The side-scrolling beat ’em up genre was one of the kings of the arcade scene in the ’80s and early ’90s, with kids spending quarter after quarter to beat the game in one playthrough. Double Dragon was one of the most iconic of these, with it gaining additional popularity with its release on the NES. Games like Mega Man 9 and more recently Shovel Knight have resparked an interest in 8-bit gaming, which you would think Double Dragon would be a perfect candidate for. However, some series are better left in the past as exemplified by Double Dragon IV.
As with most classic beat ’em up games, Double Dragon featured a pretty simplistic story where twin leads Billy and Jimmy are trying to save Billy’s kidnapped girlfriend Marian, though the NES version had a bit of a twist with this. The gameplay was also fairly simple, with you going from screen to screen while fighting enemies and making your way through occasional platforming elements.
Unlike many modern remakes or sequels that try to take the classic gameplay and adjust it to fit better in a modern setting, such as the aforementioned Mega Man 9, Double Dragon IV relies way too much on the original Double Dragon games. The character movement feels too stilted and sluggish most of the time, especially when trying to fight multiple enemies. The short range hit detection is a huge pain, as you may be right next to the enemy but elevated a little too high or low for them. This is similar to what plagued the recent Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: Mega Battle game, even though many games have managed to fix this issue in the years since the original Double Dragon. Doing a faithful sequel is one thing, but you have to be willing to drastically change some mechanics for a modern audience and it appears Arc System Works did not want to.
Jumping during platforming sections still does not allow you to move in a direction after going into the air, which is something that makes it feel even more dated. They did streamline jumping to only require you pressing one button rather than two, but the placement on the controller for jumping just feels awkward when mixed in trying to attack most of the time.
Even though the game can get technically frustrating due to the many issues mentioned above, Double Dragon IV’s story mode is way too easy and short. The original Double Dragon was known for being hard and a true quarter eater in the arcades. However, you should breeze through most of this game until perhaps the last few stages. The game does consist of 12 stages, which is more than any of the first three Double Dragon games, but the problem is that these will take no time to complete at less than an hour at most.
The overall difficulty also seems to be toned down for the most part, as you can very easily run through this game the first time if you are being patient. Rather than the difficulty coming from quality level design and enemies, any difficulty in Double Dragon IV that crops up later comes more from cheap AI.
The enemies almost always lead with a kick move, which you can counter, but if you happen to get knocked down in a crowd, good luck trying to get back up. You have quick recovery moves off of the ground, but these will just not work sometimes against enemies, even if they are directly in front of you. Not only is the AI cheap, but it is also pretty dumb as well. There are parts of the game where you can knock enemies off the edge, which is a nice feature, but some enemies will literally jump right off the ledge without being attacked or even trying to get away.
Double Dragon IV’s enemy selection is decent, though it really isn’t all that varied. A lot of the enemies feel more like reskins, but you will have some nice recurring characters like Abobo and such as well. The addition of the ninja girls late in the game were nice to see, but they feel like they were added a bit too late into the game, by only showing up in the last few stages, to really make an impact.
Playing with a friend might be the only way to make the game a little more enjoyable
The end of the game definitely does get a little more difficult with the unforgiving AI that will constantly knock you down again and again. Thankfully, the game features a level select that lets you restart from a later level upon running out of continues. What really seemed to make no sense though was the placement of the level selects, as it seemed you couldn’t restart on the level you were on, but instead had to replay the one before as well.
After completing the lacking story mode, Tower mode unlocks itself, which allows you to take on floor after floor of enemies. Unlike story mode though, these enemies start off with very little health each. The difficulty will start to rise the higher you get, which can present a bit more of a challenge. Playing through this will allow you to unlock the different enemy characters for use in the game as a whole, which can be somewhat fun, as playing with someone like Abobo is a nice change of pace.
The game also offers a two player versus mode where you can choose from a variety of characters that are unlocked as you play through story mode. There isn’t a lot of depth here, but it may be worth checking out with a friend at least. Story mode and Tower mode can also both be done with two players, with the game offering what equates to the old Mode A or Mode B, where one has friendly fire and one doesn’t. With as disappointing and frustrating as the story mode, playing with a friend might be the only way to make the game a little more enjoyable.
At the time the original Double Dragon was released, it was a very well received title that spawned numerous sequels. However, the original gameplay does not hold up well at all and badly needed to be modernized, which Arc System Works chose not to do in Double Dragon IV. Even for those looking for a nostalgic trip through time, you are just much better off playing the original game and avoiding the mess that is Double Dragon IV.