In the age of HD remakes and “definitive editions”, it’s very uncommon to see a franchise get a sequel after numerous years, as most developers opt for the reboot route. Possibly looking to cash in on the niche market of retro gaming, Double Dragon is back with its fourth installment on its 30th anniversary, and after 27 years since its direct predecessor. But does Double Dragon IV live up to the NES games before it?
Double Dragon IV takes place in the middle of a somewhat confusing timeline, shortly after the events of Double Dragon II: The Revenge, as Billy and Jimmy are ambushed while heading to their San Francisco dojo by a mysterious gang called The Renegades. There are twelve story missions in total, each separated by small dialogue snippets that progress the story. Each mission sends Billy and Jimmy across the globe, as once again Billy’s girlfriend Marian is the damsel in distress.
Aside from the twelve story missions there are two new game modes: 2P Duel Mode and Tower Mode. 2P Duel Mode pits you and a friend against each other using characters that you’ve unlocked while beating the story missions. This mode in particular is fun for a few matches but loses its appeal rather quickly, as there isn’t a whole lot of depth to it. Tower Mode is a little more exciting and challenging, as you defeat waves of enemies and advance floor-by-floor in a test of endurance.
Graphically Double Dragon IV is a mirror image of the previous games, keeping the retro 8-bit feel to the series. Virtually every sprite in the game is a carbon copy of the same enemies you’ve fought over the last thirty years playing Double Dragon, and the majority of the sound effects sound the same as well. As expected Double Dragon IV has an excellent soundtrack, and you can select in the options between retro or modern remix versions.
There are some aspects of Double Dragon IV that fail to live up to previous installments, mainly level design. The latter missions of the story feature the odd platforming obstacle, but the levels for the most part seem to lack the variety that the NES games had, such as fighting enemies on a moving tank or kicking them out of the hatch door of a helicopter in mid-flight.
Being thirty years ahead of the first Double Dragon titles, one would think that Double Dragon IV would be far technically superior, but it actually seems to be quite the opposite. After playing Double Dragon IV and going back to an NES title you’ll find the older generation’s gameplay feels slightly more fast-paced, the buttons feels a little more responsive, and the punching sound effects sound much more satisfying.
One feature that Double Dragon IV does better than any of its predecessors is the configurable controls. Of course being on a current generation console with controllers that have more than two buttons puts the game at an advantage compared to previous installments, but it’s nice being able to lay out the controls to tailor how you play.
Like all Double Dragon titles, Double Dragon IV is best enjoyed with a friend. While there’s unfortunately no online co-op, playing Double Dragon IV via couch co-op is just as satisfying as it was thirty years ago. Once you have completed a playthrough of all twelve missions, you and a friend are no longer limited to only playing as Billy and Jimmy, as virtually every character in the game is unlocked and playable.
Double Dragon IV is a solid couch co-op beat em’ up, but ultimately doesn’t quite capture the nostalgia of the previous NES titles. There’s just something about retro consoles, the screen flicker, the 8-bit soundtrack, and the perfect imperfections that the current generation simply cannot compete with. Double Dragon IV does some excellent things with its configurable controls and challenging Tower Mode, and any retro gamer itching for a new beat em’ up will surely enjoy the experience.