Billy and Jimmy Lee are back in action in Double Dragon IV, another addition to everyone’s favourite beat ’em up franchise. Instead of updating the graphics and music from the classics, the development team at Arc System Works rolled back the clock and went super 8-bit retro. While it’s a welcome slice of nostalgia, the sentiment fades fast as the game struggles to keep you interested for a prolonged period.
The story is set after Double Dragon II: The Revenge, where the Lee brothers look to spread their Sōsetsuken martial art by establishing dojos around the country. They encounter a new gang called the Renegades, who have teamed up with the Black Warriors to cause all sorts of trouble for the dragon bros. In other words, it’s just an excuse to pummel each other, but hey, that’s the point, isn’t it?
This game features three modes: story, duel and tower (which is only available after you complete the game). Naturally, the story mode is the central part of the game, but probably the most problematic. While Double Dragon has never been renowned for requiring superior intellect or gaming aptitude, I clocked three missions in under five minutes. I’d like to brag and say this is because of my Fight Club experience and years of beating pro gamers until their moms beg for their sanity, but it’s not. It’s just that easy.
Much like the previous games, you move across the screen, punching, kicking and throwing things until you reach the end of the stage. There are a few special moves, but you’ll find it’s not really worth attempting them as the punch and kick options are far more effective. At the end of every stage, you’ll face the superhuman-sized boss, who looks like a beast but doesn’t require much more than a bit of button smashing to defeat. And that’s it.
Confusingly, Double Dragon IV is labelled as the sequel to Double Dragon II—why the third game is ignored, only the developers know. Another mind boggle is why this title wasn’t inspired by the arcade version, rather than the NES adaptation. I mean, the sprites are awful, the screen tears, the spot effects are glaringly bad, and the bugs will have you reaching for another can of Doom time and time again. These glitches and graphical deficiencies were common with the hardware limitations of the time, but why are we even mentioning this in 2017? I guess I can say this is so authentically 1988 that I kept looking for the cartridge to blow on.
Looking at Double Dragon IV, I have to wonder what could’ve been. While it starts off as a reminder of simpler times, it also makes you appreciate just how far gaming has come in the three decades since the franchise’s inception. The idea behind this release is noble, but sadly the execution leaves a lot to be desired. If you’re going to make an eighties game, at least fix the problems that were common in that era.