No Future In The Past

Renegade burst free, kicking and Hong-Kong-Phooeying from the womb as a Japanese coin-op known as Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun (‘Hot Blood Tough Guy Kunio’ in English, obviously) developed by Technos in 1986. It revolves around second year student, Kunio, who attends the Nekketsu high school where he has become a self-appointed guardian angel and sole line of defense against merciless bullies from rival schools.

It was deemed a tad too Japanesy for western audiences so when Taito rehashed it in the same year, they reworked all the graphics, deleted Kunio from the cast roster and swapped the storyline with a Juicy Lucy girlfriend-rescuing scenario. It was deemed so sinister and seedily adult-oriented there were actually calls for it to be banned, believe it or not! Incidentally, while Kunio went on to inspire 26 spin-off Nekketsu High games, Technos dropped the niche premise too where the arcades were concerned, instead turning their attention to the Americanised Double Dragon beat ’em up series in 1987, Kunio’s spiritual successor.

The slightly more pronounceable, Renegade, wasn’t a massive hit in the arcades, yet when it was translated for the home micros by Imagine and published by Ocean in 1987 it was declared an unparalleled masterpiece and went on to spawn two sequels.

“The controls in Renegade are simple to handle, with up, down, left and right moving you around the screen and the same keys in combination with the fire button activating your various kicks, chops, butts and punches. One of the best bits about the game is it’s so easy to play. Once you’ve got the hang of the few simple moves, you can wade into a crowd of thugs and come out smiling. A really skillful Renegade can negotiate the first five levels without any weirdos laying a glove on him! The graphics are so slick you really feel you’re part of an action movie rather than just playing a game. Renegade is a must! Be a rebel with a cause and go out and buy it right now! It’s hot, it’s dangerous and it’s yours for the beating!”

90% – Your Sinclair Issue 22 (October 1987)

 

Target: Renegade and its mummy adopted a gritty, urban theme set on the inhospitable streets of a gangster infested Brooklyn neighbourhood. Both were heavily inspired by the New York turf warfare depicted in Walter Hill’s 1979 action movie, The Warriors, albeit with a heightened emphasis on the aspirational heroism concept. Gamers lapped it up without drawing breath.

When the follow-up sequel transpired in 1989, the setting was switched to four disparate periods throughout history and the story supplanted with a time travel schtick popularised by movie series such as Back to the Future and Bill and Ted. Oh, and that other franchise involving a policeman’s phone box time-leaping gizmo. The name escapes me. Never mind, no-one watched that anyway.

Renegade III ushered in the return of the cliche girlfriend-saving plot, only this time round she’s been kidnapped by aliens from the future, for no discernible reason. Rather than hitting the fast-forward button from the outset we first traipse through three other well-trodden scenarios battling baddies appropriate to the aeon.

Despite receiving some positively refulgent reviews from the press at the time, fans of the series were outraged at the butchery of their beloved brawler, not least due to the retraction of the two player option and end of level bosses. Remember the dominatrix Big Bertha? You would if she’d sat on you!

“Renegade III is an excellent beat-’em-up, with a great sense of humour which should appeal even to people, like me, who don’t usually like this type of game. Ocean/Imagine have done it again!”

Stuart – 92% (Crash issue 64, May 1989)

“Well, first came Renegade, then Target: Renegade, and now it’s time to battle against pixelated primitives and evil Egyptians in The Final Chapter. Of course, the game is in a similar style to the first two, but who cares when there is so much playability to be had kicking and punching things on screen! Each level has its own detailed backdrops and excellent sprites but they’re completely monochrome, which is not very appealing. Imagine have done a brilliant job on the sound though, with a title tune, tunes for each level, jingles between levels and good sound effects. Fortunately Renegade III has not fallen into the trap that most beat ’em ups do of making things too easy, this is just hard enough to give lasting playability. If you are looking for a good, taxing beat ’em up, Renegade III would be an excellent choice.”

Nick – 90% (Crash issue 64, May 1989)

“Renegade III is quite a jolly kick ’em up; at least it’s got a bit of variation to it! The graphics add a little spice to a hot game (ho, ho, ho) but the best bit in my opinion is the sound, which is, simply, excellent! Content is mostly very good, though there does seem to be a limit to the efficient moves in your arsenal. Unfortunately, there is quite a similarity to the other games in the series, as far as gameplay goes; the graphics are radically different but there does seem to be an underlying likeness. Basically, Renegade III is worth a bash (or a kick, indeed!), and definitely worthy of consideration if you haven’t got both the others!”

