Surprise! Nekketsu New Records! The Distant Gold Medal! Good grief, these Kunio-kun game titles are getting increasingly ridiculous as the series goes on — but we wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s absolutely a sense of charm and consistency to the light novel-esque naming convention of the later games in the series — and it helps a range of otherwise disparate games feel interlinked and part of the same family.
Nekketsu New Records (as we shall refer to it hereafter for the sake of brevity) is a game better known in the west as Crash ‘n’ the Boys: Street Challenge, making it yet another Kunio-kun title originally released in English speaking territories with no indication that it’s actually part of a broader series. It’s a direct follow-up to Downtown Nekketsu March Super Field Day! in that it’s another multi-sports athletics-style game with the usual comedically violent Kunio-kun twist — indeed, the narrative setup is that Todo, the “villain” from the previous game, is out for revenge after Kunio humiliated him in the previous sports competition.
The narrative doesn’t really matter all that much, mind, because like its predecessor, Nekketsu New Records is very much a game designed with multiplayer competition for up to four people in mind. You can play it single-player, but the computer players are so demoralisingly excellent at every event that it’s challenging to determine how it’s possible to get good at any of them. Bear this in mind before jumping in as a solo player!
Nekketsu New Records unfolds over the course of several events, none of which are recycled from Downtown Nekketsu March Super Field Day!. The game begins with a 400m hurdles race that initially seems relatively conventional, until you realise that it’s possible — and indeed encouraged — to simply smash through the hurdles by performing jumping spin kicks on them. There are also high hurdles that can be passed under, and many of the low hurdles can also be ducked under.
The controls for this event are fairly straightforward, though the fact that increasing your speed requires you to tap right repeatedly on the D-pad is quite troublesome — particularly as it’s easy to accidentally push down and duck.
Similar to the racing events in Downtown Nekketsu March Super Field Day!, getting pushed off the screen will return you to a more competitive position after a moment, so it is possible to turn things around after a difficult run — but you’ll also need to bear in mind that making mistakes (not to mention your opponent hurling chunks of destroyed hurdles at you) will cost you HP, and running out of HP disqualifies you from the race.
Following this comes the Hammer Throw Golf, which is fairly self-explanatory: you play golf, but by throwing an athletics hammer rather than hitting a ball. This is a simple button-mashing event: hammer the B button to build up power, then hit A to throw the hammer. When in the air, the hammer’s speed and trajectory can be adjusted with the D-pad, theoretically allowing you to avoid obstacles in the landing zone, but in practice these appear so quickly that it’s tough to respond effectively to them. And, like in real golf, landing your “ball” in the drink will cost you a penalty shot!
Despite occasionally feeling a bit unfair — some sort of course map indicating the location of the hazards would have gone a long way to alleviating these frustrations — Hammer Throw Golf is one of the more enjoyable and accessible events in Nekketsu New Records. Its lack of direct simultaneous competition between players means that you can concentrate on improving your skills rather than having to constantly fend off an opponent trying to make your life miserable. There’s a time and a place for that — and it’s not the golf course, regardless of what you’re playing golf with.
After Hammer Throw Golf comes the Swimming Battle Royale, which is essentially a one-on-one fight that takes place in water. Most of the action takes place underwater, where you can grab your opponent and thump them in various creative ways, and your aim is to deplete their HP before they do the same to you. The most effective means of doing this is generally to deplete their oxygen bar while they’re underwater, which stuns them for a moment and drains their HP while they recover. In the meantime, you can return to the surface to take some deep breaths and replenish your own air supply.
Like most of the other directly competitive events in Nekketsu New Records, this feels extremely chaotic in single-player, and it’s difficult to know how to deal with the computer opponent, particularly as there are no difficulty levels to choose from. Against friends, though, it’s an absolute riot, as you drag your opponents beneath the waves, give them a good kicking and break the surface triumphantly — only for them to grab your legs from beneath and deliver their own punishment.
Next up is the Building Pole Vault, also known as the Skyline Scramble in the in-game documentation featured in the Double Dragon and Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle. This is another race event, though this time around you’re solo rather than competing against an opponent. Your aim here is to run across a series of rooftops, clearing gaps by either pole-vaulting or using unicycles to roll across tightropes. You can fall a total of three times before you’re disqualified, giving a small margin for error — but this is likely one you’ll need to practice.
Despite the initial difficulty it’s likely you’ll have with this event, this is a really fun challenge. It’s brilliantly silly in both its concept and its visual presentation, and it’s simply a lot of fun. Again, though, in single-player, the computer players perform pretty consistently flawless runs, making it very challenging to come out on top. It’s enjoyable to try, at least.
Finally comes the Wackky Judo (sic). This is a fairly straightforward one-on-one battle to a KO with an interesting twist: as well as HP, combatants have an energy bar, and for the most part the most effective means of damaging your opponent is grabbing them and reducing their energy to zero, which leaves them open to some sort of special throw. These are all wonderfully stupid in their execution and immensely satisfying when you manage to pull one off — though once again, good luck doing so against the near-unbeatable CPU opponents.
Throughout Nekketsu New Records, the presentation is consistently excellent; this is among the most good-looking Famicom games out there, and features both detailed backgrounds and sprites that are bursting with personality. The movement and scrolling is a lot smoother than many of the previous Kunio-kun games, too, making it clear that by this point in the series, Technos Japan had really got a handle on how to make the humble Famicom really sing.
The music is a delight, too, blending original themes, motifs we’ve heard numerous times throughout the rest of the series and some wonderfully amusing parodies of classical music — the latter of which play a prominent role in the introductory story sequence. It’s definitely one of the most aesthetically appealing games in the Kunio-kun series, making it an ideal installment to introduce to friends who maybe don’t spend a ton of time with retro games.
As noted numerous times above, the main weakness of this game is the unbalanced difficulty of the computer opponents — and the lack of difficulty options to let you gradually improve your skills over time. In some respects, it makes a certain amount of sense that the game doesn’t want you to beat it in 20 minutes and achieves this by being one of the most formidable opponents you’ll ever face — but on the other hand, this sort of game is inherently replayable for things like high scores, best times and suchlike, so it’s a shame the whole thing wasn’t designed more with this in mind.
Grab some friends, though, and this is a raucously silly fun time that you’ll all have an absolute blast with. Follow up with some of the other Kunio-kun sports games and you’ve got an evening of quality group entertainment ahead of you. If you’re all on your tod, though, maybe stick to stuff designed specifically to be played solo like Downtown Nekketsu Story and Downtown Special Kunio-kun’s Historical Period Drama!
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