Review by Tachibana Ukyo

"Ganbatte ne, Kunio-kun!"

Say hello to Hiroshi. An upstanding student from Nekketsu high school, Hiroshi recognizes the importance of integrity, diligence, and hard work in order to get ahead.

Pffft.

He’s also a pathetic Mr. Sissy Pants who receives daily thrashings at the hands of everyone from puerile bullies to professional hitmen, and that, dear reader, is why he isn’t the playable character.

Fortunately for the state of Hiroshi’s internal organs, fellow Nekketsu student Kunio is the toughest fighter around and doesn’t appreciate outsiders pummeling his classmates about the head and neck; looking to exact some bare-knuckle retribution on Hiroshi’s tormentors, our teenage scrapper chases these thugs back to their home turf for a showdown despite the fact that they vastly outnumber him. Kunio is pretty tough, but no one ever accused him of being overly bright.

OSSU!

Technos Japan wouldn’t kickstart the beat ‘em up craze until Double Dragon, but they actually struck the first blow a year before with Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun and in the process began a prolific series of games that would one day include an infamous cult classic for the NES. At first glance Nekketsu Kouha differs from the norm in that each stage takes up little more than a single screen, albeit one large enough to involve a bit of horizontal scrolling; rather than pounding a wave of enemies before proceeding farther to the right, everyone is out for your blood from the get-go. But don’t despair – this game is far from primitive, and in some ways better than that of the Brothers Lee.

Having chased down his cross-town rival Riki, our hot-blooded hero finds himself at a train station surrounded by catchy music and sneering schoolboys from nearby Hanazozo. Kunio’s badly outnumbered and they know it - the AI in this game is no slouch, as your enemies will do their best to gang up on you from all sides while their leader looks on from a safe distance. Fortunately the controls are no slouch, either; the two buttons allow you to attack left and right respectively - at close range Kunio will start swinging with speedy jabs, alternatively unleashing a powerful side kick to floor anyone lurking behind him. Kunio can also easily run across the sizable length of the screen with fists flying or execute a quick jump kick to escape trouble; pin an enemy to the ground and you can flail away at his helpless face as long as you don’t give your opponents a chance to repay the favor. If someone grabs you from behind you can still kick at the oncoming attackers in front of you before breaking the goon’s hold with a shoulder toss. Unlike many early beat ‘em ups your foes are quite the cagey fighters, sneaking in punches while you’re otherwise occupied and backing off to goad you into a trap when the heat is on.

. . . meanwhile, the stage’s leader will continue to wait impatiently in the background . . .

. . . only to leap into the fray after you begin to gain the upper hand by knocking enough of his goons senseless. Chances are there’ll still be quite a few left, so you’ll still have to defend yourself from henchmen as you tackle each boss - fail in your efforts and you’ll get an earful of trash talk as Kunio lies slumped on the ground with stars dancing around his head. Fortunately in the train station you can lure your foes to the end of the platform and throw them over the edge onto the tracks, dispatching them instantly. You won’t always be so lucky.

Round Two pits Kunio against bandana-wearing bikers at the docks as they try to run him down, each of their screeching motorcycles sent to a crashing halt with a well-placed jump kick, just before a gang of foot soldiers descend on you with lead pipes and seek to toss you in the sea if you can’t turn the tables. Then it’s on to a local street corner at night for the dubious pleasure of contending with a pack of masked schoolgirls dressed in sailor suits and armed with whips and brick-laden purses. Who are these people, and do they honestly have nothing better to do with their time? By this point you really have to concentrate on what you’re doing or you’ll never be able to defeat Misuzu, a massive female brawler who can smash Kunio silly if she can only get her meaty hands on him, making short work of your quarter.

That’s right - with only four screens Nekketsu Kouha might run out of breath fairly quickly, but it instead requires quite a bit of practice to successfully finish since you can’t continue. You can earn extra lives for a high scores, but get stomped once or twice and it’s back to the beginning with you. This only gets worse in the final round, as Hiroshi somehow attracts the attention of your friendly neighborhood Yakuza, a delightful bunch of suited mobsters whose knives will take out our hero in a single blow. Can Kunio overcome their criminal leader and his deadly handgun to make life safe for the Japanese education system?
(Well, yes. He’s not all that difficult. Really.)

HAI!

Of course if you’re even passably familiar with Renegade it’s very likely that you are currently wondering what the bloody hell I’ve been talking about, because that localization’s graphics were noticeable altered by Taito to be “more accessible to a Western audience.” As such, you may instead proudly assume the role of Mr. K, a rad-to-the-max dude in combat pants who is forced to rescue his girlfriend from the clutches of black men and the Mafia. The first boss has a mullet. That’s all I’m going to say about it, so too bad for you!

Sure, it was Double Dragon that introduced us to the timeless two-player side-scrolling thumb-pounding brutality that is still emulated by coin-ops today, but Nekketsu (and Renegade) is every bit of an enjoyable brawler for the joystick pugilist who finds himself alone . . . so very alone. Oh, that cult-classic from the series that this game founded? It was Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, also known as “River City Ransom,” “Street Gangs,” and on occasion, “God.”


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/05/03, Updated 07/05/03


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