Thanks to ARC SYSTEM WORKS for the review code
Title: Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun: Retro Brawler Bundle
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 02/20/2020
In this compilation of over fifteen games from Technos’ NES library, you take control of Kunio and his friends, along with the Double Dragon duo Billy and Jimmy Lee as they go through many, many adventures from the past! Like most compilations I cover here, I’ll go over each game by itself, after covering features related to the collection as a whole.
The compilation itself has a fairly basic menu, with the game selection interface being an almost 1:1 clone of the Famicom Mini’s. Loading save states and sorting games even feels just like you would on the mini system, which doesn’t really bode well for this collection offering much unique over that design. That being said, there are still some cool quirks, such as the huge amount of visual options you can choose from, which far surpass the likes of the mini. You have a typical pixel perfect display, along with a 4:3 mode, but you can also choose options that zoom both of these styles in to better fill the screen, all without losing much in the way of detail.
Likewise, you can also make it 16:9 and even add scanlines of varying intensity, and as much as I’m not a fan of scanline filters in compilations like these, I will admit that the amount of options it gives you here is pretty cool, and turning the scanlines to their max level of intensity can actually do a decent enough job of being a good, nostalgic filter. You can even mess with the audio levels and balancing of the bass and such, copying the “fuzz echo” of CRTs pretty damn well. Combine that with three unique borders per game, and there’s a lot of good options to toy around with, meaning you’ll no doubt find a style that fits for you.
For 8-Bit Famicom/NES titles, these games all look as they typically should for games of their game. The earliest Kunio/Double Dragon games look very basic and in the case of stuff like Renegade and Double Dragon 1, absolutely hideous, with weird looking sprites that lack much needed detail to make them look remotely like their arcade counterparts. (As a result, those two early arcade ports do things unique to the home version to make up for this)
Thankfully with Super Dodge Ball onward the Kunio series adopts a consistent, chibi art style that looks really good, though the original Nekketsu game isn’t that bad looking either, sporting sprites which look way better than the US reskin. Each subsequent game looks relatively the same as a result of this, however, which can lead to fatigue setting in as even the games from 93 look like they could have come out in 1990 or 89. Double Dragon also gets a quality boost from the second game onward, with a much more detailed look that even surpass the look of the arcade sequels, which really just stuck to being dark and dreary looking for the heck of it. Of course, all of these games have memorable and catchy songs, with the Double Dragon Trilogy and a few of the Kunio games having some incredible compositions that’ll take a long time to leave your head.
Being a compilation, there’s some of the things you’d expect from rereleases like this, such as the aforementioned visual options and borders to choose from, alongside save state support. (even if again, the menu interface apes the Famicom Mini’s a bit too closely for comfort) Sadly, there’s little in terms of bonus content such as artwork and such, although you do get a game’s box art when reading its description. Oddly enough, since this is a localization of Kunio-Kun: The World Classics Collection, which was pretty much the same in all of these presentation aspects, I also expected to see the original NES/Famicom cartridges for each of the titles, since in that version they were presented alongside the boxes.
But in the Retro Brawler Bundle, you get a blank space where they used to be, so you sadly can’t admire the cartridges. Why they didn’t leave this available for at least the un-changed US NES titles is beyond me, but is a disappointing cut. That being said, you do have over 50 in-game achievements to obtain for the collection, with around three per game, including regional variants, and these are fun extra challenges for good replay value, such as buying all the items from the stores in River City Ransom without using passwords, or killing every enemy in Stages 1 and 2 of Renegade by throwing them off the stage into a pit. It’s a cool little thing to include in the switch version, especially due to the system’s baffling lack of an achievement system, so it’s great that Arc retained this bonus replay value here as well.
Also unique to the compilation are bonus “Quality Up” versions of most of the titles. Using the select button, you can switch between the original version and the new versions, and while most of these just eliminate all the slowdown and flicker that can take place in the games, (A gift from heaven for fans of Super Dodge Ball, which now runs absolutely perfect and better than it ever did on the NES) a few of these special editions go further by ROM hacking the original games to do a bunch of crazy things, from fixing notorious bugs, (Double Dragon on NES is no longer a buggy mess that may reset randomly on you, though it’s still an awful port) fixing typos, (the Bimmy/Jimmy typo in DDIII remains still, as does the completely inaccurate translation since all the Double Dragon titles use the NES versions) to even adding brand new items and features to games such as Downtown Special.
