The History of Kunio-kun: Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club – Soccer Story

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One thing I’ve learned in my many explorations of retro games over the years is that you should never write an older game off purely because of its subject matter. I utterly loathe and detest football, soccer — whatever you want to call it — as both a real sport and a cultural phenomenon, for example, but I have come to recognise that the core of soccer makes for an excellent video game. The latest title to prove this to me is Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club – Soccer Story, better known in the west in its heavily localised form as Nintendo World Cup.

In Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club – Soccer Story, a crisis is unfolding in Nekketsu High School. The entire soccer team is suffering from food poisoning, and they have some important matches coming up. Consequently, the soccer team’s manager Misako (yes, the same Misako from River City Girls, who subsequently becomes Kunio’s girlfriend) turns to the dodgeball club to see if they will take the place of the poorly footballers. Kunio is well up for it, but the rest of his team are hesitant — that is, until Misako offers to fuck the lot of them if they win. I’m not actually making that up.

Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club - Soccer Story

Anyway, with their new-found enthusiasm for the supposedly beautiful game, the Nekketsu High School Dodge-Soccer team take to the field and prepare to participate in a series of matches against other national high schools. These are no ordinary soccer matches, mind; they’re Kunio-kun-style soccer matches, which means the vast majority of the rules of soccer go out of the window and there’s a strong emphasis on inflicting bodily harm on your opponents.

Yes, we’re firmly in silly arcade-style soccer territory with Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club – Soccer Story, with some unusual and interesting twists on the usual football game formula. Perhaps most notable is the fact that you only control a single player on your six-person team — Kunio-kun himself in the case of the single-player mode. You can freely move Kunio around on the entire field and can always see his position on a radar that shows the entire pitch, even if he’s off-screen.

The rest of your team, meanwhile, is controlled by AI according to their preferred positions, several strategies you can set up prior to the match and your own requests for them to perform actions. Yes, while you’re not in direct control of your teammates, you can still get them to perform various actions by pressing one of the two available buttons: while they’re defending, one button will tackle with a slide, while the other will shoulder-barge, and while they’re on the ball, one button will pass to Kunio and the other will shoot at the goal.

Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club - Soccer Story

The strategies determine how the AI are likely to behave when you’re not giving them commands, and include settings to determine their aggressiveness, whether the goalkeeper will come out of the area, whether they will make their own shots on goal, and whether they prefer to pass or dribble if they’re on the ball. By experimenting with these settings, you should be able to get your team playing the way you want them to — and the AI seems pretty competent for the most part.

Probably the most appealing thing about Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club – Soccer Story is the fact that it plays pretty fast and loose with most of the more formal rules of football. There are no fouls, no penalties, nothing like that — so if you want to take the ball by force, you absolutely can. If you want to score a goal by flinging the ball so hard right at the goalie he falls over, then dribbling it past him, you absolutely can. And the game is all the more enjoyable for this ability to “cheat”.

That’s not to say it completely ignores the rules of football. Knocking the ball off the sides of the pitch will result in a throw-in, and the ball passing the goal without going into the net will result in a goal kick. These elements keep the game unpredictable and interesting, and the fact that you can position Kunio ahead of time in an attempt to intercept the destination of the ball means that you always have something to do.

Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club - Soccer Story

There’s plenty of variety, too. Different matches unfold on different pitches, which have a bit of an effect on how the ball and your players respond. You begin playing on conventional grass, but before long you’ll be playing on dirt, concrete and even icy pitches. Much like how Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club kept things interesting with its varied backgrounds and lineup of opponents, so too does Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club – Soccer Story.

You also get a fun bit of dialogue with Misako between stages depending on if you win or lose, and the half-time sequences feature unique animations and graphics for each of the teams depending on whether they’re winning or losing. Kunio in particular, it seems, is rather smitten with Misako.

All in all, the game has a thoroughly pleasant and enjoyably light-hearted atmosphere about it that makes it a joy to play — and a bit of a surprise that much of this charm was stripped out of it for its original western release as Nintendo World Cup.

Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club - Soccer Story

The rival high schools element was replaced with a simple international soccer theme, there were no “story” cutscenes between matches, and most importantly, there were no promises of sexual favours as a reward for your ultimate victory. The light-hearted, rather full-contact gameplay was fully intact, so it’s still a fun game — just not quite as fun as it was in its original context.

Thankfully, that original context is now easy as pie to enjoy in English thanks to the Double Dragon and Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Collection — so even if you’re a raging soccer-hater like I am, I encourage you to give Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club – Soccer Story a go. You might just find yourself very pleasantly surprised with how enjoyable this game is!

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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