It’s hard to think of a bad game having any kind of influence on future titles in a genre, but Technos’ Renegade did just that. I didn’t like this game in the arcade and that opinion hasn’t changed. Yet it also paved the way for future brawlers like Capcom’s Final Fight, Technos’ next game, Double Dragon, and scores of others with the ground it broke and which its successors arguably handled far better.
But Renegade didn’t start off as an urban slug fest versus gangers. It was previously known as Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun or, according to this archived Nekketsu fan-site, “Hot-Blood Rowdie Kunio”, which came out in May, 1986, a few months before a remixed Renegade would arrive in the West.
In that game, players took on the role of Kunio, a student from Nekketsu High School who rushes off to avenge his buddy, Hiroshi, who is punched in the face at the start of every stage. Hiroshi apparently makes some interesting enemies that Kunio has to beat up going from high school bullies, bosozoku bikers, a giant schoolgirl, and finally, a yakuza boss with minions armed with icepicks that can instantly kill you.
Nekketsu’s stages were tiny — one big screen that players scrolled around while fighting multiple enemies — with the exception of the last stage which took place in a car lot before moving on to an indoor office. But it had a number of options that other games would later adopt, much like how the WASD configuration became the standard du-jour for QWERTY keyboards in FPS games on PCs.
Players could jump, punch, and kick faces, moves that became staples of most every beat ’em up. There were also multiple attack moves such as running attacks, sitting on enemies and punching them, knee attacks, and throws. They could also move the character in more than two directions (left or right) when it came to combat and enemies could take more than one hit to defeat. Cannon fodder thugs didn’t come with a life meter like the player’s, but the bosses did. It even had something of a “story” with a start (well, with Hiroshi getting beat down before every stage) and an ending with fellow students cheering Kunio’s victory.
If those instant death ice picks above weren’t enough of a hint, the game was also incredibly unforgiving. Enemies could use weapons (you can’t), there were no such things as health power ups, you only had one life, there’s no co-op, and attacks weren’t contextually based on which way you were facing. You had to use the appropriate buttons for left or right attacks. Given that the game was only four stages, it was kind of understandable why it was this tough much like how many arcade titles were in those days. They had to keep players feeding them somehow. At the same time, it could also be frustrating to the point where most might not even bother and move onto something else.
Renegade was the Westernized version of Nekketsu replacing schoolyard bullies with gang bangers and refacing stages such as turning the train station from the game into a graffiti-laden subway. It also replaced the school-themed revenge plot with the damsel-in-distress, urban blight battle trope that would be recycled in later titles like Technos’ Double Dragon and Capcom’s Final Fight. It was also about as brutal as the original.
Renegade was also ported to a wide variety of systems such as the Amiga and Apple II all the way up to consoles like the NES, Sega Master System, and Nintendo’s Virtual Console for the Wii and Wii U as a classic title.
While the game wasn’t that great, the basic design ideas behind it were (Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun was apparently a success in Japan) as jumps, kicks, punches, eight-way movement, multiple attacks, and bosses became the starting foundations for a score of beat ’em up titles afterward.
Technos also stuck with Kunio-kun through a series of games including the iconic classic, Nekketsu Monogatari, aka River City Ransom, arguably a brilliant console beat ’em up with none of the issues of its predecessor.
Technos would also polish their efforts through work on another iconic arcade game, Double Dragon in 1987, which took what Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun had started with and amped it into a co-op punch-fest helping set the stage for others like Capcom to rain down a string of innovative beat ’em ups from Final Fight to Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom in the following years.
Unfortunately, Technos is no more having gone bankrupt in 1996 with its IP bought out by a company named Million, also in Japan. But the legacy Renegade left behind continues to live on whether it’s with fan-made dedications such as the Streets of Rage Remake to 2012’s Double Dragon Neon for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Not bad for a game whose pieces turned out to be much more fun than its gameplay.