In fact, it even outright restores the four player support to the US version of Super Dodge Ball, while also allowing the player to play as the CPU teams for the Bean Ball mode, making these enhanced versions the definitive way to play any of these titles. I kinda wish they went further and tweaked the difficulty for a few games in particular, but overall these improvements are very welcome. Some games don’t have any changes whatsoever, such as Renegade or Crash and the Boys, but I never found either of those to need any tweaks to begin with.
The elephant in the room for this compilation, more specifically the western version of the Brawler Bundle being covered today, comes from the brand new translations for every Famicom title in the compilation. Yes, every single Famicom Kunio game is in full English now and that even includes ones that got a US release, and even the super text heavy Downtown Special. This means that you can play the original Nekketsu Kunio Kun with the ending intact, (Renegade just jumps to the credits the moment the final boss dies) you can play Downtown Nekketsu Story without the Alex and Ryan nonsense, and you can even play Kunio Dodgeball Soccer without the Nintendo World Cup edits! (Nintendo World Cup being absent due to the first word of that title)
For the most part the translations are very accurate, and playing them side by side with the US version shows a bunch of the differences and works as an amazing history piece for how much these games had to be tweaked to come out in the US, though there were a few times where I noticed an obvious word copied directly from the US version of the game, even if it wasn’t quite accurate. For example, Bean Ball is still what Club Activities is dubbed in the translation of Nekketsu Dodge Ball, while Sabu’s win quote in Nekketsu Kunio Kun is the exact same as his english line.
Still, these translations are a huge occasion for games such as these, since while fan translations exist for a lot of them, they don’t cover all the games, nor do they even go into as much depth as these official translations do. For some instances, even the easter eggs are in full english now, such as the hidden sound tests in most of the games, alongside little graphical effects such as Kunio’s speech bubble in Nekketsu Kunio Kun, the labels of the teams in the sporting games, and even the password systems to Downtown Nekketsu and Fighting Legend. The developers of this compilation have gone all the way, delivering a translation experience that I haven’t really seen in any other compilation of the sort. Maybe the one-off translations in things like the Castlevania or Mana Collections which translated one game, but even those are fairly recent, while here the games that came out in english have been retranslated for the heck of it, with barely a trace of Japanese left. (In fact, the original versions are nowhere in sight so if you want to enter that overpowered cheat in Downtown Special, you can’t until someone learns what the english variant of that is)
This leaves a huge precedent for other compilations to follow, since if we can get old famicom games like this, games that are notorious for breaking if text or code is altered incorrectly, then we could get access to so many other obscure gems. The Jajamaru RPGs in full english? How about Nintendo taking a shot with the old Fire Emblem titles, or Panel De Pon, or games like Marvelous: The New Treasure Island? Or even Sega with the Game Gear Shining Force trilogy, or dare I say, Shining Force III? There’s so much amazing potential that this compilation opens the door for, and I truly hope that this manages to motivate other publishers to go all the way with their compilations in similar ways, from enhancing the original game to outright translating or retranslating Japan only titles.
There’s even online multiplayer here, with custom lobbies and a bunch of unlockable avatars linked to achievements, but unfortunately, the game is not compatible with The World Classics Collection, and thus I wasn’t able to find an online match for testing due to the lack of anyone playing online. Still, the good news is that for local purposes, every single game that had four player support originally supports it now, even the hacked Super Dodge Ball, so you can go nuts in Bean Ball or bully people in Fighting Legend, and it’s a dream for some of the more intense multiplayer experiences such as Field Day and Dunk Heroes.
With all that praise for the collection’s bonuses out of the way, how are the actual games, good emulation aside? Well, here’s every last one of them, with my short thoughts for each. You should probably drink a soda while reading this.
Renegade: The US version of Nekketsu Kunio Kun. It reskins all of the assets to be more americanized, just like the Arcade game was, but they all look absolutely atrocious, with some ugly backgrounds, weird looking enemies, and poor color choices. The game is still surprisingly fun though, being the grandfather of the belt scroller genre as a whole, and can even be beaten in six minutes if you practice enough. In fact, the later difficulty levels not only increase the strength of the enemies, but completely change the final stage altogether, making the maze much more complicated with waves of boss enemies thrown your way in the hardest setting. Takes a bit of getting used to with using B to attack left and A to attack right, but if you do a running punch towards bosses and the weakest enemies, you can take them down insanely quick, even the final boss of the game isn’t immune to this.
