Bad news: this damned website has broken my brain.

When last we left the Fustian Gaming Challenge… Well, it was Christmas. But before that, there was the official end of the FGC, and I maintain that my argument for ending that project was sound. I am a different person from when I started the FGC nearly ten years ago (!), and it is foolish to continue with a format that had solidified before Obama was out of office. The Smash Bros. Challenge was an ideal way to move forward: it maintained much of the good of the FGC style, but added the limitation of “games related to Smash Bros. characters”. That’s gold! You can squeeze about a hundred different articles from such a concept, so we have a concrete ending point, too. Some doomed masked kid once said, “Rules do not exist to bind you. They exist so you may know your freedoms.” And adding some additional rules to the proceedings could improve the ol’ content around here.

Of course… as is already evident, I’m a rebel, baby. I literally did not get two articles into the Smash Bros. Challenge before I broke format to write about the same game twice. And six articles later, I spiritually wedged a Pokémon into an M for Mature game because I wanted to talk some more about Mortal Kombat. And while you could possibly justify such an endeavor to keep up with AAA gaming and a franchise I clearly adore, poor Mr. Game & Watch got attached to a random wannabe mobile game a few weeks later. And on a related note, while the idea behind the SBC was to primarily look at “retro” games that inspired some of these Smash appearances, I have overwhelmingly gravitated toward titles that are as new as possible, like Pokémon Violent/Scarlet, Super Mario Wonder, and Princess Peach: Showtime! “Does Smash Bros Remember Today’s Game?” was supposed to be a thing of beauty! Not retroactive!

Actually… that may be the crux of it. When I started the SBC, I created a sacred Excel spreadsheet with all intended character/stage/trophy spotlights, and their associated games. Except for Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth (which I knew was inevitably going to be on the docket), every last Smash character was assigned a game from before the release of the final Smash DLC in 2021. This meant there were a few “weird ones” in the list (like Inciniroar originally being assigned to the mobile game Pokémon Masters EX), but it is not like every last smash bro wasn’t already established before their appearance in that game with the lightsabers. Plenty of games to go around! But that list was ignored for everybody (except Pac-Man?) almost immediately, because I like talking about new games. Of course I was going to get The Legend of Zelda: Go Bimmy!Tears of the Kingdom on release day. Of course I was going to play it until my eyes bled. Of course after all that, I was going to have to write an article or two to process everything. This is how I process everything! Want to see the 15-page letter I have written to those that have emotionally abused me at the supermarket self-checkout line? No you don’t! But you might be interested in seeing my feelings on a game we all played for a solid month or two last year. Sharing is caring, and if I can pigeonhole it into a project I already have going, all the better.

But then we have something like Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of The Dragons. I have enjoyed the Double Dragon franchise since I was a young tyke, and Double Dragon randomly wound up associated with this very site ever since it was Random ROB’s first pick. I had the extremely naïve notion that, amid playing all these Smash-related games, I would play something that had nothing to do with my current projects, and just “enjoy it for what it is”. Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons looked like a simple retro throwback with some modern conveniences, and it was on the delightfully portable Nintendo Switch, so I could get in some pummeling when I had a spare moment or two. Queue up some random streaming service, knock out a few levels, and eventually win back the hearts and minds of a post-apocalyptic New York while I am not worrying about what Mario or Chrom Fire Emblem are doing.

And I am pretty sure I got all of two levels into this thing before I realized I would have to write something about it…

Tornado warningThere is so much happening here! On the surface level, yes, this is a typical Double Dragon game. Jimmy and Billy Lee are beating up armies of (effectively) the same guy, and we have a couple of extra playable characters to make things more interesting (as has happened before). That’s the elevator pitch, that’s all you need. But once you actually start playing the game, there’s a lot going on here! For one thing, you have four selectable stages at the start, and it initially appears to be a straight Mega Man-situation. Choose a level, maybe if you are not good at it, you give something else a try. But once you complete your first challenge, the other stages all upgrade to match your increasing threat level. So no matter what order you choose, you get ascending difficulty. And it is not just a matter of the game being more challenging: different levels get different “mercenaries”, so if you want to see all the Double Dragon returning favorites (like the seminal Linda), you will have to complete the game using multiple routes. Hey, if a beat ‘em up is good enough, you are going to complete it often anyway. I beat Turtles in Time approximately 1,607,389,111 times back in the day, so it would have been cool if at least one of those playthroughs was slightly different. This is worthy of further examination!

