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Kunio-kun

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by Kurt Kalata and Saikak - last updated 2008

Kunio is a hot blooded high school delinquent, the kind who gets mixed up with biker gangs and beats up any number of people at a moment's notice. He first starred in Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun, one of the first belt-scrolling beat-'em-ups in existence, which became known as Renegade in the West. Although it wasn't a terribly good game, Kunio and his pals starred in numerous sequels and spinoffs afterwards, essentially becoming mascots for their creator, Technos Japan. Some continued the beat-'em-up lineage, including River City Ransom, a cult favorite for the NES, while others head into a more extreme version of sports tournament games similar to Track and Field, where you not only score points, but beat the ever-loving hell out of your opponents. The most popular of these is the ridiculous Super Dodge Ball, although others like Nintendo World Cup soon followed. They were also some of the first party games on the NES, taking advantage of Nintendo's otherwise-poorly supported four-player adapter. The series shares some close links with Double Dragon, Technos' other beat-'em-up series, which is more well known in the West.

The series is largely known for its distinctive pudgy-looking, super deformed characters, although their look didn't become standardized until the first Dodgeball title. It's amusing how cute the little bastards are, especially when you watch them wail on each other and observe their exaggerated facial expressions as they take ridiculous amounts of punishment, whether it be a punch to the face, a wallop with a dodge ball or a prolonged encounter with an electric fence.

As the premise goes, Kunio is a student in Nekketsu High School ("Nekketsu" meaning "hot blooded", a word associated with overtly violent kids in these type of manga. The "kun" is an honorific attached to people's names that is usually used to denote boys in school, although it has other uses.) His partner in crime is Riki, another troublesome, athletic badass, who was originally the first boss in Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun/Renegade. Together with the other students at Nekketsu High, they travel around and fight rivals in other schools and around the world. There are over twenty games in the Kunio series, most of them released on the Famicom, and a handful for the Super Famicom and PC Engine.

Nekketsu Kakutō Densetsu (Famicom)


Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun (熱血硬派くにおくん) / Renegade - Arcade, NES, Master System, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST, PlayStation 2, Wii, WiiU, 3DS (1986)

Japanese Arcade Flyer

American Arcade Flyer

American NES Cover

American Master System Cover

European Amstrad CPC Cover

In many ways, Rengade is somewhat of a historical landmark - created by Technos Japan as Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun ("Hot Blooded Punk Kunio") - it was the precursor of the "belt scrolling" beat-'em-up genre, which spawned classics such as Double Dragon, Final Fight, and Streets of Rage.

The levels are simply small arenas, usually no more than two or three screen lengths in size. You begin surrounded by enemies - once you defeat enough, their boss jumps out of the sidelines and begins to fight alongside them. Defeat the boss and you're on to the next stage.

The game might have invented a whole new genre, but it's really not very good. It runs at half the frame rate of a normal arcade game, the animation is choppy, and controls are sluggish. It uses the same control scheme that was later adopted in Double Dragon II - one button attacks to the left side, the other to the right. When attacking in the direction you're facing, Kunio begins a volley of punches, but if he attack in the opposite direction, he executes a backwards kick. There's a third button to jump, and Kunio can run by double tapping the joystick. Enemies are stunned when hit, but usually only for a split second, and more often than not they'll simply counterattack, leaving you to exchange blows until one of you goes down. Since you always have to deal with numerous foes at once, trying to single out enemies is really the only way to win. Enemies can grab Kunio from behind, although he can still kick anybody else that comes near, and it's possible to wiggle free with the joystick. The AI is almost too good at dodging punches, as they'll back off as soon as you begin attacking, but they're also relentless when swarming in numbers. Some enemies have weapons too, which can be picked up when they drop them. It's a remarkably difficult game, especially since you only have a single life, no ability to continue and no health restoratives.

In Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun, everyone wears Japanese school outfits, but these duds were changed completely when the game came to America. Some of the backgrounds were transformed as well, to make it seem less foreign to Americans - the train station in the first level in particular looks completely different. The altered look of the game seems inspired by the 1970s cult classic movie, The Warriors (which was converted into a video game in 2005 by Rockstar) and has been said to inspired the graphic design of Double Dragon. The American version also ditches all of the cutscenes (the original showed a scene of Kunio's friend getting the snot kicked out of him, setting up the plot for revenge) and excised Kunio's name from the lifebar, so you just play a nameless hero. Similarly, all of the bosses are named in the Japanese version, wherein in Renegade, each one is simply known as "Boss". The first stage has you fighting punks in a subway, while later stages put you up against a motorcycle gang and a squad of female ruffians, led by a terrifying hulk of a woman.

The game was also ported to the NES, with some extended levels - the first stage, instead of just taking place on a platform, takes you into the train and to another part of the stage before fighting a boss. The American version here dubs the main character "Mr. K". Still, the action is even worse than the arcade version - the controls are stiffer, and even though there are less enemies at once, they're still vicious. It was also ported to the Sega Master System by Natsume, which plays a bit better than the NES version. It has a unique graphical style that seems a bit closer to Double Dragon. There are also numerous computer ports, to the Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and IBM PC. Most of these are pretty bad, although at least the Amiga and Atari ST versions come close to looking like the arcade game.