Super Dodge Ball: The US version of Nekketsu Dodge Ball, this is a sports game where you play as the US Dodge Ball team and completely murder every other team in your path by throwing dodge balls at them. With a really fun set of mechanics and power shots at your disposal, this game is insanely fun, but was notorious for facing agonizing slowdown and flickering. Turn the quality up however, and that’s eliminated for a godlike multiplayer experience like no other. Arguably the best multiplayer game out of the entire collection, made even better with the quality of life tweaks seen here.
River City Ransom: The US version of Downtown Nekketsu Story, this is the most famous Kunio game of the entire compilation, and with good reason: It has great fighting mechanics, a non-linear world to explore, and RPG mechanics to mess with as you train your way up to taking back River City high. A phenominal Co-Op belt scroller, this is a fantastic sequel to Renegade, and stands toe to toe with the Double Dragon games.
Crash & The Boys: The Street Challenge: The US version of The Distant Gold Medal, this is a sporting game where you take part in multiple events to beat rival schools and become the best! The events here are decently fun, but not nearly as much as the first sporting game, Field Day, and the CPU in this game is just downright evil. A fun time with a friend or three, but as a solo experience, it’s fairly shallow and the americanization here shows that they planned to make this a series, to the point that the ending was cut and replaced by an ad for The Ice Challenge, a US version of Slip and Slide Madness that never came out. Thus, Crash lived only to enjoy sporting events.
Double Dragon: The megahit NES game, you take control of Billy Lee as he beats up thugs in order to save his girlfriend from a gunman named Willy, along with his own brother for whatever reason. The most famous game of the entire compilation period, and the main reason behind the game’s retitling, this is a port of the Arcade original, and was Technos’ second NES game overall. While Renegade was still good fun and made advantage of the limitations of the system, Double Dragon completely botches it in this regard, lacking the co-op mode of the arcade original, adding a pointless two player versus mode that tries to be a fighting game but doesn’t do a really good job since you can only play mirror matches, and expanding each of the stages with gimmicky portions that either works really well (Such as in the first and second stages), or that makes the stage drag on far too long with frustrating cheap spots. (Such as in the third and fourth stages) The new jump button exclusive to this compilation makes the platforming bits much easier, but it still is the weakest game of the entire compilation, quality wise.
Double Dragon II The Revenge: The sequel to the original game, lightly based off the Arcade sequel of the same name. While the Arcade sequel was little more than a reskin of the original game with a new control scheme, The Revenge on NES is the second best version of the game behind the PC Engine Super CD port. Going back to the control scheme from Renegade, Billy and Jimmy can now battle alongside each other as they work to avenge the death of Marian, now sporting some cool new moves like a spin kick and a knee jump. A very well balanced port that’s one of the best co-op brawlers on the entire system, and is still worth playing today, especially with the quality up version removing the flicker and minor slowdown at points. Sadly, this is the US version by Acclaim, (even though their name has been erased from this rerelease) which places silly limitations on the three difficulty options: Practice ends after Stage 3, Warrior ends on the Final Stage, and Supreme Master is the complete game, while in the Japanese version you can go on any difficulty and continue at any time you like, while here you must enter a complex code in order to continue at all. Still very fun and a must-play, but it’s a bummer the more balanced original version wasn’t an option here.
Double Dragon III The Sacred Stones: A port in name only of The Rosetta Stone, the Arcade sequel to II, Bimmy and Jimmy must go on a worldwide quest to find magic stones because an old lady told them to. Easily infamous for a variety of reasons, but the NES port manages to be far superior in almost every way save for the music, mainly since it gets rid of the microtransactions from the Arcade version and the strange, super realistic art style they tried going for. Instead you have a game that plays a lot like Double Dragon II, but with the controls of the original NES game restored and multiple playable characters to unlock. This should be fun, but unfortunately, the game is once again the US version, and here Acclaim messed with it more, making the game absurdly hard by making you take more damage and having less health to deal with, which combined with the one life per character in this game, makes this version beyond brutal to play, even compared to the hardest setting in The Revenge. Alongside that, the story is totally changed for no reason, now being about Marian getting kidnapped again and turned into a mummy that needs the sacred stones in order to break the curse, instead of being about Cleopatra’s treasure. Definitely the second weakest game in the compilation, but it at least still has co-op.
Nekketsu Kunio Kun: Japanese version of Renegade, and gameplay wise it’s exactly the same, just looking a lot better and having an actual ending.
Nekketsu High School Dodgeball: Japanese Version of Super Dodge Ball, and also the same game as the US version for the most part, except Kunio’s team is the default and the USA are the final boss, and not Russia. Still just as amazing.
