On the NES, Double Dragon was a series that was synonymous with 8-bit action. Over time, the franchise has been through many ebbs and flows that have been for better or worse. Years later, Double Dragon IV is a pure return to the series’ classic roots. 8-bit visuals, simple controls, and straight forward gameplay are what long-time fans will remember and enjoy. Unfortunately, this return to classical form also comes with many archaic problems, most of which will cause many to skip out on this nostalgic action trip.
The story takes place after Double Dragon 2, which follows Billy and Jimmy trying to spread their martial arts around the world. But a new gang called the Renegades arrives and teams up with their old enemies, setting the stage for another side-scrolling brawler. Though simple, the story of Double Dragon IV is a subtle compliment to the action. It never gets deep or overly complicated, but instead acts as a compliment to the real focus of the experience, the action. There are some nice references to past Double Dragon games mixed in for some fan service, like the beginning of the first Double Dragon when your girlfriend gets kidnapped. There are others scattered throughout, but if you didn’t play any of the previous games you just won’t understand them.
To put it simply, gameplay is more of what you expect from a Double Dragon game. You punch, kick, and jump your way through legions of bad guys in each stage. This can be done either solo or cooperatively, standard stuff for every game in the series. Double Dragon IV is something you should definitely play with a friend, since the series is best experienced cooperatively. However, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be able to play the game solo. The difficulty is ramped up significantly when you are playing alone, as opposed to having a buddy alongside you. This is due to the number of enemies on screen that constantly attack you viciously.
Much like some of the older games however, there is a Tower Battle Mode and a 2-Player Duel Mode that features many characters from the main game. You unlock more playable characters for 2-Player Duel Mode as you complete the main game, but by that point you may be long pass your fun times. No online play for the main game or 2-Player Duels really diminishes the longevity of Double Dragon IV. Some may feel its purist to keep things limited to local multiplayer, but the opportunity of having somebody to play Double Dragon cooperatively with all the time is much more appealing.
The biggest issue with Double Dragon IV is how much it tries to stay retro. Despite the art style, controls, and simple brawler gameplay being a welcomed nostalgic approach; you have the same exact technical and design problems that plagued those games in the past. Hit detection bugs can make simple engagements incredibly frustrating, especially when you know your attack should be hitting something.
Some enemies also have a tendency to continuously attack with little to no openings later in the game, which can lead to some no-win scenarios and force you to replay from the start. A lot of these issues should have been addressed since this is a game made in the modern day, not back during the NES lifetime. Some of the levels are also poorly designed with a few platforming sections that simply don’t work out well with everything else. The jumping between platforms is incredibly stifling and can lead to many deaths or forced restarts.
If you grew up with Double Dragon throughout the years, you may find some solace playing through Double Dragon IV. It can’t be understated how much of the game is a true nostalgic trip to a much simpler time in gaming history. However, what is offered is only an average game by today’s standards. The lack of online play in both the main game and 2-Player duels severely limits the multiplayer potential of a series that is at its best when played with a friend. Most of what’s wrong with Double Dragon IV could have been adjusted to make a game that paid respect to its series roots, while also being fundamentally and technically solid. Instead we have a game that just won’t let go of everything from the past.
This review was based on a digital review code for Double Dragon IV on the PlayStation 4, provided by Arc System Works.