Stumbling Down Memory Lane with ‘Double Dragon IV’

The NES was my staple console for the majority of my childhood. While I did not have many games at my disposal, games like Double Dragon and Double Dragon II were titles that I played just about every day on my own and with friends. I still consider Double Dragon II to be one of my favorite NES games and it influenced my tastes in games I play today. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the series’ creation, Arc System Works recruited many of the original crew that made the original game to make a brand new sequel in the form of the 8-bit games I cherished as a child. When hearing about this news, I was excited and skeptical at the same time. The nostalgia side of me wanted it but would it be enough to maintain my interest in the current era of video games?

DD II’s G-R-A-S-P never got old for me. But at least it had some art direction. Now compare it with DDIV's cutscenes below.
DD II’s G-R-A-S-P never got old for me. But at least it had some art direction. Now compare it with DDIV’s cutscenes below.

The plot to Double Dragon IV is ridiculous, more so than the other games. It takes place after Double Dragon II; Billy and Jimmy Lee are spreading their marital arts around the world and are cruising towards California for some reason. All of a sudden, they are attacked by a mysterious car and the mayhem begins. In typical Double Dragon fashion, Marion is kidnapped throughout the game and the duo has to rescue her by fighting new and old enemies.  I personally found the cut scenes featured in the game to be very distracting and lazy. Most of the cut scenes involve your characters drilling the recently defeated boss of the level for more info where to go. I’m sure this was done on purpose to reflect how the old games were but even Double Dragon II had more interesting pictures to go along with the story, as over the top they were. The ending will also leave you quite dumbfounded.

Get ready to see similar screens like this for the majority of DDIV’s game
Get ready to see similar screens like this for the majority of DDIV’s game

But we weren’t playing Double Dragon for the fascinating plot, right? The beat-em-up gameplay was had me coming back for more. Aside from Double Dragon III, I felt that the other two games had a good balance of difficulty (aside from the platforming sections) and controls. The game could be tough, but it felt fair, especially if you mastered the moves that were provided to you. Double Dragon IV adds a few new moves and mechanics but I never had time to try them out for long because I was overwhelmed by enemies. The game starts out fairly easy but by the time you hit Mission 8, you begin to experience the cheapness that is having tons of enemies surround you and knock you down over and over. Getting out of this pattern is really hard, especially in the final missions. I could understand why adding more enemies on the screen was a logical evolution to the game but it only makes the game frustrating when you are literally swarmed by four boss characters that deplete half of your life every time they hit you. You eventually figure out that tornado kicking the enemies repeatedly is the only way to progress without dying. What about those new moves? Waste of time. As you can imagine, it gets old really fast. I felt like I had to play the game this way rather than try out other moves because if I didn’t, I would simply get surrounded and lose my lives, fast. This is the biggest minus to this game, in my opinion.

It doesn’t get any better later in the game.
It doesn’t get any better later in the game. Also, hello, Hulk Abobo.

The level design has a lot of variety but I felt like there could have been more to it. I don’t know if it was just me but I felt a lot of levels just had a nice background that you walked across and the occasional ladder that you climbed. This would have been a perfect opportunity to add new mechanics such as moving vehicles, multiple routes, or interactive areas but Arc System Works instead decided to stick with what the game’s roots to a T. Unfortunately the level design of yesteryear feels a bit stale now. I’m also unsure why they kept the platforming sections, arguably the most-hated areas of any Double Dragon game, in this game. While they aren’t terribly difficult, if you are not cautious, you can easily lose a lot of lives trying to jump across spinning gears and disappearing platforms. It’s nothing as annoying like Double Dragon II was but still, did we really need this?

The spinning gears are fairly annoying but not too bad once you figure it out
The spinning gears are fairly annoying but not too bad once you figure it out

One thing that has not changed though is how fun these games are with a friend. I had a blast playing with a friend and despite the added difficulty, we both enjoyed killing an hour going through the story. The PS4 version (the one I am basing this review on) gives you the ability to Share Play so as long as you have a PS Plus subscription, you can play the game online with a friend and they don’t even have to own the game. Local co-op is also available. One thing I noticed though is that there are several minor bugs when playing 2 Player Mode. Nothing big, but noticeable.

Aside from the story mode, there is a Versus and Tower mode. Versus mode is what you would expect it to be, allowing you to play characters that are unlocked by completing missions in the Story and Tower Mode. Tower mode is an endurance mode where you and/or a friend travel through floors in a tower, encountering different combinations of enemies per floor. As you might expect, the higher you go up, the more difficult it gets. I did not get too far but apparently you will see some characters from previous games in the higher floors, as well as the old level designs. I really like that they give you the ability to play the characters you unlock for the story mode, adding replayability. I tried out Abobo for awhile and it was fun to see him smash through everyone. Everyone has their own moveset so it’s worth trying different characters out.

Rocking Abobo in Tower Mode.
Rocking Abobo in Tower Mode.

In the end, Arc System Works successfully created a Double Dragon game but I felt that they decided to stay too close to the original games in order to try to appease old fans like me. Oddly enough, it ended up being a step backwards and Double Dragon IV comes off as a title that lacks the magic of the original games. I feel that the hardcore nostalgia fans may like it more because it sticks so close to its roots. Still, I feel like I can’t complain too much, seeing as this game is only seven dollars. Treat Double Dragon IV as a present-day sequel to an old action movie franchise of the ’80s.  You’ll see old faces and content that you liked back in the day but it just does not feel the same anymore.

If you’re still thinking about it, I leave you to watch my blind playthrough of the game and be the judge yourself.

4 thoughts on “Stumbling Down Memory Lane with ‘Double Dragon IV’

  1. I understand your disappointment…believe me, I played some Double Dragon in my time too, but let’s give it some slack as well. I’m pretty happy the old team got together to do this despite how hard it is for Japanese developers to even justify making something like this, so kudos to them. The platfoming looks insane, but like at least it’s a retro beat ’em up. Here’s to crossing our fingers so that they’ll learn from this and tweak and even better one in the future. Maybe even making it closer to Super Double Dragon.

    1. Yeah, I mean I can’t be too bummed about it, especially with the low price. I did like that the original crew got together…maybe that’s why I was expecting more out of it? I thought Super Double Dragon was a step in the right direction in terms of evolving the game. I hope this is the beginning of more retro beat-em-up games, I mean, we have River City Ransom around the corner. 🙂

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