The Switch is not at all short on available retro games. Most of them are drip-fed to us, but third party publishers have really gotten behind the idea of retro collections: Castlevania, Contra, Mega Man, the Capcom Beat Em Ups, the Mana games, the list goes on. And those publishers have been taking extreme care to do these games justice. The Konami collections had huge, fan-requested updates months after launching, showing a big commitment to quality and refinement. Arc System Works takes this one step further, bringing an amazing collection of brawlers (but not all of them actually brawlers) to the Switch, in a slick package.
Double Dragon, like Contra, was originally an arcade game, but like the aforementioned shooter, was arguably improved during its conversion to the NES. The arcade game is plagued with horrific slowdown and an easily exploitable special move. The NES game (and its subsequent sequels) deepen and improve the gameplay, and stabilize the presentation, albeit with a graphical downgrade from the arcade.
Technōs Japan (the original creator of the IP’s until Arc System Works bought them out in 2015) also had a more lighthearted brawling series, titled Kunio-Kun, after the main character. The first game was also an arcade game (Renegade in the West), but the series quickly spiraled into a surprisingly popular franchise on the Family Computer in Japan. Aside from Renegade, we only saw a few other titles released outside of Japan; River City Ransom is probably the most well known.
The series features Kunio and his friends, cute-ish, big-headed characters who beat the crap out of each other regardless of setting. Hockey? Beat those guys up. Soccer? Kick them when they’re down. Street Olympics? Hulk Smash. It shouldn’t work, but it does, and these games all ooze charm and fun. You can brawl everywhere. Oh, and also, the unreleased-in-the-West Famicom titles have all been localized to English.
Cutting right to the point, these are 30+ year-old NES games. I’m not going to review them individually. If you haven’t played Double Dragon, it’s one of the games that started it all, the Ur-Beat “Em Up. River City Ransom is also, really, one of the best games ever released on the original Nintendo system, and if you haven’t played it, it’s worth the time.
Taking a slightly plagiaristic note from Nintendo’s Classic NES console, the games are presented in a pleasant scrolling menu. When you highlight each game, the main theme loops, which I actually prefer in this setting to the Classic’s catchy menu music. 4 save state slots are available.
The developer, Arc System Works, took a note from Konami’s ongoing development efforts and just put all of the eggs in the kitchen sink from the start: configurable controls, both NA and Japan versions of games, and a veritable slew of display options. The presentation lacks nothing, and it’s all done with clear care and respect for the original titles.
The emulation quality is also extremely good. The sound delay which affects so many of these compilations is not present, and the display configuration allows you to get around any scrolling shimmer from uneven scaling. Though to be honest, none of these games have particularly fast scrolling to begin with, so it really is a non-issue. The QualityUp versions of the games (thankfully), lack their traditional NES sprite flicker, and some of the, um, well, bugs, have been fixed. The original versions of the games are all present, for any of you who are still all about that flicker.
The online play also works surprisingly well (,,,when you can find a game), and adds an added dimension of fun, especially to the sports titles. Local co-op is where this really shines, with up to 4 players on some games. I enjoyed trying Super Dodge Ball and some co-op beating-’em-up on River City Ransom with my kiddo, and it’s a real bonus, as are the achievements. Beyond that though, I would have loved to see some art or other historical material on the series, as storied as it is, especially in Japan.
There’s a lot to love in the Retro Brawler Bundle. A sackful of classic NES games, some true classics and a lot of fun diversions with a unique spin. What isn’t so great is that price. The Konami collections come in at half the cost, for arguably deeper titles (especially when we think about the Castlevania Collection).
Yes, the collection is absolutely well done. It’s bursting with charm, has every option it could, and plays almost perfectly. But this was clearly a compilation made for Japan, where this series is extremely popular, not the US. Yes, they released it here, and why not? The Switch sells well, and there are a lot of fans of this series. But the fact remains, many of these titles (including the two most notable games) are already present on the NES Online application.
I’m a hardcore Kunio-kun fan, myself. I have most of the games in the series in their original form, and for someone like myself, this collection is an absolute treat. Surprisingly the co-op is really a standout feature, uncommon for a retro collection. However, if you’re just curious about the legacy of the Kunio-kun and Double Dragon series, fire up the NES Online app, and wait for a sale.
Charlie’s first attempts at gaming did not go well. Repeated, failed run-ins with the first Goomba in Super Mario Brothers 1 plagued his maiden gaming voyage. Undaunted, he would go on to become an avid gamer of all platforms, with Nintendo always sitting atop the highest pedestal. Except for that Halo 3 incident in 2007. We don’t talk about it. It never happened.
Currently, Charlie enjoys playing games on as many platforms as he can get his hands on, with current favorites being the Switch, 3DS and Neo Geo. When he’s not playing games, Charlie is a live sound engineer and manager for his production company, Clear Harmonies, based in Washington, D.C.
Charlie enjoys talking about games nearly as much as playing them, and loves meeting new people, so hit him up!
Plays: All of them games. Seriously.