If you’re like me, a gamer in their 30s, you likely had an NES growing up. In 1988, Double Dragon was released for the NES after a successful arcade run the year before. Everyone played it. It was the first time I had ever played what would go on to be a standard, the side scrolling, angled view, beat-em up game. Punching and kicking my way through enemies and upgrading abilities, Double Dragon set the bar, and I was playing clones like Final Fight, Streets of Rage, and many others well into the ‘90s.
Now, publisher Arc System Works has continued the series where it left off on the NES, with Double Dragon IV. If you recall, there was a Super Double Dragon on the SNES but they decided to start numbering the games again. Double Dragon IV picks up after Double Dragon II in the timeline. Players once again take control of Billy and Jimmy Lee, and are instantly taken back to the 1980s. Double Dragon IV is full on retro. Like, crazy retro, to the point of some serious detriment.
Arc System Works brought in some of the original creators of the series. They also pulled many of the same game-play, character sprites, and audio from the original Double Dragon. Sounds neat right? As my friend and I started playing we were instantly filled with nostalgia. We started punching and kicking enemies like we had been doing it our whole lives, because, we had. I was enamored by the 8-bit graphics and the catchy music. We laughed as we remembered the classic moves. Jump kick to the face! Uppercut!
After a few levels though, once the high of reliving our childhood died down, we started to get bored. I started to become annoyed with the repetivness and the overuse of the same antiquated stuff with nothing new. As we climbed ladders I even noticed the same graphics clipping and jittering we suffered through in 1988. Why transfer those bugs?! So many things I overlooked as a kid now were irritating me to no end. I remember Double Dragon being difficult, but this was just abusive.
There are a couple new additions, with a “tower mode” where players fight level by level in a test of stamina. There is a two player “vs. mode” but the game-play is so basic, that it just isn’t any fun. The story cut scenes are laughably bad. I know it’s an attempt at a throwback, but it feels forced. There are 12 levels to fight through, and you can pick up on the level you died on if you run out of in-game continues with the level selector, hidden in the “options” menu. Players can also unlock enemies to play in other modes as they progress. There are a few things to do after the short main story, so the price isn’t bad at $6.99 MSRP.
I have played better, unlicensed, homemade ROM-based sequels to NES games. The opportunity to do something more; to use the updated hardware to smooth the clunky game-play, add some fun moves, or just have the first few levels be a retro bonanza that leads into updated graphics, music, and cut-scenes as it progressed, would’ve been nice. Double Dragon IV just feels like an attempt to make a few bucks off my nostalgia. If you are a big fan of the series and want to get the good throwback feels of the original, Double Dragon IV is a must buy. For everyone else out there, though, including most millennials I know, Double Dragon IV just won’t cut it. Hopefully a lesson can be learned and we will see another Double Dragon game again someday.
Double Dragon IV is available now on PlayStation 4 and Windows PC. This review is based on a copy provided for that purpose.
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