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Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Renegade (Technos Japan Corp./Taito, 1986)


Originally developed by Technos Japan and released for the Japanese arcades as "Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun".

Detailed credits for the original arcade version are currently unknown. However, since there are so many people involved in all all 10 home conversions, I decided to construct another separate Credits section before the actual comparison material. So, apologies for the short introduction, but click on "Read more >>" (or whatever it is in your language) to read the whole thing - sure enough, there's a lot of it to be had. And before you do so, you might as well prepare yourselves with a fresh pot of coffee - I haven't done a comparison this huge since Pirates! before my last summer holiday.





CREDITS


Cover art for the Imagine Software release.
Amstrad CPC (1987)
Programming by John Brandwood
Music by Fred Gray
Graphics by Mark K. Jones

Sinclair ZX Spectrum (1987)
Programming by Mike Lamb
Music by Fred Gray
Graphics by Ronnie Fowles

Commodore 64 (1988)
Programming by Max Taylor
Graphics by Stephen Wahid and Jane Lowe

Published for the Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 by Imagine Software.

Conversion for the Thomson MO5 written by David C. Bowler for Wise Owl Software, and published by France Image Logiciels in 1988.

Atari ST (1988) and Commodore Amiga (1989)
Programming by Bill Barna
Music by Tim Follin
Graphics by Wayne Blake
Published by Imagine Software

Cover art for the NES release.
IBM-PC compatibles (1988)
Programming by John Siegesmund
Graphics by Brenda Johnson

Nintendo Famicom/NES (1988)
Directed by Yoshihisa Kishimoto
Designed by Masao Shiroto and Misa Yazaki
Music by Kazuo Sawa
Programming by Yasu Kaneko, Noriyuki Tomiyama and Shintaro Kumagai

Apple ][ (1989)
Programming by Kyle G. Freeman for NovaLogic Inc.

Published for the IBM-PC compatibles, NES and Apple ][ by Taito Corporation. Published for the Nintendo FamiCom by Technos Japan Corporation.

Sega Master System (1993)
Executive producer: Takashi Shiokawa
Producer: Kimio Hirota
Director: Iku Mizutani
Programmer: Hiroshi Hishikawa
Graphics designer: Yasunari Hayami, Shinya Miyamoto, Nobuhiro Kawabata
Character design: Yasunari Hayami
Music director: Iku Mizutani
Music composer: Kazuo Sawa
Game design: Yasunari Hayami
Published by SEGA Enterprises Ltd.

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INTRODUCTION & GAME STATUS


I'd be willing to hazard a guess, that some, if not most of us Europeans probably know Renegade as just a plain old side-scrolling brawler with a bit of dimensional depth. At least, for me, it never made much of an impact, because I never thought the game was comfortable enough to play on any of the home computers I played it on - Spectrum, C64, Amiga or Amstrad. It always seemed to require something more, mostly a better controller. But recently, I have found that there is more than one reason to give credit for this feeling: it was originally an arcade game, made in Japan, and has more common history with games like Super Dodge Ball, Nintendo World Cup and Street Gangs (known as River City Ransom in North America), which is probably my favourite brawler of all time. So, I had to pick up on this request made a long time ago by a WoS user by the name of slenkar, and do some proper research.

There's a great article on this subject at Hardcore Gaming 101, so I'm not going to elabroate any further on the relations of the original Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun and its sequels, spin-offs and whatnot. My job is to make a deep analysis of all the versions available for the machines that I can find and play. This occasion marks the first time I'm going to be featuring the Thomson MO5 in a comparison, which should be interesting.

Now, although most of the home conversions of Renegade received great reviews at the time of release, they haven't really stood the test of time. To be fair, that's not much of a wonder, since the genre itself evolved greatly within just a couple of years, but it should be remembered, that Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun was the first game of its kind - a street brawler with movement in three dimensions. Despite its origins, here are Renegade's current scores at our favourite haunts:

At MobyGames, the arcade version has a score of 3.4 from 3 votes, the Sega Master System version has a surprisingly poor 1.5 from 3 votes, and the single voter for the Apple ][ version has given it a full 5.0 - perhaps we shouldn't trust this one. At World of Spectrum, their version has a rather amazing score of 8.36 from 334 votes - definitely one of the most popular games for the Speccy. At CPC-Softs, the current rating is 17.96 out of 20.00, and the CPC Game Reviews reviewer John Beckett has rated it with a full 10. Neither of the Commodore versions are quite as well regarded - the Lemon64 score is 6.5 from 95 votes, and the LemonAmiga score is a shockingly bad 3.28 from 36 votes. The Atari ST version at Atarimania only has 3 votes, but the rating is a more comfortable 8.0. At MyAbandonware, the DOS version has another surprisingly good score, 4.77 out of 5 from 9 votes. Finally, the Nintendo version has been given a C- grade at Questicle.net. As expected, I couldn't find any scores or reviews for the Thomson MO5 version, but at least there are some screenshots of it at MobyGames.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


Renegade is the first beat'em-up game ever to feature several ideas that would become the norm in beat'em-ups, such as 4-directional control, punch-jump-kick play action and enemies that can sustain multiple hits, making it one of the most influential titles of the video game history. But by modern beat'em-up standards, is it any good? Or was it even then?

Throwing aside the game's quality for now, there's something worth knowing about its origins, which might light up some aspects of the gameplay. Technos' earlier games Tag Team Wrestling and Karate Champ were both genre-establishing titles, and are generally considered as nearly unplayable compared to later games that would eventually make the world of fighting games worth exploring and evolving, such as The Way of the Exploding Fist, International Karate and M.U.S.C.L.E.

