If there’s one thing that can be confidently said about the latest entry in the Double Dragon series, it’s that it certainly feels authentic. If you were in any way concerned that the latest release in this classic franchise might have lost its way in the 20+ years since the previous full-series entry, you can rest easy – Double Dragon IV is about as familiar as you could possibly imagine.
Whereas 2012’s Double Dragon Neon revamped the classic gameplay with a well-received series reboot, 2017’s direct sequel to the games of old goes for a much more straight forward design approach. Reviving the retro visuals, audio and gameplay of a by-gone era, Double Dragon IV without a doubt succeeds at looking, sounding, and playing the part of an 80’s brawler. Doubling down on efforts to make the game feel genuine, the title is able to effortlessly fill players with an impressive dose of nostalgia. Playing this card far too heavily, however, results in a game that simply feels archaic and in desperate need of a modern injection. While series fans will undoubtedly revel in this throwback to a simpler time, Double Dragon IV unfortunately ends up feeling like a missed opportunity.
For all the effort gone into the accurate recreation of a classic beat-em-up – of which is certainly admirable – this particular release is a prime example of how riffing on nostalgia has its limits. Sure, the nostalgia is laid on so thick within every aspect that it’s hard not to be immediately impressed, but as the initial thrill begins to wear thin, so too does the games appeal, and the enjoyment levels soon begin to decline. Significantly holding the experience backwards, Double Dragon IV suffers the most thanks to its out-dated gameplay. Kicking, punching and jumping your way through hordes of enemies and boss battles, it becomes immediately clear within seconds of playing just how far we’ve come since the late 1980’s.
The gameplay here is as basic as it comes, and with an incredibly restricted moveset that lacks in modern gameplay staples such as dodging and blocking, combat encounters quickly become frustrating affairs that can be easily (and frequently) exploited by the enemy. Imitating this gameplay so closely has only worked to highlight the flaws that were there to begin with, and in the year 2017 they’re far more apparent and problematic. Movement and combat feels stiff, platforming is awkward, and thanks to depth perception issues, hit-detection can be troublesome. By far the most infuriating issue is found in how easily enemies can gang up on the player and keep knocking them to the ground. At times combat can feel incredibly cheap thanks to certain enemy attacks/weapons, and due in part to the lack of any defensive mechanics, fights regularly become messy.
These basic gameplay woes aside, there is still at least some fun to be had, surprisingly enough. No matter how janky the mechanics become, a faithful throwback such as this still holds just enough entertainment value to get you through, even if that enjoyment is almost entirely built upon nostalgia. Comprising of three modes: Story, 2P Duel, and Tower, Double Dragon IV isn’t hugely generous on its content offering, but it at least offers enough variety for those willing to sink more of their time into it.
The main draw of the game is, as you would expect, the story mode which features a series of 12 missions that face players with a variety of different locations and enemy types. It’s a huge shame that, as a whole, the level design is rather bland, failing to make interesting use of most level space. Though some of the levels include brief platforming sections and environmental hazards, these are few and far between and leave a lot to be desired, culminating in a series of disinteresting and annoying levels that are solely carried by the combat encounters.
Tied together by a paper-thin plot that features silly characters and corny dialogue – the game has all the makings of a classic video game plot, and even finds time to parody itself along the way. Lasting only around 40-50 minutes from beginning to end, the core game is fairly short yet still manages to feel like a slog towards the latter chapters as the simplistic gameplay really begins to grate heavily and the soundtrack induces a headache. Unless you’re a die-hard fan of the franchise, players might struggle to play through this mode multiple times, but for those who crave more, the game does support unlockable extra characters to play as – so at least that’s something!
Playing by yourself is of course an option throughout, but playing with a second player not only makes things easier, but amps up the fun considerably, making it easier to slog through until the end. Co-Op play is certainly encouraged and has always been a focus of the series since the beginning, and as such the extra game modes are built around involving a second player. ‘Tower’ is by far the most interesting addition, challenging players to beat as many stages as possible against increasingly difficult enemies. Though gameplay gripes still persist, it’s a welcome addition having some form of competitive play involved as players work hard to go further than their last attempt, just don’t expect to keep going back despite the large offering of playable characters – the combat experience still deteriorates quickly. The last remaining offering is a ‘versus’ mode that pits players against each other in 1V1 fights, but unfortunately this mode brings nothing interesting to the table because the combat system simply isn’t in-depth enough to offer much more.
The sights and sounds of Double Dragon IV are a real highlight, though, and it’s remarkable how true the game’s developers have kept to the original titles. Heavily inspired by (and also taken directly from) the Double Dragon 2 release on the NES, the game captures an iconic look that’s easy to appreciate. Colours are vibrant, environments detailed (as much as they can be, at least), and featuring many classic enemies from the series’ past, the game appears incredibly convincing, and you’d be forgiven for mistaking this as a genuine classic release. Bolstered by a soundtrack that incorporates classic Double Dragon themes and you’ve got yourself a solid audio-visual package that feels like it belongs in the past.
It’s a shame then that this also reflects on the entire game itself, feeling exactly like the games that proceeded it, but at the cost of feeling outdated. Terribly simplistic and riddled with frustrations, the modern age of gaming is not kind to these old-school experiences. Lacking in modern innovations that could have made this game so much better, Double Dragon IV feels like a misfire, especially from a series that was successfully modernised only a few years prior. Succeeding at being an authentic reminder of gaming’s past, there’s a small amount of fun to be had here, and while the game may appeal more to those passionate about the series and those seeking something nostalgic, it ultimately feels like wasted potential. This game is nothing more than a trip down memory lane – and it’s not even a particularly good one.
Double Dragon IV Was Reviewed on PC