How do you follow a game like Renegade, possibly the best best ’em up of all time on the ZX Spectrum?
Well, in the same way that James Cameron managed to go bigger with Aliens and Terminator 2, so did Imagine with Target Renegade!
Now, that’s not to say the game is better than the original, but if you put them both in the ring together I’m sure it’d be a split decision from the judges.
Like its predecessor Target Renegade is a beat ‘em up where the player fights their way through five levels of various enemies before confronting a boss. The original was a faithful conversion of the arcade game by Technos, whereas this sequel is an original title and probably all the better for it.
Things start promisingly with a title screen that is immediately more impressive than its predecessor, emulating the box art quite closely. And then the title music plays and it’s…really quite downbeat! And that really sets the tone for the game to follow.
It seems that after fighting his way through five levels and four bosses in the original, our hero, Matt, has been killed! We now play his brother who is avenging his death.
I always felt quite sad that Matt had been killed off. I kind of grew close to him through endless nights trying to fight my way past Big Bertha, so this game was always tinged with sadness from the off. And the soundtrack running throughout absolutely fits that mood, giving the whole game a melancholy feel.
When the game begins, the colour palette and graphic style are immediately familiar to look at. We’re even charged by a biker just like the start of Renegade’s level two – this could be a missing level from the original. But while it’s all quite familiar, the differences start coming at us thick and fast.
The first and biggest difference is that Matt had two brothers! Yes, it’s a two player game! Two player games always felt like something of a treat on the Spectrum – there was nothing worse than going to a friend’s house and having to take turns on a game…and arguing that your last go wasn’t fair and that the computer had cheated you somehow.
The game works perfectly well as a single player beat ‘em up, but the two player option really adds to the fun! In one-player mode, three enemies are on-screen and surround you at a time. That’s the same number that would surround you in Renegade, so the fight mechanic is very similar to the original game. In two-player mode, two enemies surround each player with a total of six character sprites on screen (including the brothers) at a time. It’s impressive to look at the simultaneous fights going on, and it’s in these chaotic moments where you’re forced to use team-work that the game really shines.
While the fighting style is almost exactly the same as Renegade, it looks like Matt’s brothers both had the day off fight school when they were teaching the shoulder throw, that move missing from the sequel. However, since Matt’s untimely death, the brothers have learned how to perform a flying kick which comes in handy (also, whereas Matt had a nice straight jab, his brothers have a flailing windmill style of punching)! But best of all, whereas Matt was strictly a fist-fight kinda guy, his brothers have no issues with picking up a dropped weapon and going to town on the bad guys! It’s always frustrating to watch an enemy drop a weapon in a game and not be able to pick it up, so this was a hugely welcomed addition to Target Renegade!
And finally, although not a major change to the gameplay as such, even the addition of having to walk across the levels makes it feel as if the fight arena has been expanded – in Renegade it wasn’t uncommon to just stay within the boundaries of a single screen on some levels. At the very least, this makes the game feel bigger than its predecessor. So lets explore those levels.
Level one sees us in a car park that’s graphically reminiscent of the subway from Renegade.
Immediately we’re driven at by a biker, and then attacked by bikers and thugs on foot. Arguably the whole game peaks on this level when we reach what we think is the end and enter the elevator only to have the screen scroll down to place us on another level of the car park. It’s a neat graphical trick that’s never repeated again in the game and really adds to the scope of the level.
Where the game is perhaps weaker than the original however is that there is no end of level boss on this or any of the following levels, only the final fight with Mr. Big. If each level had its own unique boss, I think that might have been the clincher in the Renegade v Target Renegade fight.
Level two dumps us on dirty back streets of New York, but actually looks more like Watford. Here we’re set on by some fairly butch ladies of the night and their pimps. At first this level feels easier if anything than the last, but the game is well balanced in difficulty and the sudden appearance of a gun-toting pimp ramps up the difficulty nicely; you can even use the pimps to your advantage if you’re smart!
Level three is graphically the most beautiful. I assume it’s Central Park, but again looks more like a local London park circa 1983, perhaps because the enemies feel decidedly British – skin heads, punks and black guys in a baseball caps – but perhaps also because the trash cans are labelled “bin”? Either way, it’s a great looking level with beautifully drawn enemy sprites and a brilliant backdrop.
Level four is perhaps the weakest graphically. The precinct doesn’t look like anywhere in New York that I’ve ever been! Luckily the character graphics are great and the level throws the game’s next set of surprises at us. First we’ve got the Beastie Boys who duck our flying kick which has otherwise probably seen us through much of the game so far! Unlike the previous levels there is also no weapon to be found anywhere, so these things force us to switch up our fighting style which is always a good thing! Plus, we’re menaced by the Beastie Boys’ pitbulls which although weak, are fast and sometimes catch you off-guard!
Level five shows us that all Mr. Bigs have similar taste in decor – this one choosing to deck out his bar with the same bright green carpet as Renegade’s boss! Again, this feels more like a British pub than a New York bar and I think the artist may have forgotten that this game was supposed to be set in New York, but it still looks nice. The enemies here are pretty brutal bouncers and it’s great again to see the game using a totally different attack to any of the game’s previous enemies. If you’ve gotten this far, this is likely the level that’ll send you back to the start!
And then finally we enter the pool hall for our final fight with Mr. Big. If you’ve gotten here as two players, rather than duplicating two Mr. Big sprites, a bouncer will accompany him for the final fight which is a great touch!
Sadly there is no Renegade v Renegade fight after defeating the boss, a la Double Dragon, or a little graphical touch like the original’s kiss with his girlfriend, just the word “Congratulations” printed on screen. But you can’t have everything!
Target Renegade is exactly the sequel that Renegade deserved. It’s familiar enough that it feels like a continuation of the story, but adds two key game mechanics that make the sequel a new game rather than a re-skinned version of the original. The only criticism I can really level at it is that a boss at the end of each level would have been the cherry on the cake, but perhaps that would have been just a bit too much to cram in to the 48k version?
Version reviewed, 128k.