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Double Dragon & Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Arc System Works
Developer: Arc System Works
Release Date: Feb. 20, 2020


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Switch Review - 'Double Dragon & Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle'

by Cody Medellin on April 30, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Double Dragon & Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle consists of 18 Double Dragon and Kunio-kun vintage games from the '80s and '90s.

Retro compilations are largely dependent on the quality of the emulation and the quality of the games themselves. Great emulation doesn't mean much if the games aren't fun, and absolute classics can be ruined by a subpar emulation job. One aspect that not many people pay attention to is whether the compilation itself has any nostalgic value to begin with. Some may look to these releases as a cheap and legal means of exploring new titles from the past, but others are picking up these collections to explore their favorite old games in a more convenient way. Double Dragon and Kunio-Kun: Retro Brawler Bundle is more dependent on the former type of player instead of the latter, especially since around half of these games never saw a release outside of Japan.

The compilation features 18 NES and Famicom titles, but the game selection menu is essentially the same one used for the NES Classic. It even features the same four save slots per game, so those who grabbed that mini console a few years back will find this to be a very familiar interface. Those with the NES controllers for the Switch will find this compilation to be perfect for that hardware, but others may want to use something with more buttons, especially since the game features the ability to hit both the NES B and A buttons with one button press. When you consider how every game assigned that combo for jumping and jump attacks, that feature is a godsend for those who don't want a completely classic experience.

Three of the titles in this compilation are the trilogy of Double Dragon games, and fans will know that the NES incarnations weren't the same as the trio of arcade hits. The biggest departure from the arcade source is the first game, which may feature the same levels and moves but is otherwise a completely different experience. For starters, the game is a solo experience instead of a co-op one, with the only two-player feature being a versus mode. The other big change is that this is a pseudo-RPG where every hit you land yields XP, and leveling up unlocks a few new moves. The opening levels have you dishing out standard punches and kicks, but later ones see you using elbow attacks, grabs, jump kicks, and knee hits, to name a few. Considering how often the arcade version has been released on modern platforms, it's a pleasant surprise to see the NES iteration. As for the two other titles, Double Dragon II is considered to be the best of the bunch, even though you need to beat the game at the highest difficulty to see the ending. The third game is fine, except for the beefed-up difficulty and only one life that makes it near-impossible to beat.

From here, the four other North American games are part of the Kunio-Kun line, but the North American names and changes would erase those links for those outside of Japan. Renegade is probably the roughest of the games here, as it goes for battles in one room instead of the genre's standard scroll-fest. While not the greatest of titles in the compilation, it introduces a few novel things. First, it has a directional combat system that precedes Double Dragon II by a few years. This means that your B button is a left-side attack and the A button is a right-side attack, so depending on where you're facing, you're either executing a punch or a back-kick. Second, your fighter has a ton of moves at his disposal. At any point, you can dash toward a wall and bounce off it for a jump-kick. You can also pull in enemies for knees, kick enemies in front of you, or pin enemies for a pummeling. There's a deep move set, and while they sound great on paper, the execution isn't good enough to play for extended periods of time.

Super Dodge Ball marks a departure from the slew of beat-'em-ups, since it's a simple but beloved take on the playground sport of dodgeball. Despite the time that has passed, the game is wildly fun once you understand the strategies to knock out opponents. Meanwhile, Crash 'n The Boys: Street Challenge is essentially a small collection of Olympics-style events where you can attack opponents while you're competing.

Then there's River City Ransom, a game that some would say is a transformative work of the genre. The whole thing takes place in an open world reminiscent of Metroid in that every place is open to you, but you'll constantly need to go back and forth to knock out the bosses to progress. Coins you grab from fallen enemies have a purpose, since you'll use them in towns to level up and gain new moves, like a rapid-fire kick or punch. Going to shops is also the only way to refill your health, but you have unlimited lives and a password system to save it all. Of all of the games in the package, this is a classic.

The 11 other games in the collection are from the Kunio-Kun series of Famicom titles and, as noted in the four North American titles in the series, you're either getting a brawler or a sports title that would be right at home with the Midway line of sports games. What's amazing is that Arc System Works didn't dump the roms into the compilation but gave every single one of these titles an English translation. When you consider how some titles are very text-heavy, this change is both surprising and appreciated. Some of the releases have included the option to increase the quality on the titles, so flicker and slowdown are absent, but purists can still activate the original versions with those technical limitations.

