Double Dragon IV seems like the sort of game that should be a home run for me. While I'd say I'm a fairly casual Double Dragon fan, I'm a huge fan of its Japanese sister series, Kunio-kun. I was enamored with Renegade long before I played Double Dragon. Though, I was really into Double Dragon II as a kid. Of course I'm talking about the NES versions of all of these - and they remain my preferred ports to this day. But I digress.
With Double Dragon IV Arc Systems gathered a bunch of original devs and had them make a new entry in the series that disregards everything after the NES trilogy. The game is designed to look like a long lost NES game, albeit in widescreen. And they even go so far as to toss in reference to a new gang called The Renegades, which to my mind is a way to more concretely tie in the two series. There's even a visit to Japan, which again seems to be pointing out that Double Dragon was always just meant to be sort of the Americanized spin-off Kunio-kun.
So how did Double Dragon IV turn out so meh? I'm not exactly sure, but my guess would be budget or time. This one feels like a total rush job meant to cash in on nostalgia. While certainly it's nice to see a throwback like this, it feels like the game works better on paper (or screenshots) than in actual execution. Sure there's some modern niceties that are well appreciated like button mapping and a full range of buttons to go along with it instead of the two-buttons the NES games had to utilize. And I'll admit that the cut scenes are a fun little addition. But ultimately the level design is so uninspired and poorly thought out that it just kills the game.
In Double Dragon II you had cool stuff like knocking enemies out of the door of a plane. There's nothing like that here. Instead, it's just the tired trope of walking right, clearing out a screen, and walking right again. Sometimes you climb up a ladder. That's about the extent of the variety. And this would be fine if the levels felt fair. But instead you have a 16:9 screen that's mostly vacant because the swarm of enemies is surrounding you tightly. You nary have a second to get on your feet before you're swallowed up by the offending gang. It's just... not fun.
I do think it's cool when you see the cut scene where it says "meanwhile..." and cuts to Marion getting kidnapped from the original Double Dragon, though. I will say that that's a neat touch. So again, it does feel like they were at least trying to make this a fun entry for fans. But truth be told, I've only been able to make it to Stage 8 (out of 12) and the blandness of the levels makes replaying them a total slog. This really juxtaposes harshly with how awesome the levels were in classics like Double Dragon II and Renegade on the NES - nevermind bonafide masterpieces like River City Ransom. So I'm calling this one quits without seeing it to the end, which is a bummer because apparently beating the game unlocks "The Tower" which is a kind of endurance mode that unlocks new playable characters. Oh well.