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Renegade: The Beat-Em-up Before Double Dragon

Updated on June 10, 2020
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I remember playing Double Dragon in the arcade with my crew. That there was a precursor to ol Spike and Hammer has always intrigued.

Renegade Arcade Stills

Where It All Began

Would it surprise you to hear one of the hottest selling games at the moment isn’t based on the hottest virtual reality world or fully immersive 3D first person shooter but rather a sequel to a beat-em-up that is 26-years old?

That game is Streets of Rage 4 and, while there have been some very impressive unlicensed & fan-made entries to the series throughout the years between Streets of Rage 3 (1994) and Streets of Rage 4 (2020), this latest entry represents the first officially licensed/ canon entry to the franchise.

While the original Streets of Rage trilogy was certainly memorable enough to warrant a revisit after these many long years, it was hardly the first of its kind. So to whom does the credit of inventing a genre over three decades old and counting belong? Like most video game categories, the answer is hazy just as it should be? Why? Well, because games themselves are rarely confined to meeting certain hard and fast criteria and instead mix and match traits both original and those borrowed from earlier titles when being developed. As such, there are pieces and bits of the modern beat-em-up (or belt scroller) that go back nearly as far as the history of the video game itself.

However, one company in particular may have the most legitimate claim to seating the beat-em-up originator throne of them all: Technōs Japan Corp. If the name means nothing to you, perhaps some of its titles will - Double Dragon, Renegade, River City Ransom, The Combatribes.

Their Double Dragon franchise is often considered the grandfather of all belt scrollers but a closer look of their efforts reveals that it was in fact their second attempt at a beat-em-up game in as many years. Let’s take a look at the one that preceded it - 1986’s Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun or as it would be known here in the west: Renegade.

Released to Japanese arcades thanks to distribution by Taito in May of 1986, the game would receive a slight visual makeover by Technōs (to mimic the 1979 film The Warriors) before hitting North American arcades as Renegade in September of that same year.

Structurally, the title would introduce many institutions that would later become staples of the genre - among these a dash by tapping a direction twice that could be coupled to standard attacks to make them flying variants, the ability to traverse the y-axis as well as left and right, a boss to battle at the end of each stage and damsel in distress, captured by street toughs theme.

Where the game differed, however, was rather than offer a genuine scrolling stage that allowed the player to advance when all of the enemies were cleared (hence the term belt scroller), Renegade offered a play area that scrolled left to right roughly the width of 3 screens and only after knocking out all of the enemies on the stage (save for 3) does the boss of the level appear.

The control scheme was built upon a system where one attack button always represents a front attack and the other a rear attack. This control scheme would be revisited several years later in Double Dragon II: The Revenge.

Like most early arcade fighting games, Renegade got a lot of home ports. It was brought to Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, NES, Master System, ZX Spectrum, Thomson MO5, Thomson TO8, PlayStation 2, Nintendo 3DS and WiiU Virtual Consoles, and Switch.

While Technōs moved on to other projects (like Double Dragon) after the first game, the Renegade franchise lived on. A pair of sequels were developed and released by Ocean - Target: Renegade, and Renegade III: The Final Chapter. These enjoyed home console and computer success but did not get arcade releases like the original.

As for our pal Kunio-kun, the titular character upon which the original Renegade was based, he would go on to become a franchise unto himself - with some 56-individual titles and counting spanning countless consoles, generations and genres; perhaps the most well known of these coming in the form of NES’s River City Ransom and Super Dodge Ball.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Jason Russell

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