To coincide with the thirty-year anniversary of Double Dragon the folks at Arc System Works have just released Double Dragon 4 on Sony’s current gen console. Double Dragon is a series I am well acquainted with because it introduced me to the world of side scrolling brawlers, courtesy of its sluggish Amstrad CPC 464 arcade port. Since then I have gone on to enjoy Double Dragon games on the original Gameboy, Super Double Dragon for SNES and Double Dragon Neon on PS3. Double Dragon 4 hopes to tap into the nostalgia old farts have, by mimicking the visuals and gameplay of the Nintendo Entertainment System trilogy. Unfortunately for beat-em-up fans Double Dragon 4 not only reacquaints us with 8-bit graphics, but also the frustrating mechanics found in many retro classics.
Fighting games aren’t known for their stellar storytelling and Double Dragon 4 does nothing to buck that trend. The game begins with the Lee brothers travelling the land to expand their flourishing dojo empire. Sadly for Billy and Jimmy the tour has to be put on hiatus when a group of thugs assault them. The hoodlums in question serve a pair of martial art practicing sisters who wish to prove that females can be mighty. Any social justice warriors hoping to cheer the feminist crusade of Double Dragon 4’s villains shouldn’t get too excited though. When the attack on Billy and Jimmy fails the evildoers resort to the sexist scheme of kidnapping Marian. Nothing has changed since 1987. Once again the damsel in distress needs to be rescued by men.
Anyone who has played the NES version of Double Dragon 2 will feel right at home with Double Dragon 4. Over the course of twelve short levels one or two players walk about smacking any ruffians they encounter, be it with their fists or by using the weapons found littering the landscape. Occasionally the fisticuffs are interrupted by annoying platform segments were players have to circumvent traps, which isn’t easy given Billy and Jimmy’s poor agility. Despite being accomplished Kung-Fu warriors the brothers Lee amble along at the pace of a fatigued slug and can barely leap higher than an elephant wearing lead sandals. The frustration continues in the combat sections whenever you are pitted against multiple foes. Countless lives will be lost as there is little recourse against enemies swamping you from both sides simultaneously.
My rating for Double Dragon 4 is a two and a half out of five, which equals the score I recently awarded Power Rangers: Mega Battle. Out of the two games I would argue that Power Rangers has the better gameplay, as its combat system requires a modicum of strategy. Battling Double Dragon’s cheap AI on the other hand consists of spamming the overpowered hurricane kick and sticking to the top or foot of the screen were hits don’t register. Whether you enjoy Double Dragon 4 or Power Rangers more comes down to personal taste. In its favour Double Dragon possesses old school charm and a huge roster of playable characters. Once the one-hour long story is completed access to Tower mode is granted, where a multitude of new fighters can be unlocked.
Perhaps I would have enjoyed Double Dragon 4 more if I could have found a chum to join me in some co-op multiplayer action. Two gamers fighting side by side would have alleviated the irritation of being unfairly gangbanged from both flanks. At the end of the day however I have to say that DD4 doesn’t live up to the hype. Whether fault lies with Arc System Works’ level design or the antiquated combat not withstanding the test of time is up for debate. Either way I would only recommend Double Dragon 4 to diehard fans of the franchise… and even then I would suggest waiting for a discount. Ultimately Double Dragon 4 is a disappointment, but hey at least it isn’t the worst thing ever to sport the Double Dragon brand. If you want to see something truly terrible give the live action movie a gander.