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Retro video game review: Target Renegade (NES)

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NES Target: Renegade video game

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The beat-'em-up genre of video games, in which a protagonist beats up numerous adversaries in order to accomplish a goal that usually involves rescuing a kidnapped girlfriend, has gone through numerous iterations and evolutions. Adding to the canon was publisher Taito's release of Target: Renegade on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console in 1990, as developed by Software Creations, makers of other NES titles such as Magic Johnson's Fast Break, Silver Surfer, and Treasure Master.

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In the vein of such classics as Double Dragon, the Final Fight series, and River City Ransom, Target: Renegade follows the misadventure of a man whose brother has been kidnapped by the assumedly evil Mr. Big. Through downtown streets and a parking garage, woods in the park and interior scenes alike, our player-character must mercilessly slaughter every human being he comes across. In his defense, though, every single person does seem intent on murdering him first.

To accomplish these means, the player is given a set of controls that correspond to various fight moves. The A button punches and the B button kicks, which seems fairly standard. However, Target: Renegade does go a step further in offering a sweep kick (B + Down), a jump kick (B + Up), and a leaping jump kick (B + Up + Left or Right). While the move variety is nice, the timing on the jump kicks is somewhat wonky, as the player must press the Up button slightly after the B button, rather than simultaneously. This is unfortunate, as flying jump kicks are pretty darn essential to mastering any forward progress in this challenge.

The player is only given a single life to complete the game with, which sucks, as Renegade is rather challenging enough as-is. But at least the player is also given a health bar, rather than having to suffer death at a single hit. Health is restored at the end of each level, too, to the tune of about a half-bar's worth. There are even hearts sometimes dropped by enemies that can be picked up to restore a minor bit of health as well. Bizarrely, and frustratingly, the player must press Down + A in order to pick these hearts up -- and they disappear after a few seconds. In other words, this might be the worst, most needlessly difficult and complicated item-grab system ever implemented in a video game. Seriously. Why make the process of simply getting an item so stupidly complex? Why not, like most other games, let the player just have the item for simply walking over it? Honestly, developers: Why did you intentionally decide that the act of picking up a health restoration had to be a challenge in and of itself?

While we are nitpicking the nitty-gritty flaws in the details of Target: Renegade, let us discuss the boss fights. At the end of every level, which itself is a series of beating all the baddies on a screen before advancing a scroll sequence somewhat, is a boss fight. This is usual, fine and dandy for the genre. But where Renegade fails is in the unnecessary tedium of the "belly-punch" sequences about half these bosses necessitate.

This goes as follows: The boss appears. The first two bosses for levels one and two are exactly the same, in fact, but this same "belly-punch" type follows later appearance as well. Each time the boss is punched in the gut, he reacts with obvious damage and a slight pause allowing the player to escape a potential blow by moving vertically. By operating on a continual stick-and-move boxing pattern, the player will eventually prevail. But the risk/reward system here is ludicrously unbalanced, because defeating the boss takes, like, a couple dozen blows. The designers seemed to have an ill understanding of a proper fight mechanic optimized for player incentive, challenge, and fulfillment. After all, once the player has experienced the fight enough to discover the crucial pattern needed, why waste so much time repeating that pattern so many times? Really, like a dozen times is not enough for the player to prove his or her skill at exploiting the boss weakness? Why require the player-character to undergo additional time doing literally nothing but the same action again, then again, then again, then again, then again, then again, then again, then again, then again, then again, then again, then again, then again, then again, then again, and then again? How would the game suffer if the boss bouts were cut down in time a bit? As it stands, they seem quite bloated and absurd.

But maybe that's just me.

Control and pacing issues aside (as important as control and pacing are, mind you), Target: Renegade does have some nifty little wrinkles as well. There is text that appears on the bottom of the screen at times, that offers hints or directions as needed. The graphics are done fairly well, with a fine understanding of outlines shown, some interesting character designs (some laughable, too), some solid background work (even if some elements are repeated a tad often, although at least the phone booth is done thematically), and an enjoyable smattering of color. The protagonist does seem like a rip-off of Double Dragon's Billy Lee, however, and did his brother really have to turn out to be an identical twin? Spoiler alert?

The soundtrack is quite neat, too. Rapid-fire licks of ascending-descending "bloop" notes show off the same flair displayed in Taito's Sky Shark, but here the background tracks are much more varied. The effects are fine, your usual fare of thuds and bumps and fisticuffs scratches. The music is definitely the highlight here.

Beat'em tropes make their appearance throughout: Weapons, such as big green baseball bats. Up to four enemies to face on-screen at once, which is actually more than a typical NES beat-'em-up title can boast. Enemies on motorcycles that have to be knocked off; this actually turns out to be a remarkably prominent theme from stage to stage, including the first foes ever encountered. It is regrettable that the jump kick, so touchy in its execution, must be relied on so soon. There is a learning curve here, and it does not take a graceful, sloping curve up the graph.

Target: Renegade is among the harder beat-'em-up games, especially on NES. While many beat-'ems are known for challenging, the unfortunate case of Renegade is that it is due to jacked-up controls and misfired repetition. You know how Double Dragon II: The Revenge, a true classic example of the genre, has those cool segments of precision platforming, very varied enemy designs, and even levels that transition from 2.5D to 2D? Yeah, Renegade has no such innovation or vision. This is your standard, generic, lifeless side-scrolling video game, like a little-easier Bayou Billy without the cajun flavor.

Overall Rating: 2/5 Stars

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