Oh! And Marian! Marian has had an extensive history throughout the franchise, starting as a object-esque “princess”, occasionally becoming a possessed boss, and sometimes establishing herself as a competent martial arts instructor. She even died that one time (she got better)! Here, we are leaning on the animated series interpretation of Marian being a cop (and in the movie, Alyssa Milano was the vigilante daughter of a cop, which gets us partial credit for the six people that remember that film). It is worth examining how that is weirdly common for “strong female characters” (see also Lucia Morgan) and never sems to apply to male protagonists (Billy & Jimmy rarely have any sort of legislative reason to beat up half the city). But all of that is secondary to how Marian just goes ahead and shows up with heavy artillery. Marian’s default punch button triggers “gun”, and she will straight up shoot any and all malcontents in the area. Her special moves include landmines and bazookas, and she only has one traditional melee attack (that she apparently stole from Capcom’s Rolento). She cannot grab floor weapons, but BLAMMOconsidering gun beats pipe every time, it is no great loss. So with her projectiles and traps, she plays totally unlike any other character to ever appear in a Double Dragon game. And even though this long-range assault should “break the game”, Marian feels just as balanced as the other fighters. Not going to lie: staying outside of fist range and mowing down opponents is a way to win, but you will get into the melee if you want those landmines to rack up bonuses. So the essential risk/reward system of a decent beat ‘em up still applies. Marian’s current standing in Double Dragon is a surprise and a delight!

And the idea that I could simply play such a game and not publicly note this fragment that charmingly shocked me? Completely impossible.

So the Fustian Gaming Challenge will return for the next twenty articles or so. Smash Bros Challenge will be back after that, of course, but there are a handful of games old and new that need to be addressed. I promise you that these games are worth a return of format, because I owe it to a couple of franchises to acknowledge they can exist outside of Smash Bros. Not every game needs to be important to the history of gaming, they just need to be remotely noteworthy.

Double Dragon is back, the FGC is back, and everything old is new again.

And I may or may not be bringing a bazooka.

FGC #658 Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons

  • Here we goSystem: Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, Xbox X|S, PC, and Nintendo Switch. We’ve got the Nintendo Switch as our main go to for this article.
  • Number of players: There are clearly four playable characters at the start, but only two players during gameplay.
  • Is it an official beat ‘em up? You fight baddies on a train, a subway, and multiple elevators. There do not appear to be any active conveyer belts, though, so only partial credit there.
  • Any platforming? Very little. The second and third iterations of Machine Gun Willy’s turf involve some aggravating jumping (particularly with how there is no bottom “wall” to align with as you jump off into oblivion), but the rest of the game just includes nearby cliffs for you to Disney-death your opponents. And falling for any reason is not fatal for your characters, so we really have a leg up on Double Dragon 2.
  • Pick your poison: The other reason to replay Double Dragon Gaiden is a sensible reward system that can be toggled to earn tokens that will eventually allow for unlocking art, music, and characters. Basically, you earn cash/points over the course of the game, and, depending on how you have adjusted your difficulty levels, that cash can be exchanged for tokens as of a game over. It is an excellent way to reward superiority, as adjusting the sliders to a makeshift hard mode will provide plenty of rewards. On the other hand, given the gulf between how much cash you will have on hand in an easy mode without ever continuing versus spending dough on just completing the game… Well… You can see how “give all opponents jellyfish spines” would (literally) pay off.
  • Look out belowFavorite Fighter: It certainly is not Jimmy Lee, who appears to be a hobbled version of Billy Lee for some reason. Marian wins of the default cast for being the most unique (and Uncle Matin is second for being a great “big guy”) , but if we are including the myriad of extra characters, I’ll choose Burnov. It is about time Abobo had some decent competition for “playable sub-boss”.
  • Fill ‘er Up: Unlike many beat ‘em ups, health restoring food can be practically unlimited here. You receive a free hotdog, burger, or turkey dinner every time you use “crowd control” and defeat multiple opponents at once with a special move. That’s great! An excellent reason to risk your last few health points in favor of a reward! Unfortunately, there is a slight delay before the food materializes, so maybe back off when dudes are falling over. It is demoralizing to die just as a powerup appears.
  • Say something mean: It is a convention of the genre, but there are way too many moments in this game where you are stunned and juggled by opponents. It feels good to pummel helpless enemies, it feels terrible to not be able to do anything for whole seconds while your health dribbles down to nothing. It is doubly worse when you and your partner are destroyed on a spike trap that somehow carries your corpse across the stage…
  • Did you know? The four bosses/gangs are based on final bosses from previous Double Dragon titles. Double Dragon (1) obviously featured Machine Gun Willy, Double Dragon 3 gave us the Egyptian “Cleopatra” that inspired this Anubis, Duke the angry teen is based on the jerk from Double Dragon for the Neo Geo, and Lady Okada harkens to Double Dragon 4’s Okada Sisters. Hey! Those Okada gals are another example of a beat ‘em lady being given a gun! And if you need to see a Double Dragon 2 final boss, go ahead and beat the game.
  • Would I play again: You are rewarded for more loops with more tokens (wait, is this a rogue-like?), so odds are higher that I will play this again over other Double Dragon titles. That said, my Nintendo Switch somehow contains all the videogames ever created at this point, so it is up against some steep competition. Still! Marian might win out!

What’s next? Random ROB has rebooted and has chosen… Batman! For the Nintendo! He’s Batman! Please look forward to him!

This game does this weird thing where there is a voice clip and then a dialog box
“I was once a meme!”

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