The Double Dragon franchise was instrumental in turning brawlers into a bustling genre during the arcade era. Jimmy and Billy Lee now return decades later (once again tasked with rescuing Marian), and their journey takes them down memory lane for franchise fans with tons of foes from previous entries and a juiced-up soundtrack that brings the old tunes out with a fresh twist. If you’re looking for a title drenched in nostalgia – right down to the retro graphics and mind-numbing platforming challenges – this is one you don’t want to miss. But recalling your memories of Double Dragons long past may be more enjoyable than this new experience.
You punch, kick, and spin your way through missions to get to the end of story mode, which only takes a few hours if you continually need to restart levels (the game itself is much shorter). Docks, casinos, warehouses with conveyor belts, and other locales conjure up notions of the classic titles. The sounds and settings transport you back into one of those old games, right down to the signature clink of a metal bat hitting the ground. Classic opponents like Abobo, Burnov, and Linda are immediately recognizable, and there are a few new faces as well.
The walk down memory lane is marred by the fact that it’s simply not fun. Double Dragon IV is a boring slog that feels like busywork with no real weight behind it, as you can continue more or less where you left off even if you run out of credits. Because there’s no real progression or development beyond unlocking characters, it’s jarring that even games like 1989’s River City Ransom give the player far more ways to customize and develop in today’s world of interactive entertainment. The final battle with a new antagonist is dull, the ending is ridiculous, and the glimmer of combat fades by the third time you chuck a tire at an enemy. The A.I. often leaves enemies simply standing still waiting for you to act, or freaking out completely. I understand that these aspects can mostly be written off as part of the appeal to nostalgia, and if you are here for a ride through an interactive Double Dragon screensaver, the journey may work for you – but it certainly didn’t for me.
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Once you complete the story, you unlock a mode called Tower. Tower is a one-life survival battle that pits you against all kinds of foes as you try to make the climb to the top, and is tied to character unlocks that give the game its only form of replayability and interest. Based on your performance in the Tower, you can unlock characters to play in all game modes, so you can take on story or tower mode playing as smoke-bomb popping, shuriken-tossing Ayumi, sumo wrestler Kodani, or even the larger-than-life Abobo. This is a cool addition that lets you play in different ways, but at the end of the day, you’re just going through the same motions with some different sprites.
Double Dragon IV has some nostalgia value for longstanding fans of the franchise or those that just want a glimpse of what brawlers looked like in times long gone, but it offers little in terms of compelling gameplay or interesting mechanics. I’m a big fan of seeing old series recapture glory, but in this case, Double Dragon is an experience better left in the past.