RENEGADE 3: THE FINAL CHAPTER

Renegade and Target Renegade are two of the best games on the ZX Spectrum, and almost certainly the best beat ’em ups on the system.

Renegade was a faithful conversion of the arcade original, and in some ways was actually better than its source material. While Target Renegade managed to retain the DNA of its predecessor, and expand on it adding a simultaneous two player mode and weapons! So how do you better that?

Obviously you want to retain the distinctive graphic style, the two player mode of Target Renegade, and the weapons. Perhaps add a couple of new fight moves? Perhaps interactive scenery like Double Dragon? Perhaps more levels and even an Outrun-style branching map of New York where you can take different routes to your final goal to give you longevity in the gameplay? And you have to bring back the multiple bosses of Renegade – Target Renegade’s only flaw.

Although I’ve always been down on Renegade 3: The Final Chapter, I’d never actually played it until now. Back in the day I was put off by the storyline alone – the idea of a time travelling adventure felt almost seemed disrespectful of what had gone before rather than a fresh direction. But perhaps I’ve been wrong all this time, and yet another journey through seedy streets fighting gang members would have grown stale? After-all, the game did score a Crash Smash and 91% at the time, so maybe all these years I’ve been missing out on playing the best game in the series?

Renegade 3 Loading ScreenThe game starts promisingly with the best loading screen of the series. It’s excellently drawn! The in-game music too is good. Not as good as it predecessors, but the effort has been taken to write a different theme for each level that fits the time zone – it’s a nice touch. But then I pressed start and everything went horribly downhill!

The most notable omission is the two player option. While I love Renegade’s one-man mission, Target Renegade is arguably more fun as you can battle through the gangs with a friend. But a two-player option is not a deal-breaker if the game needs the processor speed for something new. The next omission are the weapons of Target Renegade, again, a shame but not a deal-breaker if we’ve instead got some new moves to battle our enemies.

The next thing to strike me were the graphics. Backdrops are monochrome, using just black and yellow or black and white over the four levels (one level less than the previous games)! Both previous games had colourful backdrops which was made possible due to the flip-screen scrolling, so if Renegade 3 scrolled perhaps I could forgive this? But it doesn’t! It’s still flip-screen! And gone are the serious-looking character sets. Instead we have a new cartoony, stunted-style to the graphics. But again, none of this is a deal-breaker if it’s a good beat ’em up that adds something new to the series.

Enemies come at you far more quickly and in greater numbers than the previous games, so maybe that’s a good thing, a tougher fight? Unleashing my moves on them however I was immediately disappointed to find that they’re not only completely different to the original games, but also vastly reduced! There are in fact only two key fight moves now, a crouching punch and a forward punch or kick, neither of which seem to make any great difference in a fight (crouch punch I suppose is the only way to attack short enemies, but you can use it for normal ones too). And whereas you felt connected to your enemies in the originals, having to line up the distance and Y axis just right to land a blow, in this game I felt completely disconnected with contact being a more vague affair leaving me simply to mash the fire button. In both previous games it was also possible to separate enemies by walking around the play area and then picking your moment to attack, but in this game if an enemy is one one side of you they remain there (usually in a group of three), always backing away from you so there is no real strategy to the fight, just punch/kick then back away a bit to avoid their strike, then go in again for another go.

The aim of the original games was to clear a level of all the gang members within the time limit. Renegade 3’s enemies however seem infinite in number, and probably most damning for a beat ’em up, I found the best strategy to be to avoid fighting!!! Instead I would move quickly to the right dodging enemies, fight two waves of mandatory enemies which would unlock the scrolling again, then move quickly to the end of the level where I’d have to fight another couple of waves before a time machine would drop down and whisk me to the next level.

So, those levels…

Renegade 3 Level 1My first thought on seeing the first prehistoric level was that it looked like a budget title, not a full price game. In fact, I do wonder whether this game really was written as a sequel to Renegade or whether it was once a different game and the main character sprite was swapped out for a Renegade-like character and the game re-packaged as a sequel? It just feels so far removed from the previous two games. (Does anyone know the history of the game?)

The graphics are not bad in themselves, the backgrounds are quite well drawn and the character sprites have a decent cartoony look. But the animation frames are terrible, giving the whole thing a jerky, messy kind of look in motion which is what gives it that budget feel.

