Back in the far-flung past of 1986, a little arcade action game called Renegade arrived on the scene. The side-scrolling action game followed a low-level street thug as he got into a row with the rival gangs responsible for kidnapping his girlfriend. The game had sharp action and snappy controls that went on to inspire a pair of long-running, incredibly influential beat-em-up series – Double Dragon and Kunio-kun. While the two series share a fair amount of Renegade DNA, only Double Dragon made a name for itself in the West.
As the Famicom and NES were flooded with a variety of entries in the Kunio-kun series, a mere handful of them ever managed to make their way overseas. The few that did often found themselves released under brand new names like River City Ransom and Super Dodge Ball. With the release of the Double Dragon & Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle, though, Arc System Works are setting out to immortalise that iconic Japanese action franchise in English for the first time ever. And while the effort is impressive and rarely matched by other developers, it’s hard to say if this collection of brawlers can appeal to anyone who isn’t already vividly aware of the series.
For starters, the lineup of games included in Double Dragon & Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle is likely to be a bit puzzling to any first-time enthusiasts who dive into the collection. While 18 separate titles are available to select and play in the gorgeous, SNES Mini-inspired main menu, these aren’t 18 entirely unique video games. A handful of the games in this list consist of both the original Japanese versions and the re-titled American versions, with the only differences between them being logos and Westernised art or character names. It’s interesting from a historical standpoint to be able to compare these games to each other, but the total count of entirely original games on offer in this collection is closer to 12.
For many of those games, this is the first time they’re officially playable outside of Japan. In an incredibly surprising move, Arc System Works has actually gone back and produced full English localisations for all 11 Kunio-kun games featured in this release that were previously only available in Japanese. Some of these titles are sports-focused spinoffs that don’t have much in the way of story or complicated language barriers, but a handful of the Kunio-kun games benefit tremendously from being translated for the first time ever. It’s a stellar effort that really makes the collection something special for hardcore fans of the franchise.
Diving into each of these games, you quickly realize that only a handful of them are hot-blooded and lengthy beat-em-up adventures in the vein of Double Dragon and River City Ransom. Most of the titles in the Kunio-kun collection apply those same controls to a wonky soccer video game or obstacle course competition. They’re cute distractions, but not well-aged distractions. Considering the two most replayable entries in this collection, Double Dragon and River City Ransom, are already available for free to Nintendo Online subscribers, the games on offer here don’t offer a huge amount of playability by themselves.
Thankfully, the in-game Achievement system helps remedy the lack of replayability many of these titles have. A series of 55 achievements are included in Double Dragon & Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle that task you with completing specific challenges and milestones in each of the available games. I didn’t feel much of an urge to play a whole lot of Super Dodge Ball, but tackling the challenge to reach the bonus stage within 15 minutes got my palms-sweating. These achievements also unlock in-game avatars and profile titles you can equip to show off in the Online Play mode. Every title included in the collection can be played co-operatively or competitively online, so having all of these profile customisation options available to unlock gives another great reason to stick with the games a little longer.
In terms of technical qualities and enhancements, Double Dragon & Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle is full of them. You’ve got a variety of resolutions to run each game at, multiple screen borders, numerous audio settings, and fully remappable controls. A number of games in the collection even include an alternative Quality Up edition of the game that features lag fixes and balance adjustments to help make the more aggravating encounters in each game a little less punishing. It’s a shame, though, that other versions of these titles besides the Famicom and NES editions aren’t available to play. A lack of any kind of gallery, museum or sound-test mode is also sorely missed.