As for Renegade itself, the game was originally released in Japan as "Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun" by Technos, in which our original protagonist Kunio is a high-school student, who stands up for his bullied friend Hiroshi. Kunio's mission is to "teach a lesson" to the bullies, and every type of gang that he comes up against in the process - in essence, revenge is the key element in the Japanese version's plot. In the fairly Americanised translation that was more effectively titled as Renegade, you just play as a nameless street fighter, whose main purpose in life is to kick and beat every other nameless street fighter's life out of them, and of course, grab yourself a girl at the end of it all.

The controllability isn't nearly as good as it would be in later games that utilised the same gameplay elements and mechanisms, such as Double Dragon and Streets of Rage, but considering that the original game was about a high-school delinquent attempting to help his friend, the rather stiff controls could almost be forgiven. For a proper street warrior, you would expect more of fluency in his actions. Bearing all this in mind, the home conversions shouldn't be all too playable either, since the arcade version features three action buttons and a joystick, making it practically impossible to simulate the feel of the arcade game on home computers and even consoles of the time. Indeed, only strict keyboard controls would even have the possibility of saving a conversion now.

So, as we are closing in on the inevitable, I might as well be blunt and speak my mind here. I have never really enjoyed any of the versions of Renegade or its European, unofficial sequels. Nor am I a fan of brawler games in general, but there are some exceptions. Very rare exceptions. But since I cannot really give an honestly neutral review of the game at this point, you shall have to wait for the results of my experiments until the comparison is done.

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PLAYABILITY


First things first - the controls of the arcade version. The joystick controls Kunio in X and Y axis; in other words, in all four basic directions and everywhere in between. Double-tapping the joystick will make Kunio run. From the three buttons, two attack to left and right sides, and the third makes Kunio jump. Given the right combinations, you can punch and kick in a few manners, grab an enemy while he/she is holding you and throw him/her over your shoulder, jump-kick, as well as do a surprise punch or jump-kick while running. You can even perform a helicopter kick, if you figure out how to do it - it's fairly self-explanatory, really. Since the game will throw multiple enemies at you any given time, you might have to defend yourself in both directions with the said helicopter kick, although you can more easily wiggle yourself out of a really sticky situation by waggling the joystick, if you haven't figured out the special move.

The problem with the arcade version is, that even on its normal difficulty level, it's relentlessly difficult. More often than not, you will have two or three enemies surrounding you, and even if you manage to get some hits across, the enemies will only stay stunned for a split second. Also, the AI is insanely good on the normal level, so the enemies will back up, dodge punches and/or perform counterattacks with little difficulty. On default settings, the arcade version only has a single life, too, so if you ever managed to get through the first area back in the day on a proper arcade machine, you must have wasted a few thousand coins on it. Happily, the arcade game has some dip switches, from which you can change the difficulty level from "easy", all the way to "very hard", which is the fourth level. I have no intention to even try it out, since the normal level is too much for me. Another dip switch allows you to have one extra life, if you so wish. So, I shall be playing both Kunio-kun and Renegade on the easy level and with two lives in order to have any possibilities of getting some screenshots of more than just the first area. Then again, one life is all that matters in that sense, because if you lose one, you will start the level all over again from the very beginning, but if nothing else, then I will have a better chance of getting my name on the high score table.

Judging by any documentation found from the internet, Renegade has five different and increasingly difficult levels, most of which feature two different kinds of basic enemies: ones that fight without meleé weapons, and ones that do. On later levels, both enemy types have some sort of meleé weapons. In addition to the two basic enemy groups, there is usually a boss enemy that is more difficult to beat, and has his or her own particular manner of fighting. Only the fourth level acts as a prelude to the fifth, and features no boss enemy. Also, level 2 uniquely starts with a gang of motorcyclists, which you need to deal with before the regular gang comes forth. All enemies have their own attack methods, so basically, Renegade is all about learning to evade them and learn your enemies' weaknesses, and how to attack them in a timely fashion. Sometimes, though, it seems like good timing is not enough, and your success is more based on luck and tempermental collision detection than anything else.

Most of the home conversions at least have been blessed with three lives, but the general level of difficulty is still quite high, and the controls are never as good as you would hope them to be... but then that's Renegade for you. Only the C64 conversion has two lives instead of three, but that's still more than what you'd get in the arcade version by default. But since I started to speak about the controls, let's take a detailed look at them next.

The most basic set of controls is just up, down, left, right and one hit button, with which you should be able to perform all the necessary actions. Unfortunately, that's not the case in those versions. What's missing from most home conversions is the ability to run by double-tapping left or right, which makes all the difference - only the APPLE ][, SEGA MASTER SYSTEM and NES version have this ability. Anyway, the most basic set of controls can be attributed to the SPECTRUM, THOMSON MO5, AMIGA and ATARI ST versions. The SPECTRUM version at least can use different types of joysticks and a redefinable set of keys, but the two 16-bits only use the joystick, and even in that, they feel very much unlike any other version. At first, it feels like there are no combinations that would make Rene (as he is now called) do anything that you would want him to do at any given time, but it's really simpler than it appears to be at first: when you push the fire button alone, you will kick in the opposite direction you are currently facing; fire button and pushing into your facing direction will make Rene punch into his facing direction; fire button and up or down (both will do) will make him perform a jump-kick, and hitting into any of the diagonals will make him punch below, even if there's no-one underneath him. The SPECTRUM version doesn't fare much better, since your man keeps randomly switching his facing direction, which makes it impossible to perform your attacks with any certainty, but the controls are otherwise a bit more logical. You should be able to perform any given kick or punch in the required direction by pushing the joystick or corresponding keys on the keyboard into the required direction - such as diagonal up-right with fire button should perform a jump-kick to your right. Also, the hit detection is much more reasonable on the SPECTRUM than it is on the 16-bits, particularly regarding the jump-kicks, as the hit will be detected the moment you start the jump-kick, instead of when you land the jump-kick, as it happens on the 16-bits. CORRECTION FROM ALESSANDRO, 16th of February, 2016: the two SPECTRUM versions differ slightly regarding the controls: in the 48k version, you cannot throw an enemy over your shoulder, while in the 128k version, you can. NOTE FROM AUTHOR: in the greater scale of things as they are, the significance of this knowledge isn't very great, and shall go well together with the score the 48k version already has in the Overall scores. But thanks for the correction.

