Fond memories of gaming days gone by? See power pellets in your Cheerios? Memorized the biographies of Bill and Lance?

Enjoy some olde tyme retrospectives on Japanese games from back in the day, previously inaccessible but now available in English! Games that will make you stand up, scratch at the wall, and say...

How exotic!

Did you enjoy River City Ransom? Ever play Renegade? How about the relatively underrated Crash 'n The Boys: Street Challenge? All of these games have one thing in common. In Japan, they are all part of the same series of games, starring the universal binder, their main character Kunio-kun. Yes, Kunio-kun got his start all the way back in 1986 with an arcade game called Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun (Hot-Blooded Tough Guy, Kunio), which would be converted to the NES game we know in English as the aforementioned Renegade, albeit with some heavy localization changes and graphic hacks. After a string of successful Kunio games, Technos put its Super Famicom Kunio game out in Japan in 1992. That game is called Shodai Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-Kun, and I decided to play it for myself!

You may have heard about this game at one point or another because of some gimp referring to it as River City Ransom 2, which it totally is not. What we know as River City Ransom is actually a spin-off of the original Kunio series, translatable to something like Downtown Hot-Blooded Story, which has no sequels. The game this article deals with is more or less Renegade 1.5. The next game in the series, Shin Nekketsu Kouha: Kunio-tachi no Banka, is the final beat-'em-up game in the Kunio series (I will deal with this game in a later installment!).

What makes this game different from something like River City Ransom is chiefly its RPG elements, and this was one of the first action games to incorporate such ideas. Instead of obtaining money to buy items, you obtain experience points from pounding on goons, which causes you to level up, learning new fighting moves like ground stomp kicks and jumping attacks, and Ki actions (which basically work as regenerative or buffing magic). In addition, you can also get item drops from enemies, serving as equippable gear for your fists, jacket, and feet, all of which will increase your stats and allow you beat even more dudes up at once.

Imagine something like Final Fight meets Crackdown with a smaller-scoped city and you'll have a really basic idea of what is going on here. When you start the game you are a slow, weak piece of crap who can (and will) get slapped to death by housewives. By the end of the game you can jump kick a group of five civilians across the screen to their simultaneous and instant doom.

But all that is just the boring stuff. The real fun of this game is brazenly assaulting vagrants and innocent citizens alike with absolutely no regard to their well-being or behavior. In the prologue of this game, your friend (who is also the guy who gets beat up in the original Renegade) gets beat up, again. You save him and find yourself in your Osaka hotel. You are with your schoolmates on a class trip from Tokyo, which means that the first thing you should do as a player is proceed to the first floor lobby and critically attack schoolgirls, women, the elderly, businessmen, and anyone else in your way. Beat them to death! This is the best part of this game.

The beauty is that you can really just beat the shit out of anyone, at any time. Since this is an RPG, sometimes people will get mad and team up on you in a form of random encounter, but you were probably just going to kill them with their own briefcases anyway, so the fights remain pretty fun. When you run out of health you consequencelessly show up back in your hotel bed with renewed health, ready to charge out there and do it again. Your quest takes you through a variety of train stations, subway tunnels, and dozens and dozens of sewers. You can buy crap out of the crane games, play a rudimentary text-based slot machine, and leap fifty meters in a single bound.

In addition to the gameplay itself, one exciting element of Shodai Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun that permeates the game is its real-life setting in the Kansai region of Japan. What this means, apart from semi-realistic depictions of the train system and green payphones, is full-on heavy-integration endorsement by my hometown Japan League baseball team the Hanshin Tigers. Yes, the Tigers are everywhere in this game, right down to the fairly accurate representations of their psychotic fans wandering the subways with plastic megaphones that they use to beat you to a pulp.

In fact, one key portion of the game involves you actually going to Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya while tracking some vagrant. I took it upon myself to at least take a photo for comparison, though the Koshien depicted by the game is certainly circa-1992 while the present is, well, the present.

