Side-scrolling beat’em ups were my jam back in the Sega days. Although I had to go to other houses to experience them. Regardless, the likes of Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, and Double Dragon were enjoyed greatly by little Kyle. They were enjoyed by big Kyle too because of some remasters and ports for the past two PlayStation systems, but that’s neither here nor there. What is here is Double Dragon IV. It’s a brand new entry into the historic series and even had a few key members from the 1987 arcade team return. You’d think that would be enough of a recipe for success right? Sadly, the recipe crafted this time was wonky gameplay and a return of retro gaming’s bad traits.
The story starts out with our famous brothers taking a cruise in a sweet car before they’re ambushed by an unknown faction. After beating up a few thugs, the duo find out that their classic villain group, the Black Warriors, have joined forces with another splinter group. Their leader, Willy, was defeated by new players apart of the Renegades. Through a series of forceful interrogations the brothers find out that this new organization wants them for something mysterious. Que a trip to Japan in order to stop whatever plans the Renegades have and a cliché damsel in distress scenario. The plot is revealed through still slide shows with pictures and text just like the old days. Afterwards you’ll be plopped to where you need to be in order for the game to continue.
Gameplay is at its 80’s fighting best and that may not be a good thing. The classic side-scrolling is present where you have to clear the screen of enemies before you can move on to the next area and each level can last from one to ten minutes. The fighting itself can be enjoyed in brief periods as pulling off combos and defeating enemies was enjoyable. You have three primary attack buttons that can all interlace with a few different functions. You’ll have your basic kick and attack button alongside a jump one. It will only be possible to strike what is directly in front or behind you per the genre’s tradition. Each attack can be combined with both hopping and grappling that produces nice throwing and leaping techniques. The combos you can string together with apt timing can be enjoyable but are still held back by problems. Other than that there are items to pick up to assist our heroes like in any other beat’em title.
The mechanics to the gameplay themselves are flawed like the old days of gaming, but I believe this was done on purpose in an attempt to be retro. The problem is that those issues from 1980s gaming were due to the limits of technology at the time. Either that or I’ve been spoiled by next generation’s smooth gameplay. There’s literally a delay in everything you do: jumping, landing from said jump, punching, kicking, and getting back up from being hit. In fact, the only time there won’t be a delay in the action is if you’re stringing together a combo. As such this issue interfered with Double Dragon’s flow. I took hits and damage when I shouldn’t have and found it hard to effectively fight opponents at higher levels and later missions. Your foes are not restricted by this problem and there will be times you have no choice but to get hit. So the issue isn’t the slower combat style but the sluggish and wooden delay it regrettably brings. The three bars of health and five lives you start out with won’t last as long as they should. I do have to say that making enemies fly across the screen was fun when it happened however.
An interesting part of the game undoubtedly has to be your ability to unlock other character models for use. You’ll be able to unlock most of the rogues gallery that comes you way after completing story missions. Some of them will only be usable in certain modes such as the two player duel mode. (There’s also local two player co-op for you couch gamers out there). The enemies themselves are nicely diversified in appearance and move set. Minus the bargain bin thugs, each enemy type will have their own set of techniques and movements for you to tangle with. Unfortunately, most of the bosses can be defeated by the same normal tactics you use on a lesser opponent. Plus at times the adventure will just throw a ton of thugs at you to simulate difficulty which doesn’t bode well for my earlier critique. It boils down to the fighting mechanics being your nemesis rather than the on-screen targets.
The graphics and level design are properly retro in the right way and they’re beautiful. Nicely textured and the perfect amount of color palate usage. The levels are straightforward with ladders to climb, elevators to use, and platforms to jump on. It’s nothing that will blow your mind but old school fans will be brought down memory lane. Except the delay problem with jumping will almost assuredly cause you to die from falling in a pit or off-screen. This takes one whole bar of health away and will be incredibly frustrating when it happens.
For the sake of disclosure, I am still actively trying to beat the story. I could only fail so many times before I typed up my review with unfair anger. I’m aware there is a Tower Mode where you fight your way up the ranks in order to face off against a secret boss, but I haven’t unlocked this yet and still don’t know how to do so. At the moment, I could honestly say that an auto-save system would have helped the cons experienced thus far. Not due to making things easier in a casual sense but to counterbalance the gameplay’s shortcomings.
Double Dragon IV PS4 Review
Overall - Bad - 4.7/10
If the developers were looking to take Double Dragon IV back to the series’ roots, great. It’s just that the formula does not translate well after nearly thirty years. What was the standard then isn’t the standard now. Having enemies who can move faster than you while your stuck with middling delays was not enjoyable in the slightest. The graphics and enemy design choices were nice but a side scrolling beat’em up is hardly judged on those alone. Absolute die-hard fans of the genre or the Double Dragon name may find something to like here, but anyone else should steer clear.
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* Reviewed using a base PS4.
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