I'm at a loss for words. I went into my playthrough of Arc System Work's "Double Dragon IV" hoping for an authentic trip down memory lane, but was met instead by "Sucker Punch Simulator 4.0". That's what it felt like. Sure the game took the series' main characters Billy and Jimmy, and followed up half-heartedly with a story that takes place after Double Dragon II's events, but the beefed up gameplay felt intentionally one-sided. I remember the first Double Dragon on the NES being sluggish, but not gang heavy like it is here. In this follow up there's way too many enemies onscreen at a time, especially with the sucker punches flying, and your character's inability to respond quickly to the threats at hand factored in. Not only that, but this latest Double Dragon adventure feels shallow, and without substance. Like a straightforward experience hindered by cheap fights, and cheaply made environmentally hazardous platforming. I'm truly surprised, and not in a good way.
So, what does 'Double Dragon IV" offer the gamer? Well, it definitely includes a visual nod to the series' entries of the past as well as a chiptune soundtrack that would make retro gamers happy if it weren't for the gameplay itself. At the game's main menu you'll find in place a few modes of play. Two of which are readily available. One being 'Story', and the other '2P Duel'. Below that is a mysterious mode shrouded by three question marks. An extra game addition locked behind obvious in-game requirements. In the 'Story' mode you play as either Billy, or Jimmy who are each in essence color palette swaps of each other. After the last fight, and victory against the bad guys these two battling brothers set up dojos across the US to maintain peace. This of course is interrupted by yet another attack from another gang of mysterious bad guys, and gals. Bad guys, and gals who ultimately kidnap Marin (the game's damsel in distress). This plot is where 'Double Dragon II" ties-in, and where this game picks up.
With five continues, three lives per continue, and a limited health bar Billy or Jimmy must take on missions where the point is to defeat all the enemies, and an end boss. At their disposal is a more complex fighting mechanic system that builds upon the older games' offerings by offering wake up attacks, special attacks, and the usual grapples plus punches and kicks that fans will no doubt remember. The controls which execute these moves, and attacks is quite awkward though with jump being tethered to the "TRIANGLE" button, punch to "X", and kick to "CIRCLE". Pressing "X" when standing over a weapon or interactive object will pick up it up while following up with the pressing of the same button will allow you to use/throw said weapon or item. The grappling mechanic is an automatic response when approaching a stunned lesser enemy. It will not work on bosses though, or in gang battles. Billy and Jimmy also have techniques, or special attacks that require at least one of these base button functions (punch, kick, crouch ...) along with a follow up of up to three buttons simultaneously. It's your basic Double Dragon gameplay setup with a few new additions to spice things up. It should be noted that in the 'CONFIG' menu you can tweak 1P, and 2P controls assigning the basic moves along with three techniques.
As with most retro games of this sort score also matters. As you beat the bejeezus out of the bad guys/gals you'll earn points. These points are how you are ranked in the highscore listing. While playing through the mission stages which are usually a combination of multiple lane environments, and 2D metroidvania platforming elements you will also encounter attacking enemies trying their best to keep you from completing the mission. Should you succeed defeating the baddies you'll unlock playable characters for the "2P Duel" mode. While I can't actually give you details on '2P Duel" due to my lack of a second player It does seem like this mode will pit two local players in a 1v1 fight, or possibly in a playthrough where each player can fight the other. Of course you can select from unlocked enemy characters giving you the chance to experience battle in a different way. As far as the "???" mode goes I gave up before I unlocked it. The sucker punches got to me. It was apparent by mission 7, or shortly thereafter that the game was not fair. The amount of enemies onscreen was too much for sluggish Jimmy and Billy, especially with the sucker punches coming in from left and right.
Aside from those three gameplay modes the 'Double Dragon IV" does offer optional tweaks in the form of language options, the previously mentioned controller setups, and sound adjustments. The sound adjustments, or "BGM Mode" in particular allows for the updated (Normal) or 'Retro' soundtrack. Something for those diehard retro enthusiasts to enjoy. There's that, and the option to press "OPTIONS" at the main menu to bring up a mission select setting at the lower right hand corner of the screen. This only works after you've made progress in-game though.
Now the verdict ...
This game's shortcomings should serve as a lesson to all developers. You should not lean wholly on nostalgia. Nor should you change a tried and true formula that made a game great back in the day if you are going to pursue that retro feel. Double Dragon IV definitely feels like a shell of what Double Dragon, and Double Dragon 2 were. The gang mentality of the enemies, the speed of said enemies as well as the number of onscreen enemies made the missions way too hard. That, and the sucker punches that were most of the time unavoidable made the whole adventure an unfair experience. Even some of the 2D platforming was unfair due to the sluggish movement of the main characters. There did seem to be a delay with the jump button as well as with turning to face enemies. With all things weighed I cannot recommend this game. I am truly disappointed with it as a fan of the series and a critic.