And then there's Zenji. Yes, Zenji, the illustrious Japanese "pervy old man," wandering the train stations in search of tail. In fact, so much does Zenji love a shot at that sweet grope that he will occasionally grab onto the nearest character and proceed to thrust his pelvis furiously at them for eternity, until you punch him and his victim to burger. His counterpart is equally saucy, and needs her satisfaction too (they do not discriminate when it comes to men or women, either).

As I progress through the game, engaging in combat with warring factions of violent Japanese high-schoolers, I eventually barely survive a scuffle against some punk with a spiky haircut. He asks me if I want to lend him some of my power, and the game gives me a yes / no prompt. I am sure I am supposed to say no, I absolutely should say no, but then he will kick my ass and I will have to come all the way back here. I just know it. So I say yes, I will help you, I am a horrible, terrible man. He is taken aback, aghast at my decision, yet overjoyed enough to give me some random train passes and keys. He says something about sewers that I don't pay enough attention to, which is fucking dumb. This action sets off a terrible time in my life as a high school sophomore in Osaka.

Directionless, unsure where to go, I become a vagrant, a recluse, aimlessly wandering between Umeda, Shinsaibashi, and Namba, beating on women of all ages until I am knocked unconcious. Every time I come to, I find myself at my hotel, again and again, a waking nightmare. I am a recluse, a shadow, vapor, illusion. In the lobby I stand and punch anyone who gets close. I have become so strong over the last several days that I kill them in one hit. I start buying cough drops in handfuls from the vending machines, hopelessly addicted to the extent that I brutally abuse the elderly for their prepaid cash cards. I enter and exit the Hanshin Tigers gift shop, which is vacant and has been since the beginning of the game. I enter and exit the shop at every possible time of the game's day and night cycle to see if anyone ever shows up. They do not. I fight my way through yet another sewer complex, this one in Namba, five floors deep. I meet nobody important and nothing happens. I destroy hundreds of henchmen, ages 16-69. I accumulate an inventory full of randomly-dropped Sea Monkeys, an item that literally does nothing when you use it.

On one midnight prowl through the sewers near Shinsaibashi I find three of my idiot friends. This pushes the story forward. A dark stage in my life ends, and I extract my revenge on one of my classmates back at the hotel. Blessed with an infinite health bar and no aggressive tendencies, he takes my punches like a real champ. I slam my knee into his crotch, flip him over my head, pull him up by the hair, and sucker-punch him into the wall. He is delighted to save my game for me, though I fear he may have had to write the data to the cartridge with his own blood. I continue on.

Periodically taking a break from attempting to advance the game in favor of just grinding away on goons is actually pretty fun in this game, so I occasionally would stop to do so. Hulking up your levels makes you even more of a god, in traditional RPG fashion, lending an exciting benefit to your skills when it comes time to actually take on the game's final challenges: rooms packed with five boss enemies at a time, constant swarms of bad guys who will team up on you, and, in a twist, a foe that will actually shoot at you with a gun that is an essential insta-kill.

But as with any RPG, eventually, with the various mysteries of the plot unraveled, you will proceed to the final tower assault, beat the crap out of the final enemy, and enjoy a tender moment in the sunset. The girl who you spent all this time saving will ask if you will meet again some day. Kunio sure hopes so, for reasons I cannot possibly fathom.

In the end, Shodai Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun is a glimpse back into the early days of the Super Famicom's life. It is not a perfect brawler, it's not as fast or versatile in playstyle as River City Ransom, and it can occasionally feel a bit archaic in its interface. But for the ten or so hours that I put into it, it kept me blissfully entertained. And, as the old adage goes, it never gets tiresome to ceaselessly punt citizens of the public sector square in the dinner roll.

Thanks, Kunio! You have saved Osaka from the oppressive control of terribly dangerous hot-blooded sixteen-year-olds!

This game was patched for English text by Aeon Genesis in 2007. You can read more about the game and their work here.