From the rest of the lot, each version has something very different about their controls. The AMSTRAD version has two preset key combinations, which depend entirely on whether you have a CPC 464/664 or CPC 6128: the 464/664 version uses F0 (function key zero), Enter and dot for the left and right attacks, as well as jump, while the 6128 version uses left, down and right arrows for attacks and jump. At least both versions use A, D, W and Space for movement, but I have to ask: what's wrong with having S as the downwards button? Now, the C64 version takes the less-beaten route, and makes use of the joystick as the controller for movement, and then gives three keys from the top left corner of the keyboard for the actions: left arrow for left attack, 1 for jump and 2 for right attack. This is not too comfortable, either, particularly if you don't have a joystick with suction cups that you can stick onto the table next to your keyboard, but at least it's fairly playable on emulators. The DOS version has joystick support along with completely redefinable keyboard controls, but again, there is only one action key, and it doesn't really make up for the lack of action keys that you have eight directional keys - it isn't possible to push two keys together to perform diagonal movement. Of course, the NES and SEGA versions both have two action buttons to use, and you can jump by pushing the two action buttons simultaneously. What's a bit unexpected is, that the APPLE ][ version features otherwise similar controls, but there seems to be a hit button automation feature included by default, so you need only to push and keep down one of the hit buttons and relax. But otherwise, this is quite simply one of the main reasons why we saw so many other 3D side-scrolling brawlers on consoles, and less on one-buttoned joystick utilising home computers. Happily, some conversions at least managed to try out something completely different, and even unexpected.

I shall have to give the THOMSON MO5 version its very own paragraph, due to several reasons. First off, the only emulator I was able to get working at all was DCMOTO, which is able to emulate all the 8-bit Thomson computers. Secondly, the game differs from the other conversions enough to require separate examination. Unfortunately, since the machine is widely unavailable outside of France, I'm not particularly willing to spend a fortune on a machine I might not even like one bit. So, the only way I can educate myself on the Thomson machines is through emulation, and I cannot say for certain, whether my experience with Renegade on the MO5 is even close to how it plays on a real machine. As things are, though, I have to say the experience was thoroughly unenjoyable. The fire button seems to work only when it feels like it's not too exhausted of its own existence, and the diagonals don't seem to work properly with any key combination. Although every other version gives you two basic enemies to deal with in every level, the variety of enemies on the MO5 version is restricted to the more difficult one, plus the boss enemy. Also, the edges in the first two levels are only there for decoration - no one can fall off of them. It's also the slowest conversion around, and you need to load every level separately, so it's not only impossible, but awkward and tiresome as well. But as I said, playing through emulation could be less than accurate.

If only the controls were the only problem Renegade has. For one, in most versions, you have to be exactly on the same horizontal pixel line as your opponent to be able to get a punch or kick through. It doesn't help getting anywhere, that your enemies are able to walk the same speed as you do, if they feel like it; this is particularly annoying on all versions that feature no run on double-tap. Also, since all the sprites are two-dimensional in the most literal sense of the adjective, it is possible for several enemies to occupy the same space, and start punching and kicking you in a different time, making it fairly easy for a gang to beat you to death within a second, if you manage to get yourself into such trouble. This is particularly annoying, since the game gives practically no stun time for the enemies, so even if you would get a punch or a kick through, that wouldn't save you from the rest of the gang members ploughing at you - only the jump-kick can be of any use at such an occasion, but even that is fairly uncertain. Most unfairly, in all the 16-bit versions, the enemies are able to hit you while you're still reeling from your previous knock-down. Still, it's not as bad as not being able to finish the game at all.

The most difficult version due to badly programmed gameplay mechanics is easily the THOMSON MO5 version, but the DOS version isn't far behind. In it, the whole game moves very choppily and is badly animated - it probably draws 4 or 5 frames per second, even though it's not nearly as slow as the MO5 version. Also, the hit detection is laughably generous for both parties, and up to the third level, you can basically win every opponent by back-kicking them and making them fall off the edge. Since there is no edge to fall off from on the third level, your worst enemy becomes the time limit, which makes it impossible to beat the level bosses from that point on. Even with the badly behaving controls on the AMIGA and ST versions, they are at least completable - at least with a trainer mode on, provided you have found yourself a good crack of it. Strangely enough, I found the hugely long loading times on the two 16-bits even more aggravating than the somewhat uncomfortable controls, and they load between every level. It should be noted that the two gangs (motorcyclists and the regulars) in level 2 count as two different levels in these cases. The only arguable defect in the C64 version compared to the other 8-bits is, that you only ever get three enemy sprites shown on the screen at once, instead of up to six. This can be helpful, but it hardly gives the machine any reputational bonuses.

