Out of all the classic game compilations available on the Nintendo Switch, the Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun: Retro Brawler Bundle may very well be the most bizarre entry yet. While many will already be familiar with the headliners of the package such as River City Ransom and the Double Dragon series, most will probably not have a clue about Technōs Japan’s more native releases to grace the Famicom throughout the ’80s to early ’90s.
Despite being self-proclaimed as a “Brawler Bundle” the majority of games included happen to be sports sims in one form or another. However, these P.E. past times aren’t exactly what they appear to be if you consider that in pretty much all of them you have the freedom to beat up your opponents into submission.
There is a sort of logical explanation for all of the violence though, especially if you take into account that most of the games relate to the downtown River City world of pent-up hormonal high school kids with egos bigger than their distinctive chibi heads. Not only that, the star of the show happens to be Technōs Japan’s angry little delinquent mascot Kunio, who started life brawling his way through 1986 beat-em-up, Renegade (or Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-Kun).
Since then, Kunio has tried his hand at soccer, ice hockey, basketball and a variety of odd track and field events, as well as teaming up with his sworn rival from Renegade in Downtown Nekketsu Story (otherwise known as River City Ransom). If you’re over 30 and from the West, you may even have played one of the more well-known Kunio-Kun sports titles released under the name Nintendo World Cup – known in this collection as Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club: Soccer Story.
There are 11 separate games from the Japanese Kunio-Kun catalogue to choose from, as well as the first three Double Dragon NES games and the heavily-Americanised variants of Renegade, River City Ransom, Super Dodge Ball & Crash’n the Boys Street Challenge – taking the collection to 18 games in total. Each game is presented nicely across a scrolling interface that looks to be very much influenced by the NES Classic Mini with NES-style multiple save-state slots to carry on where you left off.
The more welcome addition is the optional higher quality setting available for many of the titles to reduce most of the bugs and flickering found in the original code. Also, pressing the X Button when highlighting a game provides a short plot synopsis to give the player some insight about how most of the included content relates to each other. It’s a nice little touch, although it would have been far better to see some written history and even an art gallery added to educate the player about both the Double Dragon series and Kunio-Kun in general.
What is very interesting though, is how all the Japanese versions of the Kunio-Kun games have been painstakingly translated into English for the first time ever. While none on the list are particularly rich in narrative, it’s still fantastic to see how the translation has been graphically entwined seamlessly without breaking the illusion of the primary source. Another cool feature is that all the titles that support multiplayer can be played online. Sure, the netcode is sketchy and incredibly basic at best, not to mention finding strangers to play with can be quite difficult due to the collection’s obscurity. Still, it’s a noteworthy addition none-the-less, especially considering every game in the collection does contain a strong multiplayer focus to them.
As for the games themselves, they are clunky, dated yet incredibly fun and charming in their own surly way. Many games in the bundle actually remind me of my own high school pastime where the schoolyard game Kick the Can would mean that whoever gets a crushed fizzy drink can kicked between the space of their legs would receive a beating from all the other participating players involved.
Kunio-Kun’s Nekketsu Soccer League is a great example of one of those somewhat fond, often traumatic memories. It’s a sequel that improves upon its Nintendo World Cup predecessor with a few added moves and tricks, and in the same way, completely ignores everything else outside the basic confines of football. There are no red or yellow cards as fouling is encouraged, no off-side rule and no ref to keep a clean eye on things. The only element that separates it from playground football, is that there are no blazers and bags screwed up on the floor acting as goalposts.
Nekketsu! Street Basketball All-Out Dunk Heroes on the other hand, not only tears up the rulebook but also throws two extra basketball nets and a few blunt weapons in for good measure. The result has to be one of the most hilarious and dysfunctional multiplayer games I’ve played in a long time. While the soccer and ice hockey games do at least have some structure that resembles their roots, All-Out Dunk Heroes often just turns into a mental scrap with seemingly random and crazy nonsense happening in between. Even the plot of how Kunio winds up competing in a basketball tournament is hilarious. Simple, intentional comedy brimming on the edge of genius!
As for the more fisticuff-focused offerings available, Double Dragon barely needs an introduction other than it became the blueprint for the likes of Final Fight and the other scrolling beat-em-ups that followed suit. Downtown Special Kunio-Kun’s Historical Period Drama! Is pretty much River City Ransom set in the Edo period of Japan, and Nekketsu Fighting Legend is an arena fighter that could easily be seen as a precursor to future wrestling games or even Capcom’s lost classic Power Stone, with its freedom of movement combined with environmental hazards to stir things up a bit.
Tucked away behind the carousel of games are some rather cool little options to play around with. For starters, there’s the ability to completely fine-tune CRT scan lines much more intricately than the usual on/off switch found in most other classic collections. Changing the background wallpapers are specifically tailored for each game, and a slightly more in-depth freedom to adjust sound options, including reverb for those who have a particular taste for that sort of thing. Controls are fully customisable, and up to four players can jump in across many of the games available. Considering that the NES only had two controller ports back in the day, the nature of the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con certainly makes for a practical and convenient solution to get a party of players involved.
However, the biggest question I constantly had riding in the back of my mind was whether or not Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun: Retro Brawler Bundle is worth the asking price on the Nintendo eShop? After all, at least four of the games on the list can already be found on the NES online app if you happen to have a subscription. In many ways, I would still like to say it is definitely worth the investment. Especially if you appreciate the work that has gone into the western localization, higher quality integration and if you’re passionate about collecting gaming history.
Yet when compared to Digital Eclipse’s effort in going that extra mile with the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, it’s still hard not to expect more when such a high bar has been raised. It is worth knowing that the games in the Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun: Retro Brawler Bundle are restricted to NES and Famicom ports, despite the fact that arcade and Game Boy variants saw releases within the same time period. Hopefully, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the Kunio-Kun series, so therefore, maybe we’ll see Arc Systems Works touch on these aspects or maybe even delve into Technōs Japan’s 16-bit library in the future.
There is a lot to love about Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun: Retro Brawler Bundle, whether it be the silly expression on a player’s face after getting the wind knocked out of them with a soccer ball or launching a panel from a broken hurdle at a rival during a foot race in Downtown Nekketsu March Super-Awesome Field Day! There’s just something special about the oddities of what’s included that can often seem dated, yet somewhat ahead of their time as the barriers of logic get kicked towards an insane level of absurdity. I was always fond of Double Dragon and Nintendo World Cup as a kid. To be able to discover even more of these lost classics from Technōs Japan with my teenage son as we both crease up with uncontrollable laughter is a perfect example of why treasures such as these are certainly still relevant today.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Arc System Works