Mike – 90% (Crash issue 64, May 1989)

With regards to the Big Issue – why Renegade III took such a dramatic detour from the previous outings, former Ocean artist, Bill Harbison – via the Ocean forums – had this to say:-

“As far as I can remember with Renegade 3 the decision was made between Gary and the team responsible for the game – I think probably Gary felt that the formula was looking a little tired and needed some new elements…

In all honesty, game design documents were not as important then as they are now and like a few games it was probably cobbled together quickly without much attention to gameplay.”

On the same topic Ocean’s erstwhile development director, Gary Bracey, added:-

“This probably sounds like a cop-out, but I hand-on-heart don’t remember anything about the whys and wherefores of the design elements in R3. All I can speculate upon, as Bill suggests, is that we were worried that the franchise might be getting a little stale and wanted to inject something fresh into the Renegade series.

In hindsight, it’s probably best to leave well alone if the legacy is successful, but perhaps the team involved wanted to stretch it a little.

Such decisions were never taken lightly and so it was done with ‘best intentions’…. if that’s any consolation!”

Amstrad, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum users were bestowed with their own iteration, all representing premium price releases clocking in at around eight to ten quid.

As credited in-game, the Speccy and Amstrad development team comprised:-

The Graft: Andrew Deakin (also known for Addams Family, Parasol Stars and Total Recall)

Doodles: Ivan Horn (as above)

Noise : Jonathan Dunn (notable for too many classic tracks to list)

However, a mostly different staff roll call – who in the same year brought us the sublime original Batman movie tie-in title – were responsible for the Commodore 64 interpretation:-

Programmer: Zach Townsend

Graphics: Andrew Sleigh, Robert Hemphill

Music: Jonathan Dunn

FX: Jonathan Dunn

Atari ST and Amiga versions were advertised with an ETA of June 1989, yet never materialised. Hence the game of the same name distributed by Xcess for the Amiga is actually an unofficial PD tribute courtesy of coder, Adam Mastromarino, and graphician, Joseph Lewis… or so I thought until I contacted Adam to find out for sure. He told me a different story, solving a mystery as old as the game itself:-

“I was working for a company called Imagitec Design. They were paid by Ocean to write the game so I was working on the official port of the game.

I was the programmer only, others did the graphics and music.

The game was incomplete when I left the company (due to repeated non payment of wages). By the looks of it not much more was done to the game after I left and the version out there is the version I was working on before I left.

We were based in Ashton-U-Lyne which is just outside Manchester.

I’m not sure what happened to the company after I left really.”

I am – Imagitec became Dreamweavers Ltd in November 1991 and were subsequently acquired by Gremlin Interactive in December 1996.

“What I can tell you with 100% certainty is I never released it. I originally came to Ashton-U-Lyne from Bristol. We had a club there, the Bristol Amiga User Group (BAUG), which included members like Tim Cannell, Richard Aplin and many others. I think I was working for Imagitec Design for only about 6 months.

Due to the mess with that company I moved into DJing for many years. I did get back into programming after 2000 mainly in emulation and retro arcade game platforms.”

Little is known about how the unreleased Renegade title – possibly later tweaked by Dave Harrison – came to be leaked, except that it happened on 24th October 1990. Former Ocean coder, Paul Hughes – when quizzed by EAB’s Codetapper – had this to say on the subject:-

“It definitely existed as an official version – dunno why it wasn’t released.

One of the chaps at the office worked with the guy that wrote it – it was apparently around about 80% complete when it got canned.

R3 wasn’t one of Ocean’s greatest achievements – maybe it showed in the Amiga version and they cut their losses.”

I asked Adam if he recognised the name, Dave Harrison, and if he thought he might have been in the process of applying the finishing touches to his Amiga game shortly before the plug was pulled. It would appear so.

“When I worked on the game I worked a lot with the Atari ST programmer of the game. His name was Dave but I can’t remember his surname. It’s likely he would have completed the game if anyone would after I left.”