Strangely enough, the APPLE ][ version can be counted into the final three, along with the NES and SEGA versions, that not only feature a couple of different difficulty settings, but also some completely new areas and enemies. One of the new areas actually puts you on the saddle of a motorcycle you "borrow" from the final member of the motorcycle gang that you are supposed to beat in level 2, and this new area is a side-scrolling avoid-and-beat'em-up sort of a thing, where you catch up with a few other motorcyclists and beat them up, while avoiding to be hit by them in turn. But since that one's nothing more than moving around and bashing a button until you finish the level, it's not of much interest to us here. The other new areas act as new places to fight the level bosses at, as well as other transitional bits before you get to the final boss. So, instead of beating up the level bosses at their regular places (apart from the very last one), you get to beat them up in completely new environments. To get to these new areas, you will see some doors open when you finish up with the current area, and then you just walk through the opened doorway. So, instead of getting a proper fifth level with a big boss fight therein, this version features a maze-like level 4, in which you need to navigate through a hotel complex with previous level bosses in every room, in order to find the end-game boss. I haven't been able to find it yet, because there are so many doors to go through that one would need to draw or download a map for it, and I have no intention of doing so. Just knowing it's so much different from the others is quite enough for me, thank you very much. Speaking of endings, the 48k SPECTRUM version also only features 4 levels, although it's more in the lines of the original arcade game - this one skips the fourth level, which is really only a transitional fight leading to the fifth level. Naturally, this omission has been dealt with on the 128k.

The question is, should we consider the NES, SEGA and APPLE versions of Renegade as remakes, or merely well-made extensions of the original? Because quite frankly, the NES and SEGA versions at least are the most playable versions of the lot, even if they don't really offer as much of special moves for Kunio as the arcade original does. The APPLE version is a bit cheap for the most part, but otherwise it's fairly similar to the other two. The sheer difference in playability is what puts the NES and SEGA versions so far ahead the APPLE version.

As for the rest of the home conversions... well, for starters, the 16-bit conversions are mostly unplayable, and highly avoidable. The DOS version in particular, which is not much more than a bad joke with its horrible hit detection and unfair time limit. At least the AMIGA and ST versions are theoretically beatable, if insanely difficult due to some timing issues and illogical joystick controls, but the loading times are horrendous. The less said of the THOMSON MO5 version, the better, but the other three 8-bits are surprisingly good on further examination. Many consider the SPECTRUM version better than the arcade, precisely because of the single button system, but I found the three-button system more agreeable, because in the arcade version, I never feel like I would need to hope that the controls will work exactly as I want at any given time. This is why the C64 and AMSTRAD versions also work better for my tastes, but unfortunately, on real hardware, both would require special conditions in order to make the controls at all comfortable. But the reason why I consider the arcade version really the superior one to most home conversions is because you can do more things with Kunio, and all in all, the arcade game is more balanced, particularly regarding enemy behaviour. This is a tough decision, but here are the results for this section:

1. NINTENDO / SEGA MASTER SYSTEM
2. ARCADE
3. COMMODORE 64 / AMSTRAD CPC
4. ZX SPECTRUM
5. APPLE ][
6. COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST
7. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES
8. THOMSON MO5

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GRAPHICS


It's always funny to see how a big entry always shows its bigness early on - at this point in the making, this comparison is already bigger than either of the previous ones, and I still have three sections to write and graphics to compile. Speaking of which, let's start this one with the loading screens, since the Loading section was skipped once again.

Loading screens. Top row, left to right: Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Thomson MO5, Commodore 64.
Bottom row, left to right: Atari ST, Apple ][, DOS CGA, DOS EGA/VGA, Commodore Amiga.


Strangely enough, the AMSTRAD version is the only one that has attempted to reproduce the Imagine cover art for its loading screen, and it's not too bad, actually. Perhaps a bit messy with its big pixels and huge amount of colours, but it's definitely better than the over-simplified C64 loader, or any of those in the lower section of the above picture. The SPECTRUM loader was originally drawn beautifully by Ronny Fowles, and more realistically recoloured for the THOMSON version. In fact, although it hasn't been mentioned anywhere, my guess is Fowles completely did the graphics also for the Thomson MO5 version, but was left without mention in the credits, or then perhaps David C. Bowler somehow copied the graphics straight from the Spectrum version and recoloured them for the MO5. Who knows. Some information on this would definitely be welcome. Since I left the lower half of the picture mostly without notice so far, it should probably be mentioned that the loading screens in the lower row first show five arcade machines in a room (Operation Wolf, Rastan, Gladiator, Double Dragon and Mat Mania), before the big TAITO logo is placed in the middle of the screen, covering the three middle ones. It's a nice-looking screen, but it doesn't have much to do with the game itself, other than being an advertisement for the game's publisher.

Title screens. Top row, left to right: Arcade (J), Arcade (NA), Commodore 64, NES, FamiCom.
Middle row: DOS CGA, DOS VGA, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, Sega Master System.
Bottom row: Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Apple ][, Thomson MO5.

If there's something instantly recognizable about Renegade, I would say it's the original Renegade title screen styled as graffiti on the cement wall. The even more original Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun title screen features the title shown in big kanji/kana characters, with the Nekketsu High School shown in the background behind its gates. The only Japanese home console port was released for the Nintendo FamiCom, and aside from the big title text, it features no graphics until a bit later on, when you see the plot initiated in a simple animation bit with your friend being kidnapped into a passing car, and you following it on a motorcycle. The sprites involved in the animation are featured in the game later on, so I will not get into more detail just yet.

The graffiti-on-the-wall title screen in Renegade has been translated for most conversions, but there are some modifications. For one, the AMSTRAD version is the only one that doesn't feature the graffiti at all - but then again, it was already shown in the loading screen, so I guess they felt it wasn't necessary to show it anymore once the game had loaded. Instead, we get a fairly basic bunch of text, including the title, copyright, credits and the high score table, with two sprites of the nameless renegade on both sides of the screen, looking at the center. Every other version features the title graffiti, but the SEGA version looks like it was painted with a brush instead of written with a spray can. At least there's a nice animated intro sequence shown before the title screen comes in, featuring some motorcycles and a dog. The SPECTRUM version is the only one that features no additional graphics at all, and instead shows a very simple black-and-white control options menu. The THOMSON MO5 version shows the basic set-up of the score and life indicators etc., but uniquely, the logo drips blood and a text scroller runs below the blood drops. Only the AMIGA and ST versions show a game demo behind the graffiti title instead of some static background, but although it's technically more impressive than most title screens, it just doesn't seem very fitting. The C64 title screen is the same as its loading screen, so it probably didn't need to be included here, but it's there for the sake of completion. The rest of them did as well as they could, I suppose.

