Brother, Save Me! (Or Avenge Me)
As we covered previously, the Kunio-kun series first made its way to the West with, in fact, it's first ever game in the series: Nekketsu Koha Kunio-kun (translated as "Hot-Blooded Tough Guy Kunio"), although it didn't arrive overseas under that name. Re-dubbed (and Westernized) as Renegade, the game became a worldwide smash, in large part because it was one of the first games to present the true "beat-em-up" experience. A hero, beating waves of waves of dudes as they slowly progress through their story, all though the use of punches, kicks, combos, and more.
Kunio-kun launched a series of titles -- Super Dodge Ball, River City Ransom, and eventually more titles covering field events, soccer, baseball, and more -- not to mention inspiring its official spiritual sequel, Double Dragon. While those games were oversee by Taito, the series producers and creators, in the West the localization efforts were handled by Ocean Software (under their "Imagine" label). And that's where the weirdness that is Target: Renegade comes in.
Due to the license to create the Western version of Renegade -- a version that swapped out the school-kid gangs, which were a common pop-culture trope of Japan but didn't play as well in the U.S., changing them for Warriors-style fighters and gangs -- Ocean was also allowed to create their own sequel titles to Renegade. Not officially Kunio-kun games, these are still iterations on the form that look and feel connected to that first title. Unfortunately, especially on the NES, the sequel just isn't very good.
The version of Target: Renegade that most people probably played was the NES version, but this version is probably the worst. Although ported also to the Commodore 64, the Amistrad, and the ZX Spectrum, the U.S. market was, of course, dominated by the NES and that game is vastly inferior to any other version of Target: Renegade The animations are stilted, the hit-detection is spotty at best, and, at worst, it all reads like a bad Double Dragon riff, which it was clearly meant to be, creating this weird ouroboros of inspiration. Unfortunately the game doesn't do much to actually learn from the Lee brothers, failing to improve in any way over the first Renegade and, frankly, feeling even worse than that title.
In Target: Renegade you play as the "Renegade", a street tough out on a quest for revenge. After his brother is kidnapped (or killed in every version other than the NES edition), our Renegade goes through a series of levels, from a parking garage to the streets of downtown and uptown before getting to the perpetrator's hideout, the club of Mr. Big. Along the way the Renegade fights thugs, skater punks, burly guys, ladies, business dudes, and a few bosses all before the confrontation with the (ironically named) Mr. Big. It's all pretty standard stuff for the genre, even in these early days post Renegade and Double Dragon.
Playing as the Renegade (or, in versions other than the NES, two Renegades side-by-side), our nominal hero goes about his quest with all the standard moves you'd expect: punch, kick, jump kick, and a sweep kick... and that's about it. The hero is, frankly, very limited, showing barely even the same amount of fighting prowess from the first Renegade game and nothing else. His fighting is pretty pathetic, honestly, with little to give him an edge over the foes he's battling. You essentially get to slowly trudge your way through the game with these limited moves, trying to battle the game through it's repetitive action.
Thankfully for the player, although not for the game, the challenge of Target: Renegade isn't all that high. This is due, in large part, because the enemy A.I. is incredibly stupid. In other beat-em-ups the enemies will try to outflank you, surround you, whittle you down quickly, but here the guys are usually unable to perform any kind of grouping at all. At times they'll get lost, with one guy punching at the hero while the other wanders off, exploring the corners of the screen as if they saw a shiny penny and have to grab it. Sometimes they can be effective, but more often than not they're just absolutely lost out there.
Depending on the version you play the game can look pretty decent, just not on the NES. The other versions of the game feature more colors, more animation, and vastly less stiff movement. All of those versions do suffer in one way or another, though. The ZX Spectrum's animation is more fluid but the colors are lacking and the sound feels dull. That's a trade-off that seems to happen with every other version than the NES, though, as the audio quality takes a huge hit (due to limitations of PC hardware) while the graphics get better and more fluid. Oh, and the NES version is the only edition that actually plays at a decent speed, so that's a contributing factor as well.
Although with all its other flaws on the NES, though, there's this weird reality of seeing such an off-brand Double Dragon game. The Renegade is dressed up to look like a Lee brother here, and all the thugs feel like they walked out of a fun-house version of the Double Dragon series. Ocean clearly saw that game, knew it was coming to the NES, and tried to cash in with a look and style that emulated Taito's own, better game. But make no mistake, this is hard shovelware, a licensed version of an Asylum0level look-a-like title, and it's just as bad and unenjoyable as you'd expect.
The fact is simply that Target: Renegade isn't very good at all. You can see what the company was trying to do -- copy Double Dragon with their own license -- but there were better ways to iterate on the franchise than poorly copying a game (River City Ransom is a much better continuation). Ocean didn't really care about that, though; they had a brand name and they wanted to sell carts to kids as cheaply as possible. It certainly shows.
The plan did seem to work, too, as this game was just successful enough to spawn its own sequel: Renegade III: The Final Chapter just a year later. That game skipped the NES, though, so even Ocean realized that the audience for one more cash-in could only support so much. We'll see how bad that title is soon enough...