How old school is too old school? How retro is too retro? It’s the little things that kill, 90’s fans, so tell us what you want, what you really really want. With 2008’s Mega Man 9 and 2010’s Mega Man 10, Capcom attempted to clean the slate of questionable 16 and 32 bit era numbered Mega Man installments and create a follow up that ignored any post NES advancements in video gaming and picked up right where 1993’s Mega Man 6 left off.
People seemed a lot more excited for 9, thinking 10 was maybe overkill, but this was still a fairly successful experiment on Capcom’s part, both critically and commercially, so much so that it’s a wonder why more companies didn’t take the idea and run with it. Now, with Guilty Gear / Blazblue creators Arc System Works carrying the torch for the once mighty Technos, a new Double Dragon emerges, ignoring even the well received 2012 Wayforward reboot Double Dragon Neon to continue the series from 1991’s Double Dragon 3 in fine 8 bit fashion, unabated by the IP’s many more recent embarrassments.
Yes this is real, and yes there was a game based on the cartoon based on the game, an awful 1994 SNES/Genesis fighter called “Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls”, (not to be confused with the passable Neo Geo fighter based on the abominable live action film, simply titled “Double Dragon”), meaning that there was technically already a Double Dragon IV, 1991’s thoroughly unremarkable Super Double Dragon (SNES). Don’t ask me, man. I just work here.
Double Dragon IV pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin, right down to its landscape oriented Famicom style box art. This is an 8 bit beat ’em up, warts (screen tearing, slowdown, flicker) and all, evoking both the NES Double Dragon games as well as Capcom’s Mighty Final Fight and Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game.
The problem with that is that the NES was never really the premiere destination for hardcore beat ’em up fans. Of course people have nostalgia for the first DD, and TMNT 2, but once 16 bit systems emerged, they brought with them arcade perfect, if not better, ports of Golden Axe, Altered Beast and Turtles in Time, not to mention great originals like the Streets of Rage series and the Final Fight sequels. After these games, late era NES beat ’em ups like TMNT: The Manhattan Project and Konami’s downgraded port of their amazing and underrated SNES Batman Returns themed Final Fight clone began to look more than a little outclassed. Even the first NES Double Dragon, as classic as it is, has its detractors based on the many detours it took from the arcade version, chief amongst them the lack of a non-versus 2 player mode.
DDIV’s super wide playfield calls to mind Konami’s X-Men or Taito’s The NinjaWarriors, though there’s sadly nothing as flashy and frenetic as in those games going on here.
But despite its slavishness to its NES-ishness, Double Dragon IV is still a pretty good time when judged on its own merits. A 12 mission long Story Mode includes lo fi but charming Ninja Gaiden style cut scenes, though beyond the basic DD framework of their friend Marian being kidnapped I’ll be damned if I could figure out what the hell was going on and where it’s supposed to fit into the established canon. Level designs, both of the “belt scrolling” and “annoying, trap laden 2-D platforming” variety are varied and well-designed enough, and both the 8 bit chiptune and more modern synthwave-esque soundtracks are great, including both classic themes from the series’ history and super catchy new compositions.
My biggest complaint about the game itself would probably center on enemy and boss variety. There can’t be any more than 10 or so enemy types here, including bosses, and you’ll fight different colored versions of them again and again. I know that’s sort of a staple of the genre and I usually enjoy it to a point, but having at least a few different, larger, newly designed bosses (all characters are by and large sprite rips from the older games) would go a long way towards beefing up the game’s replayability.
26 years of vacation haven’t made Abobo any less FROWNY.
Going through the Story Mode will gain you extra characters to use for the game’s charmingly janky NES-esque Vs. Mode, and beating the whole thing grants you access to a Survival style Tower Mode. Each character beaten in the Tower Mode can then be used in Story Mode. Yes, you can run through the whole campaign as iconic, giant, elephantiasis cookie headed boss character Abobo, and yes it is great.
And in closing, the game carries a super lean MSRP of 6.99, less than a lot of the arcade ports on PSN that offer far less in the way of gameplay meat on the bone. We could fantasy book how we’d make our own Double Dragon follow up all day long, but ultimately all of the classic versions, both arcade originals and console ports, are widely, legally available on every modern platform imaginable. Those looking for a more technically contemporary (yet still hilariously, sarcastically 80’s reverent) follow up have Double Dragon Neon waiting right there for them on Xbox 360 and PS3, and it’s even now backwards compatible on Xbox One.
Double Dragon IV doesn’t bring anything particularly mind blowing or even marginally new to the table, but the fact that it exists at all is still pretty cool.