The one addition to the gameplay is Double Dragon-style interactive scenery. Every so often you reach either a small chasm that has to be jumped (with a terrible jump animation), or a larger chasm which must be navigated past by climbing up/down a ladder to the level above/below and walking past it. Without this distraction the game would be truly boring, and that’s saying something because Renegade 3’s jump and climb moments are clumsy at best, but they’re at least something to do other than hitting the fire button.

As I punched boxing glove-wearing dinosaurs, Captain Caveman look-alikes and dodged everything else, I felt sad at what this franchise had become!

Oh, and there’s no end of level boss on this or any level to come – not even the final level!

Level two sees us heading forward to ancient Egypt. Again, the background graphics are good, but still yellow and black. The character sprites are better on this level, but again have terrible animation which lets them down. The cover art suggests that we’ll be high-kicking mummys in the face, but that never happens!

Level three sees us in medieval times. Despite probably having the best level graphics, this one depressed me the most as we’re set upon by knights…riding hobby horses! It’s like the game-makers were laughing at the franchise! It’s also noticeable by this point that no level is harder than the previous. In the previous games the gang members adopted different fighting styles which made each level more difficult – remember the instant death of Renegade’s knife-wielding thugs, or the life-sapping bouncers from Target Renegade? Well, each level in Renegade 3 simply swaps out the character sprites for something that fits the theme of the level, but retains the same attack pattern as its equivalent in the previous level.

And finally, after only three levels we reach the final, and probably worse level! The future design is uninspired, ugly and blandly presented in black and white. Here we’re attacked by aliens and robots in a confused future meets sci-fi theme.

Like all previous levels, we simply avoid enemies until we can go no further right, climbing up ladders and jumping chasms when we come across them, and take out a couple of obligatory waves of enemies to allow us to start running away again. And then it ends with not so much as a glimpse of your kidnapped girlfriend, let-alone a final boss fight. Sigh!

Looking back, Crash scored Renegade 89% and Target Renegade 90%, both of which are very fair scores. But Renegade 3’s 91% feels more like an attempt to sell Spectrum games in the final years of the machine than an honest score. In reality, I played it for about twenty minutes or so and, unlike its predecessors which I play to this day, it’s something I’ll likely never pick up again. It gets 20% from me – entirely for the loading screen and the music.

Version reviewed, 128k.

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TARGET RENEGADE

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.

Target Renegade Title ScreenThings 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.

Target Tenegade Car ParkLevel 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.

Target Renegade StreetsLevel 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!

Target renegade ParkLevel 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.

Target Renegade PrecinctLevel 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.

Renegade

Renegade is one of my all-time favourite ZX Spectrum games, I’ll go so far as to say one of the most accomplished games on the Spectrum and certainly one of the best arcade conversions on the format!

That’s some statement, so let me back up that claim.

For those unfamiliar with the game, Renegade is a beat ‘em up where the player fights their way through five levels, taking down a gang and their boss on each before the timer runs down. Levels are limited to the width of a few screens and the player can wander freely between them during the stage as they fight the gang. The player has a range of moves at their disposal, all limited to fists, feet, knees and throws, weapons being used by the bad guys only.

Renegade was created by Technos and released in the arcades in 1986, first in Japan as Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun (roughly translated as “Hot-Blooded Tough Guy Kunio”!?), and then later as Renegade in Europe and the US by Taito with westernised graphics and sampled speech and the plot altered to a kidnapped girlfriend rather than bullied school friends, but otherwise remaining the same game.

If the job of porting an arcade cabinet in to a machine with a 3.5 MHz processor and only eight colours (fifteen if you use the half-bright palette) wasn’t tricky enough already, development schedules for home conversions were sometimes rushed to quickly cash in on the fleeting success of an arcade game before it was old news giving the teams (or sometimes a single artist!) just weeks to re-use code from existing games and throw something together. But if that was true of Renegade then it doesn’t show in Imagine’s conversion.

Renegade Title ScreenThings start well with a decent enough title screen. It’s not a faithful rendition of the excellent box art, but it’s certainly not a sign of terrible things to come and was plenty OK to stare out for fifteen minutes if you weren’t lucky enough to own a +3.

And then the music plays, and it’s awesome! The Spectrum was not really known for its music capabilities given that the original machine had only a one-channel beeper with 10 octaves to play with, but the later 128k model had three-channel audio using the AY-3-8910 chip and produced some amazing soundtracks in its time (Bionic Commando anyone?). Renegade’s soundtrack is a faithful recreation of the arcade original, and in a lot of ways is better than the slightly muted arcade version. And like the arcade version, the music plays throughout the game and without sacrificing the in-game sound effects. The sound effects themselves are basic but effective, with an appropriate noise for each action. All that’s missing is the sampled speech of the arcade version, but few games on the Spectrum ever had decent (or intelligible) speech, so it’s no great loss. Now, lets fight!

