Speaking to Push Square during Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons' July 2023 release, developer Secret Base's Raymond Teo described adding highly replayable roguelite elements to create a brawler with an ingenious way of counteracting the beat-'em-up genre's innate repetitiveness.
It takes just under two hours to thwart the four gangs spread across four nuclear war ravaged stages, but there's a compelling loop of hoarding cash during gameplay, and choosing to either invest it on tokens to buy unlockables, or spending your savings on upgrades and revival credits to continue after being defeated. These choices combine effectively with the option of playing each stage in your personal order, alongside customisable difficulty modifiers, as the later stages expand into three separate sectors that opens up new routes and endings for runs.
There are four selectable characters to begin, and Marian is no longer the helpless girlfriend to be saved by two heroic Lee brawl brothers, but a gun toting starting character who maintains distance as opposed to fist fighting. Therefore, you can strategise to tag team beside a close-up hulking support character like Uncle Matin, who fights in the pocket.
Special attacks are available as desperation moves, which alongside swapping to a secondary character like in Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl, means you can use escape tactics to manage becoming overwhelmed. The most addictive mechanic is a special KO Crowd Control move against three or more enemies that rewards you with much needed food for health replenishment.
Initially the big-headed cartoon style could be divisive, but consider it to be similar to how Mighty Final Fight redrew a classic arcade game's art using cute chibi character design. Still, it's more likely to be the music, rather than the visuals that gets your nostalgic blood pumping. Similarly, there are nods to the Double Dragon series throughout, such as the Token Shop's nine unlockable characters, plus music and art, which don't just refer back to the influential 1987 arcade game, but also fan favourite titles like Super Double Dragon.
Since it's confined to two player local co-op, it's not as exhilarating as the six player online chaos in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge. It also lacks the consistently updated polish of Streets of Rage 4, yet Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons adds roguelite progression, which makes it a strikingly replayable contribution to the modern side-scrolling beat-'em-up resurgence.