DOS control options and instructions. Left: CGA mode. Right: VGA mode.
Back in the day, all the necessary instructions were to be found in the game cover leaflets or manuals, and the arcade games usually had explanations for their buttons in the machine cabinet. So, the only version that features any particular option menus and other unexpected text bits, is the DOS version. Although there isn't much of interest here in terms of graphics, the CGA mode features something of interest in the instructions screen: you can toggle the in-game palettes with F4. Let's get into that a bit later on.

"Get Ready" screens. The original Japanese arcade version (top left) exceptionally has an intro cutscene.
Top row, left to right: Arcade (J), Arcade (NA), NES/FamiCom, Sega Master System.
Bottom left: DOS VGA. Bottom right: Apple ][.

In the original Japanese arcade version, you would see a cutscene at the beginning of each level, where Kunio's friend would get beaten up by some gang or another, and flee from the scene. All the other versions feature a more regular "Get Ready" screen, in which the said text would be shown either as an overlay on the current level's starting point (non-Japanese arcade and DOS), or in a separate black screen with a bunch of other text shown alongside the "Get Ready" thing. Rather unsurprisingly, it is the enhanced threesome (APPLE ][, NES and SEGA) that feature this new "Get Ready" screen on a black background. All remaining versions start straight off with a temporarily frozen screen, showing the current level's starting situation, and instead of a "Get Ready" text, you get a short little tune to prepare yourself.

Comparison of the two arcade versions. Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun on top, Renegade below.


Since there are so many home conversions of this game, it might be best to take a look at the two arcade versions first, and of course we have to start with level 1, which depicts some railway-based station in Nekketsu, or if you're playing Renegade, I suppose it's River City... right? Anyway, the basic design is pretty much the same - to the far left, we find a wall, and to the far right, we find the platform end and drop down. All the details and colours in everything are very different, though. The background in Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun sets this level at a train station, rather than an underground (or subway) station, which we find ourselves at in Renegade. All the locality-related gang culture differences are clearly shown here: in Japan, everything seems quite clean and meticulous, and everyone is wearing some sort of uniform. In America, the area seems a bit more hi-tech, but the subway train is literally covered in sprayed tags and other street art. Kunio wears white and has an Elvis-style black pompadour haircut, while the unknown renegade (Rene? Mr. K? What?) has a brown version of it, and wears a black vest and brown trousers. All the others are enemies, and I have no intention of getting into detail about them, because it would take a month to write this article. Besides, it's more important that I get into the home conversions now - it's quite clear that the arcade versions look the best from the start.

Level 1 comparison, with the whole area map and a single screen.
Top to bottom: Commodore 64, Thomson MO5, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC.

Our regular set of 8-bit home computer conversions looks a bit different now that instead of MSX, we have THOMSON MO5 featured instead. However, the MO5 version looks curiously close to the SPECTRUM version, only the colouring is somewhat different, the level layout is slightly longer, and the grating at the left is differently placed on the two versions, and is of a different size. Also, while on the SPECTRUM, the info panel is singularly below the action screen, the MO5 version takes an even more curious route, and puts half of the info above the action screen, and half below. Strangely, the time counter is shown as a decreasing meter of sorts beside the lives indicator on the MO5 version. Otherwise, they both share very similar hi-res monochrome sprites and overall style of the in-game graphics. I'm pretty sure, that had there been a conversion of Renegade for the MSX, it would have looked very much like either the SPECTRUM or the MO5 version.

The AMSTRAD and C64 versions share big pixels and plenty enough of colour, although the AMSTRAD version definitely uses more colour. I'm not sure if that's a good thing, though, because the extravagant use of colours in the attempt of having shades for all the sprites makes the game look a bit messy, although it's certainly a bit more detailed than the C64 version. The C64 version has more traditional overall style with its simply utilised colours, which makes it actually look closer to the arcade version in a way. The lack of detail is a bit of a turn-off, but then it scrolls better than any of the others in this lot, and the action screen is wider than on the AMSTRAD, so that's definitely something worth considering. Oh yeah, if it's of any interest to notice these things, our unnamed 8-bit renegade is wearing blue trousers and a black vest here, so we cannot with good conscience call these two particularly accurate arcade conversions.

Level 1 comparison of the extended 8-bit versions.
Top to bottom: Apple ][, Famicom, NES, Sega Master System.


What I've gotten used to refer to myself as the enhanced threesome, actually features a fourth version this time, because there were localized Nintendo versions released for both the FamiCom and the NES. Amazingly, both Nintendo versions look pretty close to their arcade counterparts, at least in essentials. Understandably, the American version features less details than can be seen on the 8-bit home computers, for example, but this lack of detail makes it look like a rushed conversion. Strangely enough, the SEGA version was only ever released outside of Japan, so there is no localized Japanese version, although Sega machines were natively Japanese. Anyway, the SEGA version looks superb, but very different to the others. While the pixelation is no better than in the Nintendo version, it looks much more fitting for Renegade, and the colouring is closer to the 16-bits - the shading has been handled better than the AMSTRAD version would ever have been able to. The only thing I'm missing from the SEGA version's graphics is the grittiness that is such a big part of Renegade, but I'm willing to let it pass this time, because it looks otherwise so much better than any other version. Mind you, it was done much later than any of the other versions, so they had plenty of time to work on the details. Perhaps it was all too little, too late, but in a strict comparison of the game, it does look really much better than most versions.