A bootable ADF of Renegade III is currently available in the usual haunts online, though as it remained a work in progress when abandoned, it’s extremely glitchy, and the music and finale sequence are missing in action. As Zeusdaz discovered when recording his YouTube long-play, you’re obliged to use a trainer if you hope to progress beyond the first few screens, and even then the game crashes right before the hard-fought denouement.

“Yea it’s quite poor given its progress when I left. In my view it was only about 50% done. None of the AI was complete and the graphics are no way complete. Much of it was placeholder graphics and of course there would be more animation frames etc.”

It comes as a surprise to many gamers that an Amiga beta exists at all, yet to this day the 8-bit iterations of ‘The Final Chapter’ are derided as an abomination, the ugly stepchild mistake that is best swept under the rug and only spoken of in hushed tones down dimly lit alleyways in the dead of night. Well except when ranting about it in retrospective articles and videos. That never goes out of fashion. But does it deserve all the vitriol levelled at it? Let’s fire up the TARDIS and find out shall we?

We kick-start our mission of mercy in prehistoric times, you know when dinosaurs roamed the earth side by side with early humans. Here you clash with costume shop boxing t-rexs, Captain Caveman/Rock and Gravel Slag from Wacky Races, and egg-bombing birds whose projectiles instantly hatch into mini ankle-biting dinos. From time to time babies hobble out of the caves on footless stumps to hurl boulders at you, although as they can’t aim anywhere other than straight down they’re not much of a threat.

Our next stop is Egypt complete with hieroglyphic adorned walls, dripping acidic gloop and pyramid backdrops where we’re stalked by mini and erm, maxi mummies, and the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife, Anubis.

 

 

Moving swiftly onto the medieval zone we explore a gargoyle decorated castle and square up to knights, jesters, dragons and jousters mounted on pantomime hobby horses. In the C64 rendition bonus flying pigs can also be spotted… far tastier than the stripey kind I’m informed.

 

Finally we head to a futuristic space station populated by spacemen, robots, flying saucers, crawling ‘Thing’ hands that look like one of the mutants from Alien Storm, and bipedal alien bugs wielding a vicious proboscis disemboweler.

 

“Target Renegade was a huge improvement on Renegade, sadly the final chapter isn’t much of a step forward. It’s more of a slight sideways shuffle.

Graphically the game has been much improved. There is a humour in the style of the graphics that wasn’t previously there. The actual Renegade character hasn’t changed much, but both the backdrop and all the other sprites have been greatly improved. The backdrops are now much more integrated into the game than they were before. You can now climb the walls. There are ravines to jump etc. Sadly, it’s still flip screen, but maybe that can’t be helped.

Still, as a game. I find this a little disappointing. The playability seems to have sloped downhill quite dramatically. The number of fighting moves are pitifully low in comparison to other fighting games, and movement does seem to be a bit on the slow side. When you’re under attack from four cavemen and two dinosaurs, fighting them off isn’t very easy. I could say the game is difficult, but I won’t because I know billions of readers will write in saying how they finished it after only playing it for three weeks.

The two player option is non-existent now, as is the facility to pick up weapons. Come on Imagine, is this really a step in the right direction?

Renegade III is quite fun, but nowhere near as good as Target Renegade. Maybe Renegade IV ‘oh alright, but this is the last time definitely’ will be more of an advancement.”

71% – Sinclair User issue 86 (May 1989)

Each level ends when you reach the phone box from which you beam into the next time zone. It’s a race against the clock with barely enough leeway to admire the scenery so best tackled by ignoring the bulk of the baddies and dashing straight for the clearings where you’re forced to dispatch a horde of enemies before you can progress.

Although it’s a challenge to fend off up to a dozen assailants simultaneously, especially given that they can’t be dazed, only knocked back, the situation is mitigated by the ability to cheat by crouching and repeatedly punching at the bottom of the screen where the dinosaurs can’t reach you. Dinosaurs can’t duck apparently. Remember that, it might save your life one day.

Time is your enemy as much as anything else, continually ticking down even after you’ve completed a level resulting in a game over taunt when you should be clambering into your phone box and patting yourself on the back. Odd that it should be ‘of the essence’ when we have ‘all the time in world’.

Your energy and lives refresh at the end of each stage in the Spectrum and Amstrad adaptation, while in the C64 game energy depletes continuously at a consistent rate and is replenished by killing enemies.

