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CONSOLE: Sega Master System DEVELOPER: Natsume PUBLISHER: Sega
RELEASE DATE (NA): 1993 GENRE: Beat-'em-up
// review by SoyBomb

Kunio not have released this?

Let's review. In 1986, Technōs Japan developed and released Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun (humorously translating to "Hot-Blooded Tough Guy Kunio") in the arcades, later having it localized as simply "Renegade" overseas. It was revolutionary for its time, with such new features as beating up enemies without just immediately dying and moving around on a wide beat up people on the street. It certainly doesn't hold up well today, but it was novel for its time. Renegade was later ported all over the place, most prominently to the NES, where the game was significantly improved. Renegade also saw ported releases on other systems including the Commodore 64, the Amiga, and yes, even the beloved ZX Spectrum. Then, an ever-so-lengthy seven years later, way past the rise and fall of Milli Vanilli (what a crazy week), developer Natsume ported the game to the aging but apparently still vibrant Sega Master System, published by Sega themselves, in 1993, though only in Europe and Brazil.

There is good and bad in Renegade for the Sega Master System. Let's start with the good. Graphically speaking, this one is a strong step forward. Despite the Master System being on pretty similar ground to the NES, this one has far better looking and more detailed/shaded sprites, both for the characters and the environments, though I'm sad to report that the latter has far less detail and character, boasting a more generic and somewhat darker appearance overall. At least the music is just as peppy as ever, sounding as though it's coming straight out of your local neon jukebox.

There is also a slightly expanded storyline that delves deeper than any version prior. Set in New Arcadia in the 1970s, a multinational drug syndicate has taken over the city, led by Lucas, a man who lives in luxury and basically acts with dictatorial reign. The citizens live in fear, as members of this syndicate live by anarchic law, but they can do nothing about it. That is, until one man rises above all others with the fury of a thousand toasty suns: Mr. K, the lightning-quick renegade with the skills and the courage to oppose Lucas and his smarmy cartel of goons. As the manual notes, "It's up to you and Mr. K to rid the city of this evil organization. But when the smoke clears at the end of the battle, who will be the one still standing?" Hmmm, yeah. At least this is slightly more interesting than just fighting gangs for no reason or rescuing the token damsel in distress, as other versions proclaimed.

A coat of paint on a ratty old coat.

But for the nice plot expansion and the fact that this is probably the best that Renegade has ever looked (save for re-releases of the arcade version with the larger sprites), it falters in the controls and the gameplay itself. Yes, all of his classic moves, including the always useful punch to the face while an enemy is down, Mr. K seems to have a much rougher time fighting enemies, even with the legendary jump kick, which is a bit harder to pull off now. Enemies are less afraid to approach the hero than before, ever so excited to grab you from behind and hold you as another gang member socks you in the gut. But what's worse is that, unlike the NES version, you really can't turn around and face the enemy you necessarily want. That sounds silly, but it's true: Mr. K will face whatever enemy he feels SHOULD be next, not always the one you want or the one that is closest. So many times I tried approaching an enemy I wanted to attack, but I couldn't do anything because Mr. K just walked backwards and opted not to try and land a good punch. This is a serious disadvantage... and it doesn't make sense to keep your back turned to the enemy! What a doof! He may be fast, but he's not bright.

Another dealbreaker is in the motorcycle chase scene, which was ported over from the NES version. For whatever reason, Mr. K just couldn't deal much damage to anyone else on a bike, despite sidekicking like there's no tomorrow. If I can't even knock a single road hooligan off his motorcycle, what chance do I have of finishing this game? This mechanic, as well as others, were much simpler and more effective on the NES, making this port feel more rushed and botched.

Between the NES and Sega Master System version, the case is clear: go with the NES version. There is a much better balance, the brawling mechanics actually work, and it's brighter with more charm and personality, especially in its backgrounds. The NES edition is probably easier to find; I picked up mine for a few bucks at a used game store years ago. There's usually a copy sitting around in every reputable store.

Mr. K? ...Mr. Not-O-K.

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