Simply put, the APPLE ][ version looks very awkward, but I shall elaborate a little. Basically, it looks like it was copied as much as possible from the American NES version, but with less colours in use, bigger pixels and more screen width than height, there are many compromises to be seen here. But since the NES version hasn't got that much detail in the backgrounds, in those terms it's not that bad a conversion. The problem is in the sprites, most of which look like they could have been drawn by a four-year old with a crayon, and their animations are scarcely better with just a couple of frames included.

Level 1 comparisons of the full area and a single screen. Top to bottom: Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, DOS VGA.
Of course, the ATARI ST and AMIGA versions look the closest to the arcade Renegade, with the only really notable differences being the overall darker colouring, the floor being grey instead of light brown, and the info bits being settled separately above the action screen instead of having been incorporated within the action screen. I like this AMIGA/ST method better, if only because it makes it easier for me to compile big level maps without having to worry about badly cut-and-pasted info bits. The only thing that makes these two look less than stellar is that the scrolling happens about a quarter of a screen's width at once, instead of constantly, like it does in the original. Since the AMIGA is usually much more capable of producing smooth scrolling than the ST, I'm willing to bet that this game was first converted for the ST, and then ported to the Amiga from there.

At the bottom, we have the EGA/VGA mode of the DOS version. They both look the same, so I'm not really sure why they even bothered to include a VGA mode in the menu. What I like about the DOS version's look is that it's somehow even grittier than any of the other versions so far, and still, all the sprites look pretty much their part. But that's where the good things end. The DOS version's scrolling is slow and horrible, and the sprites move around with a slight jitter and little fluency. This all makes it look worse than it actually is, although I have to admit, it's not pretty, and the DOS version's unprettiness is not really a good unprettiness.

Level 1, DOS version - CGA modes comparison.


Renegade is probably the only game I have ever seen on IBM-PC compatibles, which features an in-game CGA palette mode toggler, but as you can see from the screenshots above, there really are no properly comfortable options. The brighter ones feel less bad due to less muddled colours, giving sometimes more visible characteristics to all the sprites. So, perhaps the one with white, pink and cyan works the best overall. But I suspect this should be enough to give you a fair idea, how the CGA mode looks compared to the EGA/VGA mode. There are also screen modes for Hercules Graphics Adapter, two enhanced EGA modes and Tandy 1000 available, but I have previously done graphics comparisons with Hercules mode included, and decided that a completely black-and-white screen mode wouldn't be too interesting to look at, when there's plenty enough to show in other versions. Besides, I'm not sure if the Hercules mode in DOSbox looks normal, and since VGA is the most likely option you will be using, let's focus on that one for the rest of the comparison. In the version I managed to find, the Tandy version doesn't even work - not on DOSbox, at least, and I haven't bothered to try elsewhere. Also, DOSbox doesn't support the special EGA modes, so we might as well forget about them for now.

Cutscenes and other little extra bits, left to right: Apple ][, NES/Famicom, Sega Master System.


Our special threesome feature some special messages at the end of each level, spoken by our protagonist, whose name on these versions is Mr. K (Kunio, right?) - or, if you fail at defeating the level boss, he or she speaks some tough lines. Notably, the Famicom version of Kunio looks a bit different from the American Mr. K, but the difference is really in the drawing style, rather than his facial characteristics. The SEGA version beats the other two again by having some real cutscenes, in which after having lost a life, an enemy drags you along the street and throws you into a big trash container.

Screenshots from level 2. Top row, left to right: Arcade (J), Arcade (NA), NES, FamiCom, Sega Master System.
Middle row: ZX Spectrum, Thomson MO5, Apple ][, Commodore 64. Bottom row: Amiga/ST, DOS VGA, Amstrad CPC.


Now that you've seen proper comparisons of level 1, the rest of the Graphics section can be dealt with less work. Normally, level 2 is the only one that differs from the rest of the game by having something other than pedestrian enemies, but the special threesome differs in this - and that we shall deal with later on. Now, let's look at the renegade fight some hostile motorcyclists.

So, we're at the docks now, fighting off some different-looking gang members. Interestingly, from the home conversions, only the SPECTRUM version shows the gang members waiting beside their motorbikes while you're first being harrassed by motorcyclists, and once you have dealt with those, the gang from the background come forth. In all the other regular versions, the pedestrian gang members stay off-screen until you have beaten the motorcyclists. In the NINTENDO, SEGA and APPLE versions, though, you fight the pedestrians first, and the motorcyclists afterwards, because as a result, you will grab a motorcycle and head off to the next section. That said, in the said threesome, it looks more like a moped than a proper motorcycle.

The background things are also interesting to compare, because the water looks very different in all versions - the C64 version doesn't even seem to have much of water in it; the sky is coloured differently in most versions, so you could say this fight happens on a different time of day in different versions; the cars and bikes in the background are decidedly different; and again, the gang members have different colours. In this case, though, there aren't that many differences between Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun and Renegade, but there are enough to notice.

Level 3 screenshots. Top row, left to right: Arcade (J), Arcade (NA), NES, FamiCom, Sega Master System.
Middle row: ZX Spectrum, Apple ][, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64. Bottom left: DOS VGA. Bottom right: Amiga/ST.


This is as far as I will take you, so you have something to look forward to. Besides, from this point onward, it would be practically impossible to compare the graphics of all the versions, because the NES, SEGA and APPLE ][ versions differ so drastically from the rest of them. You might have noticed that the THOMSON MO5 screenshot is missing from this bunch - it's because I was unable to get to the third level. Or perhaps just unwilling, whatever.

