Returning To River City
Nintendo's Virtual Console service launched alongside the Wii on November 19, 2006. It was the first mass-market stab at selling emulation to the masses, and it changed how people think about retro games. Even though it's no longer with us, the Switch is home to countless collections of classics, with a good number of them making it over to the US for the first time. That's where Double Dragon & Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle comes in. A generous assortment of eighteen Technōs NES originals, this bundle provides a whirlwind trip through the tangled web of localization circa 1986.
A Brief History Of Technōs
We start off with Renegade, a stepping stone towards arcade perfection that generated two great franchises. The gameplay from that game translates directly into Double Dragon and its sequels, but its Japanese release was under a different title. Known as Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun, the game's main protagonist would go on to start in countless spinoffs and sequels covering a wide range of Japanese high school activities. Those games would also come stateside at times, often under completely different titles. Whether you were cruising through River City Ransom or hanging with Crash 'n' the Boys, you were really stepping on Kunio-kun's turf.
Now, Technōs IP holder Arc System Works is bringing all these desperate releases into one package. Well, almost all of them. This is strictly an NES/Famicom collection, leaving out the original arcade versions of key titles that really captured players' imaginations. This is disappointing, as is the fact that the advertised "eighteen games" count both the translated Japanese edition and the American remake of several releases. It's technically not an incorrect statement, but some buyers may be getting less game than they bargained for.
The Magic Of Translation
Don't get me wrong, the Retro Brawler Bundle is not without merit. Eleven of the eighteen games have never seen release outside of Japan before now, and Arc System Works gave them a full official English translation. Any fan of video game history should find that exciting, it's an act of preservation that we don't see often from IP holders of any kind. Playing through the collection, I can say with some certainty that these are not the type of games that a mass audience will gravitate towards. Slapping brawler controls into soccer games and obstacle course simulations is quirky fun, but it's not the most inviting experience for someone who moved past the NES ages ago.
This is doubly true when you consider that the most recognizable names in this collection are also included as part of Nintendo's online subscription service. Anyone who pays for the Switch's online already has Double Dragon and Retro City Rampage at their disposal, and this collection offers little to entice players to double-dip. The arcade releases or a bonus Game Boy game or two could have made this collection must-have, but nothing like that is here. There's a ton of brawler fun to be had, but little in the way of extras or historical material that would really make this Retro Brawler Bundle a museum-quality collection.
How Does Double Dragon & Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle Hold Up?
Beyond all the caveats, if you're already all-in with Kunio-kun, you'll be happy to know that the franchise runs well on the Switch. You get some standard display options, colorful backgrounds if you're playing at an NES ratio (please play these games at an NES ratio), and the same few paragraphs of lore you might find in a manual. Most games also come with enhancements not seen on the Famicom, including fixing lag and flicker and making the games a bit less mind-numbingly difficult. You can thankfully turn these enhancements off if you prefer a pure experience, but I found that the tweaks made everything more welcoming for a new player.
While it's usually the case that later entries in a retro collection hold the most playability, I'd say that Technōs' early days held up the best. Titles like the first two Double Dragon games and River City Ransom are still quirky fun no matter the language, even if other franchises would improve on their formulas many times over. Later games in this collection choose to add gimmicks or additional styles of play while retaining what made the original successes so memorable. When they did innovate, it lead to dead ends like the four-player fighting of Nekketsu Fighting Legend. It leads to the type of mixed results that makes you understand why NES publishers weren't jumping at the chance to import them under new names.
Brawling With History
It is interesting to play NES era sequels to both River City Ransom and Nintendo World Cup (the one Technōs translation not in the collection). The River City sequel keeps the gameplay intact but has its character enact a historical play. Other titles, like the hockey and basketball games, offer surprising novelties that quickly wear out their welcome. Throughout it all, the "barfs" and stubby character models remain intact, which adds to the charm.
In fact, if I had to describe Retro Brawler Bundle in one word, it would be charming. It has flaws in both presentation and playability in 2020, but it will still appeal to the type of retro-minded gamer who thrills whenever an old ROM of a forgotten NES game finds its way online. Unless you're truly dedicated, you won't spend much time with the majority of games in this collection, a throwback to the times before the Virtual Console. With this many varied selections, you're likely to sample the buffet and then return to old favorites or new delights. Don't worry, Kunio-kun will still be there when you need him.
TechRaptor reviewed Double Dragon & Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the publisher.
- Nostalgic Fun In Small Doses
- New English NES Translations In 2020
- Accurate Emulation With Improved Ports
- NES-Only Collection
- Lack Of Historical Extras
- Gameplay Hasn't Held Up