The History of Kunio-kun: Downtown Nekketsu March Super-Awesome Field Day!

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Considering the Kunio-kun series is credited with inventing the beat ’em up and remains strongly associated with the genre to this day, it’s surprising quite how many installments in the series emphatically are not beat ’em ups. In fact, I’d probably go so far as to say that the majority of titles in the Double Dragon and Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle from Arc System Works are not, in fact, brawlers in the traditional sense — and Downtown Nekketsu March Super-Awesome Field Day! is a prime example.

That said, we have seen over the course of the series so far that even in the case of games where the primary goal is not the punching of the faces, there’s still a strong “full contact” element. Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club, for example, is as much a fighting game as it is a sports game, and even Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club – Soccer Story is considerably more violent than rather more po-faced football games from over the years.

Downtown Nekketsu March Super-Awesome Field Day!

Consequently, it will not surprise you to learn that while the delighfully named Downtown Nekketsu March Super-Awesome Field Day! is technically a multi-sports athletics game, it has as much in common with Downtown Nekketsu Story as it does with Track and Field. Which is to say, it’s not your common-or-garden sports game — and interfering with your opponents while competing against them is not only okay, it is positively encouraged.

Downtown Nekketsu March Super-Awesome Field Day! challenges you to participate in four different events: a long “cross-country” run across Yumemi Town, a shorter obstacle course, a “ball-breaking” competition and a battle royale. You can participate as one of four different schools previously seen in the Kunio-kun series, each of which has several different playable characters, and up to four people can play, with unclaimed player slots being taken by the computer.

Four events might not sound like a lot, but believe me, this game has a ton of longevity. Not only is it an absolute riot in multiplayer, the single-player mode is pitched pretty damn hard, so you’re unlikely to be able to clear all the events on your first try. If you come last in an event, you’re not able to proceed to the next — but you are able to reorder the four events as you see fit, so if you’re struggling to get through the tricky Cross-Country or Obstacle races, you can jump straight to the easier Ball-Breaking and Battle Royale events and try those first.

Downtown Nekketsu March Super-Awesome Field Day!

The Cross-Country and Obstacle races use a similar side-on 2.5D perspective to Downtown Nekketsu Story: you can move left and right as well as “in” and “out” of the screen. At various points, you’ll need to jump over obstacles and climb walls and ladders, and there’s a swimming section towards the end of the Cross-Country course.

In order to keep your speed up, you’ll need to use the “double-tap to run” mechanic that’s been in place since Nekketsu Renegade Kunio-kun and also pay attention to the environment around you. Some surfaces will slow you down, while others are littered with obstacles and will require you to jump to avoid tripping over. In the Obstacle race, there are several platform game-esque challenges, including bouncing on spring pads and leaping over mechanical hands bursting out of doors in the background; the Cross-Country race, meanwhile, is simply about learning to deal with the varied terrain as the course continues.

In order to get one up on your opponents, you can attack them in various ways. Pressing the action button in the direction you’re moving causes you to punch ahead of you, while the opposite button elbows behind you. Picking up items on the ground allows you to use them as weapons or throw them at enemies, and some items such as a magic wand also confer bonuses on your character for the duration of the race.

The races are split into “checkpoints”, divided up similarly to the regions in Downtown Nekketsu Story — in fact, many of the areas are lifted wholesale from both Downtown Nekketsu Story and Double Dragon — and the four participants in the race can earn bonus points according to the position they were in when they reached the checkpoint; conversely, getting pushed off a scrolling screen costs you points.

Downtown Nekketsu March Super-Awesome Field Day!

Those who came to the Kunio-kun series more recently with River City Girls will be happy to recognise some familiar environments throughout the races; most notably, the Cross-Country race proceeds through a house and garden that will be very familiar to those who played Kyouko and Misako’s adventure and perhaps got stuck on a certain stealthy segment.

The balance between decking your opponents and getting ahead of them makes for some raucously fun gameplay in both the Cross-Country and Obstacle modes, particularly in multiplayer. The single-player mode can feel a little unfair when you first start playing — the rival racers seem to be noticeably faster than you, particularly towards the end of the course — but as you develop your skills and start to find more opportunities to screw them over, that elusive victory will get closer and closer.

The Ball-Breaking event is perhaps a little underwhelming; it involves you and a teammate attempting to climb a pole and burst a ball at the top. Meanwhile, the opposing team is trying to do the same. You can fight one another on the ground, and while climbing the poles you can kick the other players off. It’s simplistic and fun, but it just doesn’t feel like there’s quite as much to it as the other events have. One might argue this is blessed relief, however.

Downtown Nekketsu March Super-Awesome Field Day!

The Battle Royale, meanwhile, is where Downtown Nekketsu March Super-Awesome Field Day! is at its most beat ’em up, because it’s… well, it’s a battle royale where four of you are kicking the crap out of each other in an attempt to be the last one standing. This event is probably where the different characters have the most obviously different abilities, mostly in the form of unique special attacks.

It’s not just a case of thumping each other until you fall over, though. A participant can also be eliminated by throwing them out of the “ring” — i.e. off the roof you’re fighting on — and securing victory in this way is exceedingly satisfying.

In essence, it’s a four-player competitive version of Nekketsu Renegade Kunio-kun, with the refinements to the gameplay brought to the table by Downtown Nekketsu Story. And I’m sure you’ll agree, that’s a pretty winning combination if you’re in the mood for some 8-bit brawling.

Downtown Nekketsu March Super-Awesome Field Day! is one of the most popular Kunio-kun games in Japan, and it’s not hard to see why; the whole thing is infused with such a wonderful sense of fun that even when you’re getting your ass beaten by the challenging computer opponents, it’s hard not to have a big smile on your face.

Downtown Nekketsu March Super-Awesome Field Day!

Gather three friends for some multiplayer chaos, meanwhile, and you have a party game that stands up extraordinarily well today. Its longevity may be a little limited if you’re only playing solo — but if you can convince your buds to give this one a go, you’ll doubtless find it staying in your multiplayer rotation for quite some time to come.

It’s surprising that this never made it west back in the day, as it doubtless would have gone down well — multi-sports athletics games were popular in the 8-bit home computer and console eras, and the comedic twist this brings to the formula would have doubtless been popular. Perhaps the people who could have made an English version happen back in the day were hesitant after Renegade, River City Ransom and Nintendo World Cup underwent such extensive changes for their western releases; chances are we’ll never know at this point.

Still, at least we can enjoy it in English now thanks to the Double Dragon and Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle. So if you’re yet to play this joyfully silly game for yourself, grab some mates and give it a go now. Just remember: playing dirty is part of the fun!

The Double Dragon and Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle is available for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4.

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Pete Davison
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