Double Dragon IV review
Talk about a weird title. I understand it, as it continues the tradition of the NES versions of Double Dragon games and is a sequel specifically to those, but it’s not like there hasn’t been other Double Dragon games since the NES. There was Super Double Dragon on SNES (which is pretty good), Double Dragon V (which is a horrid 1-on-1 fighting game), Double Dragon on Neo-Geo in both arcade and console formats (a much better fighting game than DDV, I’d even call it competent) which was based on the movie of all things (remember that?), Double Dragon Advance and the superb (and much more recent) Double Dragon Neon. Plus there’s Battletoads & Double Dragon, a great game that’s more based on the Battletoads gameplay. So calling it Double Dragon IV is a bit of a misnomer even if I get where they’re coming from.
This was a surprise announcement, and came out at a surprise price of 7$. So of course I jumped on it and played it through day 1.
Here are my thoughts on it! Let’s go.
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Arc System Works
Date of Release: January 30th 2017
Platform: PC, PS4
Genre: Beat ’em up
Rated T for Teen
The graphics are basically taken straight from Double Dragon 2. Everything is NES sprites, with slightly higher-quality backgrounds (but still very reminiscent of what you would’ve seen on the NES). If you liked what Double Dragon looked like on the NES, you’ll like it here too. The sprites aren’t really spruced up or anything. They’re just bigger versions of the same sprites, but they look really clean. The PS4 version, at least looking at videos, has a crapload of screen tearing, but the PC version has no such issues. Probably not a big deal.
On the sound side, well the sound effects are the NES sound effects. I’ve seen some people complaining about the sound effects, but they’re factually incorrect. It sounds just like the NES. I did see one video where the sound was really crunchy, not sure why because it’s not like that in the game at all. The music is basically a lot of classic stuff from the NES Double Dragon soundtracks, but remastered somewhat, higher quality instruments and such. I really like it, Double Dragon has classic music. I’m not sure there’s much new stuff if any at all though.
Story… Well the group from Double Dragon 2 that Billy and Jimmy defeated are back, teamed up with another group. They want to kill Billy and Jimmy. They eventually kidnap Marian again. Turns out the enemies have no motivation for doing this. It’s weird, and barely worth mentioning. There’s dialogue between the levels, but they don’t use said dialogue to explain what’s going on or why. It’s just kinda there.
The game might look like Double Dragon 2, but the gameplay is a combination of the 3 NES games. No press B to attack left and A to attack right BS.
You have 3 buttons: Jump (which is optional), Punch and Kick. You can jump with the jump button or by pressing both punch and kick at the same time. There’s special move buttons (which aren’t set by default on PC, and trying to set your buttons on a controller doesn’t work on the PC version), but you can do all the special moves without them.
You have various moves you can do. Just mashing punch or kick gives you combos with those (and you can mix them up if you want). There’s a bunch of grab and throw moves I never use. If you press kick almost anywhere in your jump you do a tornado kick thing. If you press kick and press forward frames later you do a spin-kick which moves you forward as you kick. If you press punch then press forward frames later you do a headbutt. You can go further with that and do a spinning headbutt attack with the punch button. If you press punch or kick and right away press backwards you do a punch behind you. After landing from a jump (or getting up, or anything that puts you in a crouching position such as the spin kick) you can press kick for a strong knee attack, or punch for a (I think) slightly weaker uppercut. I think Billy and Jimmy has some exclusive moves but I don’t know what they are exactly. The special moves are extremely easy to pull off here. In DD2 the knee attack was a few frames window (I think 4-5 frames IIRC) to pull it off, but here you’re liable to do it by mistake because you have a much larger window to do it. In the other games the tornado kick thing is at the peak of your jump, also a few frames, but here almost any press of the kick button while you’re in the air does it. It’s kinda weird.
Cool thing you can do the spin-kick move and combo that into the knee attack if you time it well. That’s always fun. And in 2-player mode you can throw enemies and have the other player combo them.
There’s also weapons you can grab to either throw or hit with. Not much to say here. Doesn’t seem to be any kind of health recovery items here. Not a big problem at first, but later in the game enemies start having really strong attacks.
So the story mode is straightforward. 12 levels of varying length (some are literally 2 short screens long, some have traps, some have platforming). Most areas are fairly flat and you fight a bunch of enemies. At first there’s only a few enemies at a time, but as the game goes on the game starts flooding you with enemies (and by flooding I mean, like, 5-6 at a time). There’s a lot of different enemy types with different movesets, so you have to deal with them differently. That can be a bit tough when the game just covers you in different enemies, I’ve had many moments where I couldn’t do anything while enemies were bashing me to death.
The platforming is fairly simple and easy for the most part, but there’s this one obstacle that pisses me off. It’s this plus-sign-shaped thing that occasionally starts rotating fast. If you’re on the left or top of it, you get hit and thrown off, however if you’re on the right side of it you still get hit but you remain on that right side (even while it’s turning). I have not found a good way to not get hit by those. The way you have to jump on them kinda means you have to do at least 2 jumps for each of them, and that always means you will get hit at least once.
Finishing missions in story mode unlocks characters in duel mode, which you can kinda ignore. Finishing story mode unlocks Tower mode, which seems to be a 100 floor dungeon, where each floor has 3-5 enemies for you to defeat. You cannot heal at all. As you progress through it you unlock more characters, but for any mode. It’s pretty hard.
Unlockable characters have essentially the same moveset they have when fighting you so that’s cool. There’s zero balance though. There’s this one big karate dude that has a single-button attack that’s twice as strong as Billy or Jimmy’s strongest attack (the super headbutt thing) and you’re invincible during it. There’s other characters that have attacks that literally do no damage at all and are super awkward to use. I’d say there’s only a few characters really worth using. There are lots of cool references to the NES games though.
I liked this game for what it is, but it is a bit on the cheap side in general. Some badly thought-out platforming segments here and there (because of those rotating platform things), lots of battles where enemies can nearly infinite you to death (moreso when you’re surrounded by enemies), unlockable characters that are either useless or overpowered, a story that makes no sense despite actually having dialogue… It feels like it was a bit of a slapdash release.
However I did very much enjoy it and it comes recommended anyways since it’s pretty inexpensive. I’d say get Double Dragon Neon first, and I even recommend the NES games over this one. But once you’re a full-on Double Dragon fan pick this one up too! It’s worth it.
(if you press start on the title screen you can select to start from any level you’ve already beaten, no need to fully restart after a game over)