Double Dragon IV

Double Dragon IV is a new (yes, new) entry into the classic side-scrolling beat-em-up series. The first to be developed by Arc System Works, the game remains incredibly faithful to its predecessors – at times, painfully so – but is overall a pretty great throwback.

For those unfamiliar, Double Dragon was one of the earliest games to set the standard for arcade-style “beat ‘em ups.” The formula is pretty simple: you (and a buddy, if you wish) walk from screen to screen as bad guys approach, who you then pummel with a surprising amount of varied punches and kicks, moving forward when the screen tells you to do so. The game sounds fairly straightforward, but the original was a critical success in the late 80’s and inspired a huge wave of beat ‘em ups.

We haven’t really seen a lot of solid side-scrolling beat ‘em ups since 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The Word: The Game. Perhaps the folks at Arc System Works are trying to remind us of what we’ve been missing, and to that end, Double Dragon IV feels like more of a tribute to the punchy heyday rather than an attempt try something new.
Story is typically thin in these games – after all, we’re here to punch and kick things, not spend hours on cutscenes – but the game begins with brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee being attacked in a desert locale. The two are set upon by dozens of baddies who all seem to love getting dropkicked in the head, and each short level ends with a boss who typically has a gigantic head for some reason. It’s all a bit ludicrous, but this is what made the original games work.

Sadly, the controls appear largely similar to the older games, and they have not aged particularly well. We live in an era where we’re accustomed to rapid-fire response in our controls, and Double Dragon IV makes even a seasoned gamer feel like an amateur. At times you’ll find yourself missing a kick, and then getting punched for what feels like an eternity, unable to flip your character around and deliver a counter-attack. It isn’t that the enemies are smarter or better equipped than you are. It’s just that once you’re facing the wrong direction or you miss a kick, it is very easy to get stuck in a situation where you’re getting repeatedly pounded by a guy wearing spikes on his shoulders and no shirt.

The game is a perfectly fine throwback for anyone looking for what can only be described as a Double Dragon remix. And as a remix, it is done pretty well! However, dated control schemes are likely to frustrate most players, and a lack of variety in gameplay (by today’s standards) may not hold everyone’s attention.
If there’s one thing you should stick around for, it’s the music. Spot on, Arc System Works!

Double Dragon IV is currently available on Playstation 4 and Windows.

3 stars out of 5