All levels feature pits and traps to leap over, or kick baddies into. Many are almost too wide to cross safely making pixel-perfect jumping a necessity. Landing short of the edge you keel over on top of the chasm or spikey death trap rather sinking into it as you’d expect.

Speccy owners were graced with a well drawn, intricately detailed, duel platform beat ’em up marred by monochrome graphics (although in 2015 Ralf from the World of Spectrum forums unveiled his own DIY hack to fix that!), while the Amstrad rendering appears to be a direct port, albeit with vibrantly colourised (16 aka ‘mode 0’ to be precise), overly blocky sprites and backdrops.

“Instead of your standard street thug, you get some of the most bizarre creations, including flying characters that drop things on you. In nice yellow and grey tones, with some very sharp background graphics (especially in the Egyptian level) and a flip screen, it’s all eminently playable.

In effect then, you’re half-way to a Rastan Saga or Karnov type game, but with the larger variety of combat moves that you get in a straight beat ’em up. These include a straight kick, a flying kick, a normal punch and a duck punch. For someone like me, who was getting bored sick of the average punch and kick game, this is a very welcome development indeed.

The standard beat ’em up formula gets a bizarre fantasy twist – and it works!”

79% – Your Sinclair issue 41 (May 1989)

Development of the Commodore 64 edition comprising redrawn, high resolution sprites overlaid on chunky, pixelated backgrounds operated in isolation with a fresh crew at the helm. Glowing, seemingly disembodied eyes peer out from the caves, while lava pits bubble and pop. It’s a pleasant surprise to see that the same team who churned out the less than mind-blowing C64 Rambo III game really went the extra mile to outshine the Spectrum’s subdued capabilities.

During his migration to the C64 our hero underwent a bit of a wardrobe makeover, now sporting a black waistcoat over a white t-shirt, losing his cool shades in the process. Even so, none of the in-game protagonist sprites really resemble the one on Bob Wakelin’s exquisite box cover for any platform. What happened to his hachimaki? Why is he wearing a top and jeans? For that matter, why does the box star of Target: Renegade look identical to American kickboxer, Joe Lewis, on the cover of his Jaguar Lives 1979 kung-fu movie?

 

 

The Police take a breather from song writing to devise some Stinging game box blurb!

Something else that was tweaked for the C64 release are the dinosaurs; somewhere along the way they lost their boxing gloves so have to resort to gnawing at your bonce instead. They do look jolly spiffy while they’re doing it so that’s some consolation I suppose.

With the exception of the Amstrad interpretation it’s a visually appealing game that’s hard to fault, at least in the graphics department.

“Just keep moving and fighting, and jumping the odd spike trap or pit. Boooring. As I’ve already said the graphics are pretty good but the awkward and unresponsive controls make it a bit of a chore to play.”

“Not bad, but repetitive gameplay and finicky controls mar this slick cartoony looking beat ‘em up.”

65% – Commodore Format issue 12 (September 1991)

“This game looks good, and the sound effects and music fit in really nicely. If you didn’t like the previous Renegades, then don’t worry. This isn’t really much like them at all. I’d say this was worth buying if you’re looking for a decent budgie game.”

80% – Your Commodore (September 1991)

Both the Amstrad and Spectrum version are push flick-scrolling affairs, whereas the C64 game employs continuous scrolling and as a consequence suffers from sporadic slowdown as the playfield becomes more congested. Nevertheless, curiously the clock continues ticking at the same pace throughout as if by design to ramp up the difficulty.

Stilted scrolling aside it’s a faster game with the additional option of baseball batting your opponents into oblivion. Unfortunately it’s replete with graphical glitches that cause objects to vanish spontaneously. For instance, the rock chuckers will sometimes emerge from caves without their weapon, or launch it only for the boulder to disappear before it touches down. Your bat also disappears while jumping, and even occasionally transforms into something resembling a TV antenna. *Shrug*

To its credit the Spectrum 128k edition is delivered on a single load cassette boasting simultaneous music and sound effects – quite a rarity in those days. Jonathan Dunn who composed the audio for all three platforms made a tremendous effort to devise thumpingly distinct, theme-appropriate tracks for each of the four levels. They echo superbly the era they are designated to accompany; the rhythmic tribal drums heard when playing the prehistoric stage especially are a high point.