Downtown Nekketsu Story: The Japanese version of River City Ransom. Again, pretty much the same game as the US version, but with the original story that ties more into the canon established by Renegade, along with different character designs.
Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club Soccer Story: The Japanese version of Nintendo World Cup, which isn’t included here. A very fun soccer game with a lot of teams to take on, and the main gimmick here is that you focus on controlling your team leader while instructing your teammates to go after opponents or pass the ball to you. It sounds a bit complex, but it’s fairly simple and a lot of fun when you get down to it!
Downtown Nekketsu March Super-Awesome Field Day: The first of two sport compilation games, this tasks you with picking a school and sending their members to win the sporting championship, across four minigames. With four player support, this is a very chaotic and incredibly fun game, and some of the events such as the fighting game and the Ball Breaking game are even fun when playing by yourself, too!
Downtown Special Kunio-Kun’s Historical Period Drama: The sequel to River City Ransom in a sense, Downtown Special is a Japanese-style play where the main goal is to investigate the evil crimes of a dangerous family and take them out in (not) feudal Japan! Another non-linear, fun co-op game to enjoy, though I personally find Downtown Story to be the better of the two.
Go-Go! Nekketsu Hocket Club Slip-and-Slide Madness: An Ice Hockey sports title, this takes elements from the Soccer game to create an incredibly fun and competitive ice hockey title, with a fun story mode, lots of teams to take on, and even four player support for multiplayer mayhem! Definitely the second best multiplayer game in this entire compilation, and was the hidden gem of the package for me, since it’s really fun just beating up other players and stealing the puck.
Surprise! Nekketsu New Records! The Distant Gold Medal: The Japanese Version of Crash & The Boys, Distant Gold Medal is really just the same game but once again, not americanized. Yes, this means the AI is still much more evil than in the previous sporting competition game, so I only really found this fun in multiplayer.
Nekketsu Fighting Legend: Take the fighting game aspect from Field Day, make it a standalone game, and you have Fighting Legend. You can create your own custom character and save/trade them via passwords, which is a really cool feature that can encourage multiple playthroughs if you know other people with the game. (since the Japanese passwords are void here though, don’t expect that to go far) Some of the stages have really fun gimmicks to them too, such as electrical walls, spike pits, conveyor belts, and even more craziness.
Kunio-kun’s Nekketsu Soccer League: The Sequel to the first Soccer game, I personally found this to be a bit weaker. The controls are relatively the same, though a bit more complexity is here and there’s also the addition of a shootout tiebreaker mode. The good news for this one is that there’s four player support, but otherwise I’d just stick to the first one.
Nekketsu! Street Basketball All-Out Dunk Heroes: A Basketball game, and the final title in the compilation. Here, Kunio goes to the USA to beat a lot of people in basketball, and like Super Dodge Ball, you can completely pummel your opponents with your skills, and even do crazy things such as steal their own hoop and put it on your own for extra points. Combine that with Super Dodge Ball esque super shots and high shots, and you have one incredibly fun game, leading to the third best multiplayer game in the entire package, also with four player support! My only gripe with this one is that all the american teams can look a bit samey, and thus I found myself getting confused on who I was controlling when I played as them with a friend in local multiplayer.
In conclusion, Retro Brawler Bundle sets A new gold standard for gaming compilations, taking untranslated Japanese games and just fully translating them from start to finish, while also improving upon every game whenever possible. From a bunch of achievements to unlock, the extra quality of life features, to rock-solid emulation, this is a must-own compilation for fans of Technos, Kunio, or even Double Dragon. (despite only one of the three games here being a must-play, due to the unfortunate lack of DDIII’s Famicom version)
Pretty much all the problems with slowdown and lag have been eliminated with the quality up version of the games, and gripes with Double Dragon aside, there really isn’t anything missing here that makes the package any lesser, save for maybe Super Spike V’Ball, which is a volleyball game loosely related to the Double Dragon series. Nintendo World Cup would have also been nice to see, but considering the obvious copyright issues with that one, the translated Kunio Soccer game works just as well. With every game here translated properly and beautifully, the only other gripe I have is the lack of much in terms of an art gallery or even credits for the compilation, so I can know who to especially thank for this wonderful step in preserving gaming history and for collecting all of two franchises’ runs on the NES in one handy spot.
Definitely, definitely worth the $40 pricetag here, although if you already own an import of The World Classic Collection, then you’ll be out of luck since that version won’t be updated with the English ROMS nor will it be compatible for online multiplayer with Brawler Bundle, so you’ll have to buy this for the new translations.
I give Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun: Retro Brawler Bundle a 9 out of 10.