People forget that Renegade
was actually the first of the Nekketsu / Kunio games, because it was so different artistically and tonally. The chubby litte chibi sprites, high school sports themes, bouncy music and BARFing wouldn't come in until the series hit the NES with River City Ransom and Super Dodgeball. It started out as a more standard arcade beat-em-up with larger and more realistic sprites. And the US release added to the confusion by skinning it with a grittier, Warriors-like
Technos didn't bother bringing any more of this branch of the series over to Western shores, nor did it ever get another arcade release, but it did get two direct follow-ups on the Super Famicom. This one is the second of those, so you could think of it as Renegade 3 if you like. It's actually the most direct spiritual follow-up though, as it excises the River City Ransom-like statistics and non-linear areas of the previous Super Fami game. The linear brawling and darker overall tone put this more in line with the original arcade release.
An opening cinematic shows us Riki and Kunio apparently running down some salaryman in a crosswalk. However, like the beginning of Ninja Gaiden 3, it turns out it's evil dopplegangers at work. The real Riki and Kunio get picked up and thrown in jail, however. You'll have to bust out, then spend the game in a linear series of fairly typical brawler levels gradually tracking down the mastermind.
This also ended up being the last beat-em-up created by the original Technos before they were shuttered (and reformed as Million), so it's weird that the engine just feels like a more primitive version of Super Double Dragon
. Instead of the fun move where you block and catch an opponent's swing, you just kinda turtle and bounce backwards when hit, making blocking strategically useless in most situations. There are also less moves overall. There are more nifty sequences involving the environment, but they don't really help what is a slow-paced and repetitive grind most of the time.
As you progress through the levels, you'll gradually pick up Riki and Kunio's girlfriends as playable characters, giving you a team of four you can swap in at will a la Double Dragon 3
. If any one of them has their health fully depleted, however, it's game over. The girls are marginally useful as the game has some serious sexism going on with them; as soon as they are swapped in it seems to trigger the enemies and send them into Ultimate Gamergate Mode, where they get more aggro and interrupt your attacks much more easily and frequently. The girls also can't do the "ground and pound" move that makes it easy to polish off a goomba once he's knocked down, forcing them to knock each enemy down several times to bump them off.
Challenge is created by enemies just sorta randomly interrupting your attacks; it never feels like there's much cohesive strategy or rhythm to the fighting. The main dynamic is simply preserving your team's health to the end of each segment (since there are no health restore items save for a weirdly gratuitous roller coaster ride in the amusement park level), made tougher by the fact that the enemies can simply take priority over any of the girls' attacks at any time and swat them away at will.
Boss battles require you to suss out a specific strategy, but it's never a very complicated one and usually just involves exploiting the bosses dash or special attack. For example, the first really tough boss you face is the guy at the end of the amusement park, who punishes you with an instant and super-powerful spin kick whenever you get close. The answer to him turns out to be jump-kicking when he's running to knock him over, then stomping on him. Another tough boss later in the game is an oversized woman who seems to auto-counter any attack you throw at her with beefy damage; the only answer is waiting for her to dash, dodging then sneaking a few hits in while she's stunned. Basically, the "strategy" is just spamming one particular attack at one particular time, usually while they're running at you.
The actual brawling action isn't bad, though, just nothing particularly inspired. It's a fair challenge and would be a decent enough game if that was all there was to it. Unfortunately, Technos also saw fit to pepper in these Road Rash-like motorcycle levels here and there, which are unbearably sloppy and obnoxious. Kicking the enemies off their bikes without colliding is very finicky, any non-kick contact does chip damage to you but not them, allowing them to land even one kick does huge damage to you, and you can't switch characters during these sequences. Take three kicks or glance against a wall and you have to start the whole sequence over again.
The aesthetic is an odd mix of super-detailed backgrounds with great use of color, and constant generic body-swapped sprites given slightly different heads. Basically, great effort on the backdrops but seriously low effort on the characters. I guess the soundtrack is decent enough, though it's only been a day since I last played it and I can't remember anything from it at all other than that it used that distinctive heavy SNES string sample that Zelda 3 was so fond of.
The "murder mystery" approach is also an odd choice that doesn't play out entirely well. While the Kunio series has a ton of recurring characters, it doesn't exactly have deep lore or ongoing plotlines. Between that and the fact that these are inherently silly games where you know the stakes will never be more dire than someone getting beat up, it just doesn't make for any sort of compelling page-turning "whodunit" factor. Instead, it jams up a traditional beat-em-up with long dialogue sequences that aren't either interesting or funny, and that have to be repeated if you fail a segment and aren't using save states.
I think what they were going for here is a more technically precise beat-em-up meets absorbing murder mystery manga, but they didn't really get either element to come off all that well. It's a fairly solid brawler and would have otherwise merited 3*, but those needless crazy-making Road Rash levels are so bad an entire point needs to be taken off for them.