A beginner’s guide to the wide world of Kunio-kun
Want to get into the Kunio-kun series? Great! With a new English release, River City: Tokyo Rumble, releasing this week for 3DS, it’s a great time. But… here’s the thing. It’s really basically four series. Read on and we’ll help you get started!
Hot-blooded brawling adventures
The must-play: River City Ransom EX (GBA, 2004)
To understand Kunio, you need to play River City Ransom, and it’s no secret that Technos’ NES games pushed the system in ways that make them a bit uncomfortable to play today. The best choice, then, is the game’s GBA remake, preserving what made the game great as well as what made it notorious. The polarizing localization choices for names and settings are here, as are the shouts of “BARF!” that both sides seem to be able to get behind.
The next step: River City: Tokyo Rumble (3DS, 2011)
A spiritual sequel to that Ransom, Tokyo Rumble retains the Kunio naming and has a lot more technical room to tell a story. That means you’ll see who these characters actually are without learning Japanese, which… hasn’t been an option until this point. It also iterates on systems in interesting ways!
The deep cut: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (PS3/360, 2010)
Okay, so you may be saying “Graham, that’s not a Kunio game.” And you’re right, in that it doesn’t have any IP connections, but if you like River City Ransom and haven’t played this love letter to the franchise that improves upon a lot of it, you’re missing out.
The rest: Renegade (Arcade/Famicom, 1986); River City Ransom (NES/Various, 1989); Double Dragon II (GB, 1990); Downtown Special (Famicom/GB, 1991); Shodai Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun (SFC, 1992); Shin Nekketsu Kouha: Kunio-tachi no Banka (SFC, 1994); Riki Densetsu (3DS, 2012); Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun SP (3DS, 2013); Nekketsu Mahou Monogatari (3DS, 2014); Downtown Nekketsu Jidaigeki (3DS, 2015); River City Ransom: Underground (PC, TBA)
The must-play: Super Dodge Ball Advance (GBA, 2001)
The best simulation-ish take out there, Advance is very much the classic Super Dodge Ball formula, polished up and with some customization off to the side. It’s not the newest attempt, but later versions have hit a few flat notes here and there. Advance plays a safe and familiar tune, but does so flawlessly.
The next step: Super Dodge Ball (Neo Geo, 1996)
Technos’ last gasp before it went out of business, this game barely saw release, and only as a North American MVS cartridge. Which is sad, because it’s the most satisfying game the company ever made! It leans into its arcade home, making big, lush sprites and packing gameplay into shorter, more action-packed chunks. Your team evolves as you beat squads and take their leaders, making for much-needed variation in play.
The deep cut: River City Dodge Ball All Stars!!/Downtown Smash Dodgeball/Downtown Nekketsu Dodgeball (PC/XBLIG/WiiWare, 2009)
Wait, three games? Yes and no. A doujin effort, this game changed names and platforms as it navigated changing bounds of official endorsement, but the thing you need to know is that they’re largely the same experience and you can play it here on Xbox Live Indies. What kind of experience? Well the team focused on play on the court, so don’t expect frills, but gameplay is very much faithful to the NES original.
The rest: Super Dodge Ball (NES/Various, 1988); Nekketsu Koukou Dodgeball Bu: Kyouteki! Doukyuu Senshi no Maki (GB, 1991); Kunio-kun no Dodgeball da yo Zenin Shuugou!! (SFC, 1993); Super Dodgeball Brawlers (DS, 2008)
Other sporting opportunities
The must-play: Nintendo World Cup (NES/Various, 1990)
Nintendo’s publishing involvement often ends up causing a bit more care and effort to be put into third-party developers’ titles, and Nintendo World Cup is no different, offering… well, not zero flickering, but less than in most Technos titles. The combination of sport and tackling certainly led to games like Mario Strikers and Sega Soccer Slam, but even in this early form, it’s a lot of fun. And it got the dev team really interested in working on sports.
The next step: Nekketsu! Street Basket: Ganbare Dunk Heroes (Famicom, 1993)
Japanese developers in 1993 didn’t know much about basketball, which shows through in contemporaries like Data East’s Street Slam. For Technos, though, this disconnect combines with their unhinged action-heavy take and makes a ludicrous future-sport that is hard to resist. One hoop? Nah, three stacked over each other. And why not secret passages and way more violence than NBA Jam?
The deep cut: Ike Ike! Nekketsu Hockey Bu (Famicom, 1992)
This take on hockey doesn’t quite come together as well as the other efforts, but it’s similar enough to work and different enough to be worth a play. Maybe it’s that hockey already has enough violence that this doesn’t seem as special?
The rest: Nintendo World Cup (GB, 1991); Kunio-kun no Nekketsu Soccer League (Famicom, 1993); Downtown Nekketsu Baseball Monogatari (SFC, 1993); Nekketsu! Beach Volley da yo: Kunio-kun (GB, 1994); River City Soccer Hooligans (DS, 2010)
More like River City Random
The must-play: River City Super Sports Challenge: All Stars Special (PS3/PC, 2015)
How did this get localized? Seriously, I’m still reeling over that. But hey, there’s no reason to complain! Someone got paid to do a full remake to a not-that-popular mid-90s Famicom game in 2015, and now it’s in English too! It brings that couch co-op for which these obstacle-course games were truly created and puts it in an era that is a little more prepared to handle it. Run to the right! Sometimes swim to the right! Then maybe a punch break!
The next step: Kunio no Oden (SFC, 1994)
Ready for something totally different? Technos struggled to adapt to post-Famicom hardware, but a falling-block puzzler is simple enough to code, and this food-themed Kunio one is a fun enough effort. Its pace is more Columns than Puyo, but hey: Kunio shows up in the menu screens sometimes!
The deep cut: Nekketsu Kakutou Densetsu (Famicom, 1992)
Players of Crash ‘n the Boys and its successors — like the above Super Sports Challenge — often found the head-to-head fighting segments to be the most fun. Okay, well how about a game that focuses on just that? Kakutou goes for arenas only, fleshing out the options a bit and making for a more robust version of that sort of brawling.
The rest: Downtown Nekketsu Koushinkyoku (Famicom/GB/PC Engine, 1990); Crash ‘n the Boys: Street Challenge (NES/Various, 1992); River City Super Sports Challenge (DS, 2010)
What’s your favorite Kunio-kun game? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter! And stay tuned for more franchise guides.
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