Double Dragon IV floats between wonderful nostalgia and dated mechanics so often, it’s hard not to be frustrated with the entire experience. At times, it’s an adventure into a simpler game era, but, with that, brings the flawed difficulty that the post-arcade video games brought to the original NES. Double Dragon IV isn’t just bad because of its attempt to feel right out of the 80s, it’s bad because it isn’t a great game now – and it wouldn’t have been a great game back then, either.
There aren’t many bells and whistles with Double Dragon IV. There’s a jump button, a kick button and a punch button. There are some combos and moves that you can produce with a mix of button sequences, but it’s fairly straight forward. Enemies start off easy enough, but tougher enemies come out in bulk as you progress onward. The problem with the enemies here is they’re tough. Not tough in the sense that they’re designed well or challenge you to play well and have a strategy; they’re just cheap. Enemies feel like they’re the virtual equivalent of your friends spamming the same move over and over on you and you can’t get up. There are several instances where five or so enemies will gang up on you, and while you can knock back a few enemies, you’re still vulnerable while getting up to get knocked right back down. When there are a few enemies on screen, combat can be fun, and the sense of nostalgia from an earlier game era does come rushing back, it’s just interrupted before it can even capitalized on that feeling for long enough.
Playing with a friend in co-op is a much more enjoyable experience, overall. Having someone there to bail you out of being ganged up on can save a lot of sections from feeling too unfair, and everything becomes just a bit more manageable. There’s also a duel mode where you can fight each other, but it’s pretty bare bones and won’t keep you entertained for long.
Double Dragon IV’s controls feel too stiff and unresponsive in today’s age. This comes to a head especially during platforming sections that require precise aiming and timing, something that is difficult in the worst way, here. Considering you have limited lives, the string of instant deaths I got when falling while platforming was controller-breaking worthy with how inconsistent and unfair it can feel. Throw in a few enemies that throw you off the edge after you just made it and, well, you may find yourself needing to give the game a break for a while from sheer disbelief in how predetermined your death feels. Worse yet, the platforming, at first sight, seems manageable enough, but the input lag erases all of that, and it feels like you’re handicapped from the start.
The game isn’t long, but neither were its predecessors. Levels are short and compact. Most should be able to finish the game in under and hour. Once you beat the story mode, there are challenge floors you can play that require you to defeat enemies in order to progress up to the next level. Because of the generally fewer enemies on screen, the game beings to show its potential for how good it could have been, even if it fades away when the enemies feel unfair.
The story is told through short, often unintentionally hilarious and quick text screens with some basic art or character models. Double Dragon IV takes place right after Double Dragon II, and while the storytelling isn’t groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just there to get you from one quick level to another.
Going back to a game you loved when you were younger can bring a disappointing realization: the game wasn’t as good as you remembered. The attempt to make Double Dragon IV feel like a direct sequel to Double Dragon II is admirable, but the source content was a product of its time. And while the attempt is appreciated, it stumbles more than it triumphs.
This review is based on a review copy of the PlayStation 4 version of Double Dragon IV by Arc System Works. Review copy provided by Arc System Works.
- Occasionally fun combat
- Challenge tower
- Awful platforming
- Enemies are annoyingly cheap
- Stiff controls