Renegade was a true pioneer. The very first 3D beat-‘em-up to hit arcades in the West, it wowed gamers not only with its y-axis movement, but also with enemies that could take more than a single hit before crumpling to the ground. Sometimes they’d even get back up for more, just like real life!
Released into arcades in the US and Europe in 1986, Renegade’s influence was immediate and long-lasting. It moved fighting games away from the tournament settings of 2D titles like The Way of the Exploding Fist and Yie Ar Kung-Fu and into the streets, where players took the role of vigilantes, beating down scumbags and rescuing kidnapped girlfriends.
It was also the catalyst for a 3D brawler explosion that would see the genre prominently feature in arcades for the next half-decade, with most of its descendants adopting its punch/jump/kick button layout, boss-per-level structure, side-scrolling format, and poorly-implemented environmental interactions.
Although Technōs Japan had tasted sales success with 1984’s 2D fighter Karate Champ, designer Yoshihisa Kishimoto’s Renegade was the game that would both directly and indirectly fill its coffers for the latter half of that decade thanks to a swathe of sequels and spin-offs.
Renegade is a full conversion of a Japanese arcade game Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun, which rather awesomely roughly translates to "Hot-Blooded Tough Guy Kunio". The gameplay was preserved in translation, but all of Hot-Blooded Tough Guy Kunio’s sprites, backgrounds, and enemy barks were altered to be more palatable for Renegade’s Western audiences.
An obvious visual touchstone for the regionalising team was Walter Hill’s 1979 cult classic film The Warriors: Kunio discarded his gi for slacks and a leather vest, while his enemies abandoned plain button-down outfits in favour of flamboyant Hawaiian shirts and Kiss-style heavy metal costumes.
The game’s story was overhauled as well. Hot-Blooded Tough Guy Kunio sees titular high school student Kunio lashing out at the bullies who are making his best friend Hiroshi’s life miserable, while Renegade’s nameless protagonist is simply on a quest to rescue his girlfriend from thugs. Incidentally, Kunio got his name from Technōs Japan's then- president Kunio Taki, and he would go on to become the company’s main mascot and logo.
Although not massive global hit, Renegade was popular enough to be ported from the arcades to almost every home system available at the time. The 1987 NES port is the most enduring, although it has little in common with its arcade forbearer. A Sega Master System version was built off the back of it, while Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, Apple II, IBM PC, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad, and Atari ST versions from sought to capture the magic of the original.
Although these ports were handled by then-prominent developers like Imagine Software and Ocean, the technical limitations of home systems – there was usually just one button per joystick, and RAM was measured in kilobytes – saw the quality of each interpretation range from “passable drunk imitation” to “unrecognisable mess”. Indeed, arcade-perfect game conversions wouldn’t become commonplace until well into the ‘90s, when consoles like the PlayStation closed the power gap between home and arcade systems, and developers shifted away from using custom arcade boards and instead began building arcade titles primarily on PC and console.
While Renegade wouldn’t get a direct sequel in arcade machine form, there were a couple of unofficial third-party sequels for home computers: Imagine’s Target: Renegade and Renegade III: The Final Chapter. Neither would set the gaming world alight, but I think we can agree the former has possibly the best cover art in existence.
Technōs did give Renegade an arcade spiritual successor, however. Double Dragon was released in 1987 and almost immediately became a worldwide smash hit, far out-grossing its predecessor thanks to its revolutionary two player co-op gameplay, weapons, and refined mechanics.
Kunio didn’t feature at all in Double Dragon, and instead made his final arcade appearance in 1987’s Super Dodge Ball, before becoming a staple of Technōs’ home-focussed roster. There, he appeared in a slew titles that debuted on the NES, notably including 1989 hit Dauntaun Nekketsu Monogatari ("Downtown Hot-Blooded Story"). However, when that game was regionalised for the West (and renamed River City Ransom), Kunio was replaced by a chap named Alex.
Back in arcades, parts of Renegade were lifted wholesale for use in a number of Technōs-produced titles, including 1989’s WWF Superstars and 1990’s The Combatribes.
However, the megaton impact of Capcom’s 1991 competitive fighting classic Street Fighter II saw the arcade landscape drastically altered once again, and the brawler’s time at centre stage was at an end. Technōs itself didn't last much longer, and by 1996 it was bankrupt. Sadly, its properties were scooped up in 2001 by a Japanese company called Million, which has released just four new titles since then, giving some of the biggest IPs of the ‘80s an ignoble retirement.