Mega Man 9 and 10 are perfect examples of a modern day retro sequel. Capcom took the exact same retro gameplay, design, and visuals, and surprisingly made a solid continuation that by all means can be called a true sequel to the epic series. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the newly released Double Dragon IV.
Actually, calling this Double Dragon IV is a bit inaccurate. The first three installments were released in arcades and on NES consoles. The fourth game in the series was actually a SNES exclusive called Super Double Dragon and it was followed by Double Dragon V. It may seem that Double Dragon IV takes place in between Double Dragon 3 and Super Double Dragon but gameplay-wise it is more reminiscent of the second game in the series.
Like in all classic beat-em-ups, you can punch, kick and jump, with special moves done by a combination of these three. Kicking while in the height of your jump will perform the legendary cyclone kick, and you can carry out an uppercut by landing and punching immediately after a jump. Correctly doing these moves at the right time can feel satisfying as you send enemies flying.
However, everything feels a bit slower and more stiff than it did in the originals. It’s hard to imagine that Arc System Works, a company behind the best 2D fighting games of our time, released something like this. Challenge comes more from a battle of attrition than any actual skill, as you trade punches with enemies hoping to be the first to take your opponent down. Weapons add a bit of flavor to combat, but their use is very limited, making them feel like more of an afterthought than an actual way to get the upper hand. Playing with a buddy is enjoyable and you can enable friendly damage for a more hectic battle, but you will have to find a real person to join you since the game surprisingly has no online co-op.
Double Dragon IV suffers from all the little problems that plagued old games. You will fight against enemies that are outside of the boundaries of the screen, wait for the “GO” arrow to appear just to be able to proceed, and get suck in a stun lock struggling to escape from it.
For a modern title released on both PlayStation 4 and Steam, it lacks any improvements where it actually matters. There is no online co-op, no leaderboards to compare your high scores. It doesn’t even take queues from the later installments in the series.
The story is naturally centered around Billy and Jimmy, but serves little more than just a way to get our heroes to different locations. You will battle across a variety of them, including a desolate wasteland, the top of a speeding gigantic truck, dirty city streets, a huge ship, and a casino, and have a showdown in a sprawling Japanese castle.
Like games from the time, this is a short game and can be beaten in one sitting. We managed to clear all of the game’s 12 levels in under an hour and even for that short time period the game got very repetitive very fast. After completing the story mode, you unlock the Tower mode which is just 100 floors of wave after wave of enemies in tiny single screen arenas. These two modes aside, there is also a versus mode where you can battle against your friend one-on-one, using one of the many characters you unlock while you play through the story mode.
The original Double Dragon trilogy was actually a decent looking series in arcades, however Double Dragon IV plucks sprites directly from the inferior looking NES version instead. Thankfully, the sprites don’t flicker like in the old days.
Even with pixelated rose-tinted glasses, it’s difficult to recommend Double Dragon IV to anyone but the most diehard fans of retro games and the series in general. It brings back all the frustration, but does nothing to improve upon the formula. It does offer around an hour of fairly entertaining co-op with a buddy, but your time could still be spent better elsewhere. If you want your Double Dragon fix, Double Dragon: Neon is a far better investment and holds true to the retro style gameplay with modern day improvements and online co-op.