“Graphically, the game is as pretty as its predecessors, with the thug himself punching and moving in a mean, magnificent mood. It’s a pity that the nasties, while well drawn, just don’t animate so well. This naff aspect gradually deteriorates as you progress.

The scenario is silly and totally out of keeping with the previous Renegade games. That’s the main problem with Renegade III. Imagine have taken the urban beat ’em up and produced a storyline so out of this world that it’s ordinary. (Pardon? -ed)

Gameplay is nearly the same as Target: Renegade, except that there aren’t so many different fighting moves. There’s also no two player option, which is really annoying and the opponents never give you a chance. The combat is just not as amusing as the games’ predecessors.

To be fair it’s not that Renegade Ill is really awful: it’s difficult but quite good. No, it’s just that the previous two efforts are exceptionally amazing and have apparently proved beyond the capabilities of Imagine to improve on.”

73% – Amstrad Action issue 46 (July 1989)

Alas, games are just a party and parties weren’t meant to last. Just ask Prince. Over on the C64, the game wraps up with a congratulatory screen of text and a shocking twist. Gasp!

“Wow! What a hero you are. Unfortunately your efforts were in vain as your girlfriend has apparently rescued herself and come to collect you with a time warp machine. Well it was good fun, wasn’t it?”

Well, the jury’s still out on that one.

Speccy and Amstrad fans aren’t rewarded with such a happy ending, though are left hanging with a teaser suggesting the possibility of another sequel. Oh, the horror!

“Congratulations you have saved your girl, but your time capsule is broken and you are both trapped in the future… never to be heard of again?”

Obviously the solution would have been to make the next entry in the series a backwards one; it’s prequel time folks!

Only it wasn’t to be. The Final Chapter really was, and Renegade III was the last game Ocean published under the once revered Imagine label. Renegade was never ‘trilogised’ in a box set, only double-packed as if disowned even by its progenitors. Is that an indication of its quality, or lack thereof? Did Renegade in effect ring the death knell for Imagine? Gary Bracey – via the Ocean forum – says not:-

“No big revelation here. It just sort of petered out. I think the line between what was strictly an Ocean label and what was Imagine got blurred a little.

Imagine was originally intended for arcade conversions, but then when we created subsequent Renegade titles (for instance), then the rule got a little fuzzy. There was no deliberate plan to end Imagine, it just sort of happened.

In the end, the decision to promote the Ocean brand above all else became the mandate, thus starting the gradual fade-out of Imagine.”

All things considered Renegade III is a buggy, tedious journey with no variation to the gameplay from one level to the next, frustratingly unresponsive controls and poor collision detection. Is it the worst game ever though? Far from it; as we’ve seen it has its redeeming qualities and it’s no more repetitive than your average ‘walk right and ‘ave a fight’ button masher from the same era.

If The Final Chapter hadn’t been associated with the venerable Renegade franchise no-one would have batted an eyelid at the notion of a beat ’em up featuring novelty villains set on the planet Venus, in a blancmange factory or wherever. Under another name it may even have been judged sufficiently off-the-wall to become a cult guilty pleasure. Ultimately, it’s a not so terrible old game everyone’s probably already heard of.

Now “get lost, punk!”

2 thoughts on “No Future In The Past

  • July 19, 2017 at 10:39 am
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    Great retrospective, thank you!
    This leaves me wondering if these sorties still have equivalent with modern major publishers. Ocean seem to have lost control of what this license was about and it seems clear that there was no overarching design supervision over the multiple conversions of the game, which probably was not helped by subcontracting them to different companies. What a mess that must have been. 😉

  • July 19, 2017 at 12:04 pm
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    Pleased to hear you enjoyed it. 🙂

    It’s a tough call really. If they’d put out more of the same, the critics may well have complained that the series had become stale and needed an injection of innovation. Maybe a balance could have been struck somewhere between reality and The Land Before Time though. 😉

    I think splitting a franchise between different developers would often come about because publishers would rather have a synchronised release date across platforms, which would be made all the more difficult if the same outfit’s time is divided.

    Also some developers only focused on 8-bit games because they didn’t have staff proficient in coding for the 16-bit platforms, or vice versa. Some coders only ever worked on Speccy games, some only on C64 games – they’d choose their programming language preference and stick with it. As a publisher you’d have to play to their strengths and that naturally lead to not putting all their eggs in one basket.

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