Four of these titles (Downtown Nekketsu Story, Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club, Nekketsu Renegade Kunio-kun and Surprise! Nekketsu New Records! The Distant Gold Medal) can be considered duplicates since the North American versions are already in this collection (River City Ransom, Super Dodge Ball, Renegade, and Crash 'n The Boys: Street Challenge, respectively). For the most part, the differences are largely superficial, with names and minor graphical touches. For those who are more interested in lore, this is where the changes become valuable, as you have something loose tying everything together or, in the case of Nekketsu Renegade Kunio-kun, an actual ending compared to the North American version.

Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club Soccer Story was actually released as Nintendo World Cup in North America, and it plays unlike any other soccer game of the time period. Aside from the usual routine of picking teams and players per position, you don't actually control the whole team. Instead, you control the team captain as you bark out orders for your teammates to pass the ball, shoot, or tackle an opponent. The game controls as expected when you get the ball, but otherwise, you're looking at a more strategic sports game that requires you to think more than act in order to win.

The remaining six titles are charming in their own way. Kunio-kun's Nekketsu Soccer League is the sequel to Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club Soccer Story, and it's been tweaked for better control over the team via commands. The weather now affects your play, so benign things like wind may make you run down the pitch slower, but tornadoes blow you off the field for significantly longer periods of time. Downtown Nekketsu March Super-Awesome Field Day, on the other hand, acts as the prequel to Surprise! Nekketsu New Records! The Distant Gold Medal. Its inclusion is more of a formality, since it has fewer events than its sequel, but it remains amusing and odd.

Downtown Special Kunio-Kun's Historical Period Drama is perhaps the one title from the batch that most players will be interested in, since it acts as an indirect prequel to Downtown Nekketsu Story. The most succinct way to describe it is River City Ransom in the feudal Japan era. It's more text-heavy and has some brief loading screens, but the basic gameplay is the same. You'll traverse several areas, beating up enemies and using Yen to buy more moves and abilities. You're still doing co-op when playing solo due to the eternal presence of an AI partner. He's competent enough to take care of himself, and thanks to the lack of a permanent death system, there's no need to babysit him in case he gets into trouble. In short, this is more of a helpful than harmful feature, and it'll be appreciated by players who can't get a friend to join.

Go-Go! Nekketsu Hockey Club Slip-and-Slide Madness and Nekketsu! Street Basketball All-Out Dunk Heroes are the sports games that play out very similarly to arcade sports titles like 3 on 3 NHL Open Ice Challenge or NBA Jam, respectively. The premise is similar to the soccer games: You're only controlling one character but, since your teams are smaller in numbers, it's much easier to manage your teammates. The games also let you punch the crap out of anyone when you're on defense, and while hockey is played out in a straightforward manner, basketball is ridiculous since you can steal the opposing hoop or have areas where three hoops are stacked above one another. While both games are fun, hockey is more enjoyable, since it is much easier to determine where your shot is going compared to basketball, whose viewpoint isn't great for determining angles and such.

Finally, there's Nekketsu Fighting Legend, which is a big departure from the rest of the package, since it's a fighting game for up to four players. Keep in mind that while this was released after Street Fighter II in the arcades, it didn't pick up on those elements, like characters having special moves of their own or fighting in a strict 2D plane. Thus, this plays more like the versus mode in some beat-'em-ups, so it can feel a bit lacking. This title is still worthy of a few bouts due to the fun team-based fighting and the presence of special environments, like electrified walls.

Although all of the games were made for the NES/Famicom era, the compilation supports online play for all included titles. The extra flourish is that you can give yourself a title and change your profile picture based on the character sprites from every game. That's nice, but we weren't able to check out how online play performs because there's no one online playing the game. It's a shame considering how most of these games were built with two- and four-player modes in mind, but that doesn't detract from the overall package too much.

Overall, Double Dragon and Kunio-Kun: Retro Brawler Bundle is a very good compilation. The games are classics, with enough oddball gems to intrigue anyone looking for the oddities in the Famicom lineup. A majority of the games here are translated Japanese titles, so much of this content will be new to most players. The upgrades in quality mean that you're ultimately getting a better version compared to a straight rom dump. These are still difficult games, and the lack of extras feels like a missed opportunity, but this is a great title to add to any retro fan's library.

Score: 8.0/10

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