Caught in between the crossfire of old feeling “new” again, and “new” feeling way too old, lies Double Dragon 4. Arc System Works attempt to bring the niche Double Dragon brawler series to the modern consoles may be one of the biggest, unwarranted blunders in revitalizing a series I’ve seen in recent memory. Trying to bank off what made a series great years ago, without adding any innovation or modernization, only proves to show how empty of a shell Double Dragon 4 truly is. Archaic controls, bland sprites, and punishing game mechanics will force you to question the significance of its existence after all these years.
The story revolves around the brothers Billy and Jimmy taking an entrepreneurship mindset of their martial arts style, and creating dojos all over the country. What they don’t realize is they will soon be confronted with a new pack of enemies, The Renegades. The Renegades have collaborated with some old foes fans will know, the Black Warriors, with the goal being to finally put a stop to the Double Dragon brothers and thwart their mission altogether.
It can be exciting to dive into a retro series brought back to life with the modern consoles. You can hungrily grab a big chunk of nostalgia while also enjoying the fruits of modern innovations amongst your favorite series. This is what’s so desperately needed in Double Dragon 4, but consequently never comes to life. Instead you are rudely greeted with all the frustrating, and obtuse gameplay left behind generations ago.
The primary combat centers around simplistic arcade punching and kicking mechanics. The X button will deliver your flurry of punches, while the O button executes your kicking actions. There is also a close-quarters grab feature, but in my playthrough I found it really only worked when it wanted to. The game is broken up into 12 levels, and after completing them a survival-like tower mode becomes unlocked. The story can be completed in a few hours in a perfect world, but more than likely will require you to sink some more time into it, following the countless deaths you will achieve. After completing each story level, new characters become unlocked that you can actually use within the tower or additional replays of standard levels.
Now if everything worked as it should, Double Dragon 4 may stand a chance as a decent brawler looking to harken up some childhood memories. But the reality is it falls short on almost every aspect. While playing, the AI is relentless at smashing you to the ground in one hit, making the odds so uneven its unbearable. The entire game your character feels so weak and vulnerable. No matter the approach, you’re subjected to one hit knockdowns. Your character will lay lifeless for what feels like hours, only to get back up surrounded by enemies just waiting to trounce him back to the cold, hard ground again. You can try and get an upper hand by pressing the kick or punch button as you get up to initiate a knock-back strike, but you will only find yourself face-planting the floor shortly after. Meaning the only real strategy to survive a gang of circling enemies is to mash the attack buttons as you gain your footing, in hopes to knock them back and acquire some room to defend yourself.
Perhaps a saving grace in all of this would have been some fresh, lively visuals splashed onto the screen, comforting you as if to say “hey, it’s not all bad”. Instead you are presented with uninspired, mimicked graphics from the previous releases. In fact some of the sprites are the exact same from the original games. The level design and scenery just lay to waste in their desolate, rudimentary presentation. As you play screen-tearing will just become something your accustomed to as you encounter its frequent nature. All of this just begging to ask the question, if Arc System Works achingly took the time to recreate the sentiments of the originals, good and bad, why not just play those originals? Surely you’re not beating down the door for Double Dragon 4’s new story and innovations.
One area of Double Dragon 4 that’s amusing was the old school chip-tune soundtrack. While it was limited, it still recollected a fondness of the 8-bit audio days. The punching and kicking sound effects may not be distinguishable to anything close to reality, but they molded to the retro aesthetic nicely. Even after replaying levels countless times, I never minded the accompaniment that came along with it.
I can see where Arc System Works approach resided with bringing Double Dragon 4 to the fans, but regrettably they landed far from the mark. Grasping too tightly onto the nostalgia train, Double Dragon 4 suffocates under the weight of poor mechanics and gameplay elements of generations past. Where there have been huge gaps in innovation and fluidly in the brawler/beat-em-up genre, Double Dragon 4 seems to have ignored all of them. Unless you are a die-hard fan of the series, there’s little here in this new entry that I can recommend for the casual gamer.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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