer, I explored how I can keep the game in a favourable duration, yet highly replayable, similar to our time in the arcade.
That said, it is important to note that the Double Dragon Gaiden gameplay is a beat-’em-up with just enough roguelite elements to complement the gameplay and in many aims to re-evoke the magical arcade experience.
We've seen a lot of classic beat-'em-up franchises rebooted and revived for modern consoles, like Streets of Rage and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Why do you think that is, and what do you feel is the enduring popularity of the genre?
Beat-’em-up, as the name implies, is about me and my friend against the world. So aside from the simple and addictive gameplay, I think it’s the memories we had with our family and friends.
I still remember the many gaming sleepovers I had over at my cousin Dennis’ place, playing beat-’em-ups through the night, when everyone was already sound asleep. He’s the craziest beat-’em-up fan I know, and when I design my game, I always ask myself: will Dennis enjoy this? Well, I hope he will!
Thanks so much to Raymond Teo for taking the time to thoughtfully answer all of our questions and provide us with these wonderful exclusive screenshots of Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons. We’ll have a full review of the game to follow closer to release, on 27th July.