Watch: Johnny and Ian get doubly disappointed by Double Dragon 4

Some of my earliest and fondest gaming memories revolve around playing the Double Dragon games with my brother.

I vividly remember unwrapping the Spectrum +3 disk version of Double Dragon 2 for Christmas in 1998 for instance, and then a year later we wasted countless hours of our lives on the vastly different NES version of the same game.

That’s why, when Double Dragon 4 was announced late last year, I got a little bit excited. Visually it’s identical to the NES version of Double Dragon 2, with sprites and even graphical glitches lifted straight from the 8-bit era.

Double Dragon 4 review

‘Keep your politics out of our games.’ Behind the fretful plea (one which has recently become something of a placard slogan, waved at game developers by those who want games to offer only retreat from the real world, not a reflection of it), is the belief that a video game can stand apart from the context in which it is created. The argument collapses when you consider the myriad ways in which time and culture infuse every aspect of a video game’s design from a technological standpoint.

Take the Double Dragon series’ trajectory through the years. Its debut, which features American twin martial artists, Billy and Jimmy Lee, mowing their way through oncoming ranks of shuffling street thugs, appeared in arcades in 1987. The game’s design and challenge was a result of this specific context: a two-player (designed to physically fit a two-player cabinet) beat ’em up which ramped up the difficulty after the first stage or two in order to maximise the machine’s profits – albeit while letting players feel as though, with time, effort and enough financial investment, mastery was within reach.

Sequels followed, each one blossoming with yet greater numbers of colours, sprites and animations, as the underlying technology grew deeper and more fertile. In 1994, as the scrolling beat ’em up genre’s popularity began to wane, the fifth game in the series, Double Dragon 5: The Shadow Falls, became a one-on-one fighter — an attempt to mimic the success of Capcom’s Street Fighter 2 (closely followed by another one-on-one fighter for the Neo Geo). At each step, the series was being nudged, not by an artist’s vision, but by the external influence of market force and fashion. By the time of the 3D revolution in video games, some believed that the scrolling beat ’em up was due its first nostalgic revival. Technos, however, had gone out of business, leaving other companies to test the theory (as Square Enix discovered, with its lavishly produced The Bouncer, the appetite was mild).

Double Dragon 4 looks like a proper good Double Dragon sequel

This one crept up on me: Double Dragon 4 comes out next week on Steam and PlayStation 4.

There have been plenty of rubbish Double Dragon games over the years, but this one looks like it could be good. For one, it’s made by Arc System Works, the Japanese brains behind superb fighting games Guilty Gear and BlazBlue and the original Double Dragon that came out in 1988.

Arc System Works put out the video, below, which shows off gameplay from Double Dragon 4. There’s a duel mode where you fight against another player, a tower mode where you keep fighting and climbing until you die, and of course a story mode. There are loads of characters to unlock and the visuals look suitably retro-tastic. Double Dragon 4 looks like a lot of fun!