It’s 2017… How do you review a game like Double Dragon IV?
Designed by Arc System Works as a direct sequel to Double Dragon II: The Revenge (the events of the third game chronologically take place after the first), Double Dragon IV recreates the franchise’s NES-era look down to the last pixel. Even after playing it, if you had told me that Technos (the original developer behind the series) found an unfinished Double Dragon sequel from 1991 and released it last month as a brand new game, I would have believed you. But in a way, that’s exactly what they did.
Though it was only announced in December 2016, Arc System Works recruited a good portion of the original Technos team to help bring their vision for Double Dragon IV to life. Director Yoshihisa Kishimoto, Producer Takaomi Kaneko, Character Designer Koji Ogata, Programmer Kei Oyama, and Composer Kazunaka Yamane all signed on to help bring the sequel to life.
But is it a good game in these early months of 2017? Umm…
Platforms: PC (Version Played), PS4
Publisher: Arc System Works
Developer: Arc System Works
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up (No Quarters Required)
Release Date: January 30, 2017
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Video games were different back in the late 80s and early 90s. Even the simplest premises were stretched out and spackled over with a generous allotment of weirdness (ask your older brothers and sisters about Zombie Nation sometime). Almost 30 years later, it’s easy for those extraneous bits to float away, but the opening cinematic to Double Dragon IV brings it all back for you. That handful of images is there to remind you that the entire franchise actually takes place in the post-apocalyptic aftermath of a massive nuclear war. Oh, and the Double Dragons, Billy and Jimmy Lee, somehow managed to restart civilization through the awesome power of their sosetsuken karate techniques.
After Billy’s girlfriend Marian was miraculously brought back to life at the end of Double Dragon II, the brothers used their newfound fame to open a chain of martial arts dojos across the country in Double Dragon IV (even though, again, the world is supposed to be a blasted-out hellscape). On their way out west, they’re are attacked by a biker gang known as The Renegades, as well as their newest recruits, the remnants of the Black Warriors.
Aside from these new enemies, Double Dragon IV walks a very familiar path. Double Dragon mainstays like Williams, Linda, Rowper, and Abobo all return, and the brothers pound them into the ground using Special Moves like the Cyclone Kick, Hyper Uppercut, and High Jump Kick. Several new attacks (including a Headbutt, a Spinning Headbutt, a Spin Kick, and more) spice up the combat, as does a visit to Japan and a fight against goons from a corrupt corporation.
But aside from these very minor changes, Double Dragon IV hews very closely to the franchise’s NES roots… and that is both good and bad. It’s great that fans will be able to go on a new adventure with Billy and Jimmy Lee, exploring areas that would look much more at home on a 25″ tube TV than my more modern laptop. But it’s also frustrating in that Double Dragon IV includes all the dodgy hit detection, sluggish controls, and bottomless pits the series is known for. The 8-bit graphics also pale in comparison to many of the other games that ape that style, such as Yacht Club’s Shovel Knight.
Before setting up shop at Yacht Club, “Captain” Sean Velasco and his team were part of WayForward, who developed their own Double Dragon game in 2012. Double Dragon: Neon is a more parodic take on the franchise, but it too wasn’t without its share of problems. Perhaps it’s time to leave some things from the 80s in the 80s.
Arc System Works beefed up Double Dragon IV’s package with the addition of two additional bonus modes: Duel Mode and Tower Mode. Duel Mode offers players the opportunity to engage in one-on-one fights with the game’s characters, while Tower Mode is a neverending endurance test that throws wave after wave of enemies at you. Both are fun for a few minutes, but neither will hold your attention for long.
A fleeting experience is both Double Dragon IV’s best feature and its worst flaw. The 8-bit presentation gives fans a slavish recreation of the franchise’s origins, and reliving the way I spent many a Saturday afternoon in 1990 was quite a bit of fun. But these moments don’t really make up for the rough controls and complete lack of difficulty (side-scrolling experts will beat the whole thing in an hour).
So how do you review a game like Double Dragon IV in 2017? You really can’t. All I can say is that it’s on the cheap side, so it’s not crazy to want to try it out if you loved the franchise in the past. But if you decide to skip it, you’re not really missing much of anything either.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of Double Dragon IV was provided by Arc System Works for the purposes of this review.