In the arcades and the 16-bits, the Sukeban (Japanese girl gang) in Nekketsu, and what I'm guessing is a gang of prostitutes in Renegade, the women have very colourful clothing, and differently coloured hair to make them easier to see with the dark background. For some reason, the APPLE, NINTENDO and SEGA versions are quite limited in this level, and only have one basic look for the girls, with the only difference being in the weapons they're wielding. The other versions are doing fine in this regard, but most of their colour choices are strange - the orange and red scheme in DOS, the grey theme on C64, and the light blue and orange scheme in APPLE. The cyan basic colour in the SPECTRUM version is understandable, since it would be next to impossible to see black sprites against a dark blue background if you use a proper Spectrum connected to a proper old TV with an RF cable.

Screenshots of the extended bits from levels 2 and 3, top to bottom:
Apple ][, NES, FamiCom, Sega Master System.
Before I finish this section off with the obligatory Game Over related stuff, here's a few additional screens from the extended threesome, plus the FamiCom version, of course. In case I forgot to mention this earlier, these versions feature two optional routes for level 3: take the door to the bar, and you end up fighting another bunch of regular girl gangers, but the other door leads you to Big Bertha's house. So, it's one way or the other, but you will not have to fight both. The additional bits from level 2 are more interesting, though - you get to ride the bike and knock off more bike-riding gang members in a side-scrolling high-speed race level, before you get to their leader, who is waiting for you near a crappy white sedan or a spiffy blue sports car.

Game Over screens. Top row, left to right: Arcade (J), Arcade (NA), Amstrad CPC, Thomson MO5, ZX Spectrum.
Middle row, left to right: DOS CGA, DOS VGA, Commodore 64, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga.
Bottom row, left to right: Apple ][, Sega Master System, NES/FamiCom.


Nekketsu/Renegade features surprisingly many different types of Game Over screens. The most regular one is a "The End" graffiti shown on the title screen wall - with or without the title shown along with it. Curiously, the FAMICOM version features no proper Japanese Game Over screen, but instead has the same English one that's in the NES version. It's strange, because the original Japanese arcade version had a proper Japanese ending screen saying owari with the Nekketsu High School again in the background. The C64 version takes you straight to the Hi Score table to write your name, so there's no separate "The End" screen. The SPECTRUM version shows a small GAME OVER text below the screen where you died in, before you're taken back to either the title screen or the high scores list. The THOMSON version writes everything in French, so instead of Game Over, you get "Jeu Fini!" in different colours, and an instruction to press button to continue. All the others are as boring as they can ever get.

High score tables. Top left: Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun (Arc). Top middle: Renegade (Arc). Top right: Commdore 64.
Bottom row, left to right: DOS EGA/VGA, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC.

No, I'm not being lazy: not all versions feature a high score list. Some versions don't even feature a high score indicator in the game's info panel. So, here's all that there is. Which is a pity, since it is an arcade game, which makes it practically necessary to have something like this, so you can beat your friends' scores in your favourite games. Well okay, I grant you that Renegade is hardly anyone's favourite game, so if you find another person in your town that has ever enjoyed it, consider yourselves one of the lucky (or should I say, unlucky?) few. But anyway, there's nothing much to see here - they're just high score tables, after all. The original Japanese Kunio-kun game has a slightly different sort of a table of scores, but then it features Japanese characters to write with, so us regular European folks won't even know what all that is about. Also, the DOS version looks different with its ten entries and boxy presentation with cut-and-paste clipboard graphics. The AMSTRAD hall of fame is located neatly in the title screen, and I only included it again in this picture to make it more symmetrical.

Phew, that was a lot of work. But I still need to put this lot in some sort of order, adding to their final mathematical scores at some point. Let's hope these scores are at least fair, because the game sure isn't very.

1. ARCADE
2. COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST
3. SEGA MASTER SYSTEM
4. NINTENDO
5. ZX SPECTRUM
6. AMSTRAD CPC
7. COMMODORE 64
8. THOMSON MO5
9. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES
10. APPLE ][

---

SOUNDS


The thing that always struck me as the most curious about Renegade was its soundtrack, which lends a lot of its style from traditional 50's rock'n'roll and early surf rock, but some part of it always felt a bit off. Playing the Japanese arcade original and Kunio-kun's official sequels, the style of music becomes more logical with the clothing and haircuts being decidedly 50's oriented, which I'm guessing must have been en vogue in the early 80's.

Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun's original soundtrack starts off with a very traditional arcade-like "Get Ready" tune, one which you wouldn't be surprised to find in games like Donkey Kong, Pole Position or Dig Dug, but this one has its own particular sound due to the game's theme and style. The same little ditty is used to congratulate on your successful clearance of a level. If you wait for a while in the title screen, you get to see a demonstrational bit of the game in action (a.k.a. attract mode), in which you will hear something completely different than what's in the actual game - a surprisingly militant march-like tune. When you start the game, the cutscene features a fast little loop, that sounds more like it could come from a 70's action movie, in a chase sequence or something. The level tunes are all different and are more firmly based in the rock'n'roll theme of the game, and when you lose a life, you will hear a short bluesier ditty, which is meant to express regret, but sounds a bit comical for some reason. Also, the short Game Over ditty is again very arcade-like as a composition, but utilises the same instruments as the rest of the soundtrack. Renegade's arcade soundtrack is otherwise similar, but features no music in attract mode, and the "Get Ready"-like tune is not played when you start up the machine. The arcade machine being utilised with a Motorola 6809 CPU for producing sound, the game sounds fairly plastic, like Atari games would sound until the early 90's.

