Hamster is really spoiling us with this port, because unlike the PS4 version, this Switch offering manages to include both the original Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun Japanese release and the reskinned, The Warriors-inspired western localisation known as Renegade. While both games play essentially the same, it's nice to have the choice between either iteration of the classic brawler.
When it comes to actual plot, only Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun will be of help. As soon as the game starts, a cutscene shows main hero Kunio coming to the aid of a friend getting pummelled by Hanazono High School students at the Nekketsu High School front gates. True to his hot-blooded nature, Kunio gives chase and finds himself alone at the Shinjuku subway station facing the entire gang, including their leader - and Kunio’s eternal rival - Riki Samejima. If you manage to come out on top, said friend gets pummelled again, so you'll need to head out beat up gang-upon-gang of wannabe badasses.
However, the western version is a little bit different. In Renegade, you play as Mister K, and instead of a school uniform, you sport some leather attire. There are no cutscenes and the bosses have no names. What it loses in personality it somewhat makes up for the dystopic, gang-controlled urban setting. So it's the same game, but with two very different flavours. While most will probably have fond nostalgic memories of this version, we can’t help but feel like we're playing the lesser version of the game.
Controls use the familiar Double Dragon scheme and, as such, will probably take you a bit before they become second nature. ‘Y’ strikes to the left, ‘B’ jumps and ‘A’ strikes to the right. Considering this was one of the first games in the genre there are actually quite a lot of moves Kunio/Mister K can perform: striking in the direction you are facing will unleash a series of chained punches. Connect a few of these and they will induce a stunned state on enemies.
You can then either keep pummelling them to the ground or move up to them and grab them by the collar and chose two types of punishment: hitting in their direction will perform up to three knee strikes while hitting away will perform a pleasing and useful crowd-controlling overhead throw. Once on the floor, you can move to your foe, hit down on their chest to assume a mount position. Hitting toward will deliver a series of fatal head punches. Hitting jump and one of the attack buttons will deliver a standing jump kick to either direction. In short - there's a rewarding amount of depth to your moveset.
Mastering all these moves, crowd-controlling the rival gangs and baiting the bosses is the way to succeed in this game, and while newcomers will truly feel the odds stacked unfairly against them, once everything clicks you can do the main game loop in a very satisfying 15 minutes. Unlike future entries in the genre, there is no way to recover energy from food on the ground and you can't pick up weapons dropped by fallen foes. If you want to catch a break, tweak around the excellent Hamster emulation wrapper to change the number of lives to two, get an extra life at 30k points and even drop the difficulty to easy if you find yourself stuck on the first level. No shame there: this game is as hardcore as they come.
Graphics are certainly lovely by 1986 standards: chunky, well-animated sprites run around knocking heads in some lovely iconic scenery. Each level is two or three screens long, with level one and level two featuring lethal falls off the right and left side of the screen that you should use and abuse to dispatch enemies (while trying not to fall in yourself). Sound effects are also pleasing and the occasional speech samples add some personality to the game’s four bosses.
If you're fluent in Japanese, you will notice that the coarse language has been toned down in the English version, which is understandable. Hamster’s usual addition of online leaderboards - as well as Hi-score chase and Caravan modes - will help you get the most out of this single-player experience.
Renegade/Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun represents a lovely and important piece of forgotten video game history. For the hardcore fans that were raised on it, or simply as a curio for a new generation of gamers looking to find out on how the scrolling beat-'em-up began, this is still a recommended if not essential purchase. There are certainly better options of the genre on the Switch already, but none of them might have even existed if Kunio didn't have such a short temper in 1986…