It’s hard for me to pass up eighteen games in a bundle labeled as a Retro Brawler collection. I’m a huge fan of the beat ‘em up genre, and never miss an opportunity to rejoin my buddies Billy and Jimmy Lee or Kunio as they do battle against waves of weapon-wielding street toughs, punks, and bloodthirsty gangs to get back their girls.
Double Dragon is the straightforward brawler that levels the player up as they go through and challenges them with platforming and stronger enemies. River City Ransom (of the Kunio-Kun series) offers up an open world styled city to practice fisticuffs in with more role-playing elements, forcing the player to collect money, buy items, and backtrack through the chaos if they want to win. These titular classics act as the anchors for an assortment of titles, but they aren’t all about throwing hands.
Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun: Retro Brawler Bundle is a fun mixed bag of games, but the title is a bit misleading. Many of the adventures inside are fast-paced action games, most of them taking place in a dangerous city, but a lot of Kunio’s scraps take place on a different field of battle. The collection boasts a ton of sports games with everything from dodgeball, basketball, soccer, and the activity I got lost in for hours, hockey. There are also two track and field style outings that have a multitude of mini-games, mixing traditional feats of strength with more interesting challenges. Many players will be surprised by how much fun can be had with a simple game of basketball when triple the amount of baskets are available and the other team’s rim can be stolen.
Those games were created by Technos, the company that is essentially responsible for starting the craze. With Double Dragon IV releasing back in 2017, River City Girls in 2019, and the new entry, Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! A River City Ransom Story, having come out as recently as November, Arc System Works (the newer company that owns the IPs) seems to be on a roll. So, why not choose now to unleash some of their classics upon the world again on new hardware?
A large portion of these titles had previously only seen releases in Japan, but are finally translated into English here for the first time. The updated collection features games from the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom consoles that will be new to many players. They feature tweaked visuals, quality of life adjustments, and save states, but for some, the most attractive addition may be the online play. Nearly all of the entries are two to four-player cooperative experiences. By pressing the square button, purists of the games (or those who want to compare them) can play them in their initial forms. Playing through these games I’ve put so much time into years earlier was fun all over again, and my few problems with them were gameplay elements that existed in the originals.
The interface players use to search through and sort entries looks like it took its inspiration from the Nintendo mini consoles: clean, simple, with a lot of information on the screen. It’s a great start, but once the game is opened it is easy to see how the button layout may be a small fiasco for some. That’s when it becomes quickly evident that the OPTIONS button is used for accessing the framework menu of the bundle and not starting the individual program the player is currently in. Instead, it is usually the triangle button that accomplishes this, which was confusing at first when it kept pausing while I tried to figure out the buttons. It makes sense, as each of the games that are playable only used two buttons, but it feels awkward and slightly inconsistent.
Control schemes can be changed, but doing so for the games also seems to affect the menu inputs, making it even more confusing. I do appreciate R1 acting as a dedicated jump button now, as it required hitting both B and A at once to do it originally, which was always hard to do accurately every time. Players may also press OPTIONS to see a command list for each game, another valuable asset, as many of Technos games were ambitious and versatile for 8-bit titles and discovering the moves naturally could take some time and lead to a lot of defeat early on.
With that said, the Brawler Bundle is lacking.
It’s weird to have Double Dragon’s name come first when there are only three titles from that series represented here, but I understand that was most likely a marketing decision for a product being released in the West, where Kunio’s name isn’t as well known. I also know no one likes to remember Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls, but they could have thrown that or Super Double Dragon on there, even if it would have reached into the 16-bit era. If Arc wanted to stick to that NES/Famicom time period, some Game Boy versions could have spruced up the list. But many longtime fans will most likely miss the arcade installments over everything else. There are also no substantial extras. We have small bios, but no history pieces, interviews, or behind the scenes videos. Recent collections like Disney’s Aladdin and The Lion King double pack spoiled many gamers in that department.
It’s a good collection, but nothing spectacular, and has a greater chance of appealing to those who were already fans of one of the franchises and less of a shot for attracting new fans. I hope I’m wrong about that because new converts could find themselves having a lot of fun here. With three of the biggest titles in the bundle already available through the Switch’s online library (without the enhancements) and there being duplicates amongst the eighteen games, the asking price may seem steep for some. This one won’t make anyone “BARF,” but it’s mostly for true fans of Kunio-Kun and those who want the most up-to-date ways to play a few favorites with some crisper visuals and rudimentary trophies.
A code was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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A bundle of joy for fans of these mega beat ‘em up franchises. The new polish looks nice, but there isn’t much to keep any newcomers coming around.
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