When I was a kid, I loved playing games on my NES. In fact, the only thing I loved more was playing co-op on the NES (this is a by-product of being an only child). Luckily for me and my next-door neighbor, there was always River City Ransom—part of the Kunio-kun series, which is still going strong in Japan to this day.
Good – Retrotastic
The newest title in the series is Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-Kun SP: Rantou Kyousoukyoku (Hot-Blooded, Young and Tough Kunio-kun Special: Brawling Concerto)—though if you were just looking at screen shots for it, you could be forgiven for thinking the game came out in 1990, not 2013. Over the past twenty or so years, little has changed for Kunio-Kun. It is still a 2D side-scrolling beat-em-up sporting retro-style backgrounds and sprites. In fact, all the 3DS' 3D does is set the various flat planes and sprites to different depths. It honestly looks like a game on the original NES. And getting to see many of Tokyo's most famous locations in retro graphics is an awesome bonus.
Good – A Surprisingly Complex Brawler
River City Ransom always was more complex than most of its contemporary brawlers and Kunio-kun SP is no different. At the start you can only punch, kick, and jump. But after beating a few dozen punks to a pulp, you'll have leveled up a few times and have more than a little pocket change to spend on better gear, items to replenish health, and scrolls to add devastating special techniques. (The triple kick is my favorite.)
Soon you even have allies join you—and one of your possible choices becomes an AI party member that you have limited control over by issuing different commands.
Good – The Minigames
Hidden within the game's story mode are a few fun little mini-games that call back to the non-brawler Kunio-kun games of the past like dodgeball and basketball. These mini-games randomly pop up in the story and give it a short change of pace, which is nice.
You can even play dodgeball as one of the game's local multiplayer modes. While you can play it alone against three computers, you can also game share it with three other 3DSes even if they don't have the game. You can also game share with the game's other multiplayer option, a four-player versus mode, for a quick, chaotic battle or two with your friends.
Bad – Repetitive and Not Very Long
The downside of Kunio-kun is that while it is a very simple game where you repeatedly punch scores of people until they stop getting up, it is a very simple game where you repeatedly punch scores of people until they stop getting up. In other words, it is more than a little repetitive.
While the silly school-age game plot and minigames help a bit to break it up, you'll still be brawling 90% of the time. And as all the enemies tend to fight the same way despite their different appearances, it does get more than a little monotonous.
In addition to the repetition, the game itself isn't very long and can be beaten in about five hours. And even though there are tons of optional side quests that can easily double your playtime, all that really amounts to is more of the same—going to a location, fighting a horde of punks, and stealing their pocket change.
If you like brawlers or have fond memories of one of the NES' best games (and own a Japanese 3DS), then you'll probably have a lot of fun with Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-Kun SP: Rantou Kyousoukyoku. If you aren't really excited by either of those prospects, however, it's probably best you pass on this one. When it all comes down to it, Kunio-Kun SP is 50% brawler and 50% nostalgia, for better and worse.
And if you're dying to play some River City Ransom but don’t own a Japanese 3DS, you can always back this KickStarter.
Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-Kun SP: Rantou Kyousoukyoku was released for the Nintendo 3DS in Japan on August 8, 2013. There is currently no word on a Western release.
Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.