First impressions when the level starts are impressive. The play area is large, with three quarters of the screen given over to it while the remaining quarter at the bottom is used for the timer, lives, energy etc. And it’s colourful! Imagine made the sensible decision to dispense with the scrolling of the arcade version and utilise a flip-screen method which has no negative bearing on the gameplay and enabled them to use all fifteen colours to create some beautiful backdrops that remain very faithful to their arcade counterparts.

The gangs themselves are given a very cartoony look in the arcade version, whereas the Spectrum opts for a more realistic, graphic look that works well and somehow makes the game seem more serious. The sprites are clearly defined and packed with detail which is incredible given that they’re probably only about about forty pixel tall, and the animation is beautifully drawn too with some nice dynamic fighting poses.

Just like the arcade version, six gang members surround you at the start of the level and incredibly all animate at the same time, moving about the screen, jostling for position to fight you with no signs of slow down (occasionally the music will slow, but the game itself never does). Two will come at you at a time, which is the same mechanic as the arcade version and makes for a good challenge without getting frustrating. But all this work would be wasted if the fight wasn’t satisfying – it’s a beat ‘em up after-all!

Thankfully, the controls and the collision detection are tight, so when you throw a punch, or aim a kick there’s no doubt whether it’s going to connect or not. And I’d say this aspect of the game is actually where the Spectrum scores higher than even it’s arcade counterpart. In the arcade version the main character slides around the screen somewhat, feeling a bit disconnected from the ground and sometimes the fight itself, whereas the movement of the character might be slower in the Spectrum version (he can’t sprint) but he feels in contact with the ground (and the fight) at all-times.

Almost all the moves from the arcade version appear to be present too with the exception of the running punch. And it’s a game where you won’t get away with learning just one move and plugging away with it until the end as different moves are useful in different situations, or against different enemies. So lets talk about those enemies.

Renegade Level 1Level one sees us on (I assume) the New York subway where we’re surrounded by a Warriors-style gang. This is a nice introduction to the game with not-too-hard-to-beat vest-wearing dudes and dudes with sticks. Then when we’ve reduced the gang down to a few members, their boss will join the fray. You’re better off not trading punches with him as he has quick fists and he’ll throw in the occasional kick in the balls, but he’s fairly easily seen off. For added humiliation, throw him on the train tracks at the end of the level!

Level two takes us to the docks where we face a biker gang, and unless you’ve played the arcade version you’ll be immediately surprised by the switch-up in the attack formation. I won’t spoil the surprise other than to say to remember that one move won’t conquer all you enemies. And that’s one of Renegade’s strongest points, it’s not just a change in graphics each level, but also a change in the way the enemies attack and how they get increasing tougher. The mask-wearing boss at the end of level two has a rather nasty spin-kick, so watch out for it!

Renegade Level 3Level three takes us to the back streets where we’re set upon by whip-wielding ladies of the night and their HUGE boss, Big Bertha, who has a nasty charge-attack.

And then just when the game seems to be settling in to a pattern, it switches it up on us again with level four which is situated in a nondescript carpark outside the bosses lair. There’s no boss on level four, but the gang wield knives that cause an instant kill if they manage to stick you! This is the only graphically disappointing level given the variety in the locations we’ve been to thus far, but that’s down to the source material – it’s just as boring to look at in the arcade version and the Spectrum faithfully recreates that! But as you’ll be trying really hard not to die, you hardly notice the background here!

Then it’s in to the bosses lair and unlike the previous levels where the boss waits for his gang to diminish before stepping in to the fight, here he’s on the attack right away. And he has a gun! And the knife-wielding thugs return! If you manage to survive, there’s even the same satisfying animation at the end of the level of the arcade version.

Renegade feels like it was a labour of love by the team at Imagine. It’s a game that I can return to thirty years after it’s original release, and still enjoy it as much as I ever did and as much or more (!) than some modern games. Sure there’s an element of nostalgia to it, and an element of forgiveness given the limitations of the technology of the time, but if you’ve not played it before (or for a long time) I would encourage you to pick it up again and I think you’ll agree that it can still hold its own in a fight.

Version reviewed, 128k.