Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons exploded onto PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC last month with a fire soundtrack, gorgeous pixel art-style visuals, and most importantly, heaps of fast-paced action, reminding the world that the legendary beat-em-up series is still alive and kicking (with ‘kicking’ being the operative word).
Although it had a huge impact on the side-scrolling beat-em-up genre, 1987’s Double Dragon isn’t a name that we’ve seen crop up very often on modern consoles, with its releases in the last decade being limited to 2017’s Double Dragon IV, the Double Dragon Trilogy compilation, and the 3D remake of Double Dragon 2, titled Double Dragon 2: Wander of the Dragons. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons (which was developed by Secret Base) changed that, though, and put a totally fresh spin on the series.
With a new tag team mechanic and a sprinkling of roguelike elements to keep players on their toes, the 2023 Double Dragon title is significantly different to the series’ first iteration, which hit arcades in 1987. Speaking to TRG, Raymond Teo - the founder of Secret Base and game director on Double Dragon Gaiden - tells us that the devs’ aim was to “reinterpret the legacy” of the series, rather than simply update the classic games.
“Our goal wasn’t so much to create a more modern and polished version of the classic titles, but more to reinterpret the legacy,” Teo says. “For example, the original Double Dragon was likely given the name as it introduced a two-player mode on top of Renegade. But having a two-player mode in 2023 seems pretty normal, so we came up with the Tag mechanic, allowing players to pick two characters and swap them around.
“As a bit of fun trivia, in Double Dragon Advance, you can select a special mode where you play as both Billy and Jimmy, except you press a button to switch who to control. And in Double Dragon 3, you can switch between four characters from the pause menu. So for me, it seems like a natural evolution,” he continues. “In general, we made similar innovations to each aspect of the game, without many predecessors to the formula, so it was a big challenge to figure all that out within the timeline.”
Incorporating roguelike elements into Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons was, of course, another way to “reinterpret” the classic series, even though Teo admits that he prefers his beat-em-up games to be “short and good for a single sitting”, much like a classic arcade title. However, Secret Base had good reason for making the change.
“Given that gamers require games to be longer and longer these days, it’s hard to make them as they were in the past, so I started looking into how the roguelike structure encourages players to play the same game repeatedly, and use it to replicate that feeling of playing games in the arcade instead,” Teo explains. “A good example is our cash mechanic. In the game, players are encouraged to knock out their enemies with a special move. This allows them to earn cash, which can be used to purchase randomized upgrades or revive when defeated. When you’re defeated without enough cash to revive, it’s game over.
“In a way, there’s some roguelike elements to it, but it’s also to evoke the feeling of running out of credits/tokens (depending on where you’re from) while playing in the arcade.”
Plenty of iconic games served as inspiration for Teo here, too - while he cites Shiren the Wanderer as one of his “early influences” of the roguelike genre, he also makes reference to popular modern indies such as The Binding of Isaac and Spelunky.
Looking at Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons now that it’s out and in players’ hands, though, Teo is simply thrilled to see how much gamers have been getting sucked into the title.
“All in all, I can say that it makes me the happiest when people tell me that they’ve been playing the game for 20 hours and beyond, and are still coming up with the best combination of characters, or strategies to get better at the game,” he says.
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Catherine is a News Writer for TechRadar Gaming. Armed with a journalism degree from The University of Sheffield, she was sucked into the games media industry after spending far too much time on her university newspaper writing about Pokémon and cool indie games, and realising that was a very cool job, actually. She previously spent 19 months working at GAMINGbible as a full-time journalist. She loves all things Nintendo, and will never stop talking about Xenoblade Chronicles.