Several sequels, such as Target: Renegade, and Renegade III showed up on different platforms, such as the NES and various computers like the Amstrad CPC and the Spectrum ZX, although they were produced by the European publisher and none of them are actually related to the Kunio games. The game was also released for the PlayStation 2 in 2005 under the Oretachi Game Center series from a budget company called Hamster. It's pretty much just a straight emulated port, although it includes extras like a music CD and superplay DVD.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Publisher:

Director:

  • Yoshihisa Kishimoto

Genre:

Themes:


Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun (Arcade)

Renegade (Arcade)

Renegade (Arcade)

Renegade (NES)


Comparison Screenshots: Regional Differences


Comparison Screenshots: Ports


Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari (ダウンタウン熱血物語) / River City Ransom / Street Gangs - NES, PC Engine CD, X68000, Game Boy Advance, Wii, 3DS (1989)

Japanese Famicom Cover

Japanese Game Boy Advance Cover

American NES Cover

Amercian Game Boy Advance Cover

European NES Cover

Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari (known as River City Ransom in the West), the third Kunio game to hit America (following Super Dodge Ball), merges the usual stroll-n'-punch formula with a stat-building RPG system to create one of the most popular cult classic hits on the NES. The story is simple - a rival school has kidnapped Kunio (who is renamed Alex)'s girlfriend, and it's up to him and his pal Riki (or Ryan) to prowl the streets to find them. The controls are similar to Double Dragon, although you still have the ability from Renegade to run by double tapping. There's also quite a bit more versatility - you can pick up fallen bad guys and use them as weapons, or bounce off walls with a jump kick, or even carry your partner, flinging them foot-first into hordes of rival gangs. Unlike most beat-'em-ups, River City Ransom isn't shy about handing out weapons, which range from brass knuckles to bats to trash cans.

Every time you defeat bad guys, they leave a bit of cash, which can be used at the few shopping districts in the game. Food not only replenishes your health, but it also increase your strengths in different areas, including attack power, defense, speed, and max life. There are also techniques to buy, like rapid fire punch/kick attacks and acrobatic spin moves. While the game world is fairly small and mostly linear, there are some times where you need to backtrack or kill certain enemies in order for the story to progress. It can get a little confusing if you don't listen to what the bad guys say, or don't realize that hitting an enemy into a pit isn't a legitimate way to defeat them (they disappear but simply respawn when you enter the area again) but once you know your way around, it's no big deal. It's also a fairly short game, but the amount of time to properly build a decent character makes it far longer than the average beat-'em-up. Amusingly, in one of the last battles you face the Dragon Twins, during which the theme song from Double Dragon plays. These guys aren't the same Billy and Jimmy as in Technos' other series, but it's a cool reference. There's a password system, but it only saves your characters statistics - you need to start from the beginning every time you play.

There were plenty of changes when Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari was brought to America and Europe, the most prominent being the redesigns of the character sprites. They ditched the Japanese uniforms and replaced them with a standard white t-shirt and jeans ensemble. Some of the backgrounds were changed to make more sense to Western gamers, changing typical Japanese mailboxes to American ones, for example. All of the names have been altered and given suitable English equivalents. Despite the changes, River City Ransom is actually a fairly decent localization, with bits of humor. (Some bad guys simply yell "BARF" when they are slain.) In Europe, however, the title River City Ransom was somehow deemed inappropriate, and the game was renamed to Street Gangs.

Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari also got a port to the PC Engine CD by Naxat, complete with a CD soundtrack and speech for the shopkeepers and certain story segments. The graphics have also been given a slight touch-up. Technos also released a version of the X68000 home computer, although the graphics are pretty much the same as the Famicom version. The X68000 game also includes a bit of speech (including death screams), and character portraits in the story scenes, as well as a greatly expanded world with a less linear layout. Almost all of the areas that were dead ends in the other versions now lead to completely different areas. You can now go inside the other high schools (not just the final one) and you need to kill bosses in there before you can progress. There are additional stores and items as well. Unfortunately, the repetetive backgrounds makes navigation incredibly confusing.

In 2004, a Game Boy Advance version was made, and given an oddly terrible fan art-ish cover for the American release by Atlus. While the names of most of the characters are the same as the NES version, all of the sprites and backgrounds remain unaltered from the Japanese original. However, the translators clearly had a sense of humor - bad guys with rapper ripoff names like "6Paq" and "Fiddy" exclaim things like "BIZArf!" when they're killed, and taunt you with cries of "Welcome to the RC!" (most definitely a sly allusion to the Fox soap-drama The OC.) There's a gang named The Gamers, who have names taken from various Atlus games (like Sudou from Persona 2, Meis from Thousand Arms, and even the original names of Kunio and Riki.) The backgrounds have been made to look a little more realistic and less cartoony, although the characters look about the same as they used to. The gameplay has improved a bit, offering more moves and much smoother fighting, and there's none of the slowdown and flicker from the NES game. While you can choose to have your pal Ryan fight by your side as a computer controlled companion, you meet a few characters who join you if you let them. Unfortunately, there's no two player mode, so this is the closest thing you can get to fighting with a partner. Annoyingly, there is still a large black bar on the bottom of the screen, making the viewable area even smaller on the portable screen. And saving the game still only saves stats, but not your location. The game still holds up very well, and there are enough enhancements to make the GBA port worth playing even for those who're already familiar with the NES game.


River City Ransom (NES)

Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari (PC Engine CD)

Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari (PC Engine CD)


Game Boy Advance Screenshots


Comparison Screenshots


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Other Beat-'em-ups

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Dodgeball

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