The arcade versions' sound effects differ by locality. Both versions feature plenty of speech samples, which are spoken by your various enemies, particularly the bosses, but the original Japanese version features more of it, what with the cutscenes and all that, and of course, in the Japanese version, everyone speaks Japanese, and in Renegade, everyone speaks English. Otherwise, there are only a few sound effects for punches, falls, gaining extra lives, passing motorcycles and such. Nothing exceptional, but works well enough.

If we go through the home conversions in the reversed order of impressiveness, we will start with the THOMSON MO5 version, which has no music whatsoever, and only a single blip-noise to acknowledge a hit having reached its target. Next up, the 48k SPECTRUM version, which offers glorious monophonic beeper tunes in the title screen and between levels, as well as seemingly randomly generated sound effects during play. The C64 version has a surprisingly low-budget soundtrack, with only one tune repeating within the levels (the one for level 1), along with the little ditties for "get ready", "life lost" and "game over" scenarios. At least it also plays a few fairly quiet sound effects on top of the music, which is a rare feature in a C64 game of this age. I also have to mention, that the C64 version of Renegade features an instrument which sounds clearly out of tune with the other instruments, which I'm guessing has been made deliberately. The 128k SPECTRUM features more music than the C64 version, and although there are no percussive instruments used in the music, it does sound better now because of the out-of-tune instrument on the C64, and the sound effects still utilise the beeper, as they did in the 48k version. The AMSTRAD version also features all the music that are included in the 128k Spectrum soundtrack, and the sound effects feel less random, and more to the point, because they take the place of the percussive instrument. Naturally, all of the above feature a soundtrack based on the original arcade version.

Interestingly, both of the NINTENDO versions' soundtracks are entirely based on the original arcade game, even though there are many differing segments. Of course, it all sounds very Nintendo'esque with its familiar basic sound library, but at least with the 8-bit Nintendo, there's a good amount of character, and less of plasticity. The SEGA MASTER SYSTEM version follows the Nintendo versions, and it sounds fairly similar, too, only with some slight differences in sound filters and such. Only the APPLE ][ version from the extended threesome sounds decidedly different. All the sounds are played through the beeper (no Mockingboard option available), and although all the tunes and effects are surprisingly good for what they are, it's still a bit behind the 48k Spectrum. Only the short tunes between levels have been fully retained from the original, and during play, you will only be hearing short loops of rock'n'roll sounding music played over and over again - except for when the cheap sound effects take priority.

The DOS version has three sound options: PC speaker (IBM standard), a 3-channel Tandy system, and Adlib music board. As usual, the PC speaker offers no neat tricks, and although there is plenty enough of music, it all becomes a bit tiresome with only a single note playing at a time. Added to that, you get to hear little "bip" noises in place of the music whenever something violent happens. It's really very unpleasing. In Adlib mode, you get to hear glorious 3-channel general midi sort of sounds in a rock'n'roll environment, plus the little "bip" noises from the PC speaker for sound effects. I couldn't get the Tandy mode working, so I cannot comment on that, but usually, the Tandy version has sounded rather nice compared to the regularly used options. If someone is able to speak out on this matter, please do so.

Finally, we get to the AMIGA and ST versions, which should be interesting, because their new soundtrack was composed by none other than my favourite C64 composer, Tim Follin. Therefore, it's a bit of a letdown, that the Follin soundtrack for Renegade isn't all that fitting, nor is it very high Follin quality. Sure, there are some progressive elements to the music, such as tempo/mood changes, but melodically, the new soundtrack is not particularly memorable, unless you manage to play the game for more than 15 minutes. You see, there is only one song in the whole soundtrack, which features two sections: a groove-rock sort of a jam that lasts for about one minute, which then turns into a blues sort of a thing for another minute, until it stops and starts from the beginning again. For the AMIGA, the new soundtrack works better due to the machine's in-built sampler, so the game's music sounds closer to music made with real instruments. Of course, both versions play some sort of sound effects on top of the music as well, but again, the AMIGA version beats the ST with human voices and other samples.

In conclusion, the original soundtrack is better - not only because it's more versatile and has more to offer, but because it's also more fitting for the game's theme. Voice samples are all good and recommendable, but when there's so little else to offer, there's no way they can save the otherwise repetitive soundtrack. It's really the same problem with the C64 version - a shortage of music, and too little sound effects to make up for it. The results for this section might come as a bit of a surprise, but here we go:

1. ARCADE
2. SEGA / NINTENDO
3. ZX SPECTRUM 128k / AMSTRAD CPC
4. COMMODORE AMIGA
5. ATARI ST
6. COMMODORE 64
7. ZX SPECTRUM 48k
8. APPLE ][
9. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES
10. THOMSON MO5

---

VIDEO LINK


For a change, we have a video from Gaming History Source to co-operate with the comparison. Being the most obscure version of the lot, it's understandable that the THOMSON MO5 version is missing from the video, but just imagine the SPECTRUM version with the graphics you can see above in the Graphics section, and much slower, and you're almost there.



---

OVERALL


I have to admit, that although I didn't like Renegade before I started to work on this comparison, I learned to appreciate it for what it is on the way. Some versions, now I can easily even call rather playable, but it cannot be emphasized too much, that it's one of the most difficult representers of its genre of all time, and perhaps precisely due to it being the earliest example of the 4-way street brawler sub-genre of hand-to-hand combat games. For what it is, though, it's a surprisingly well thought-out concept, and its relatively bad reputation was earned with mostly uncomfortable home conversions, as well as the insane difficulty level of the arcade original. But in the end, most of the conversions have something to offer that's worth investing time for, if you're into these sorts of games, and Renegade and its Japanese counterpart certainly are worth experiencing in that case.

Whatever each version's real value is in terms of learning curve, controllability and replayability, the blog's final overall scores are added up from each section's placings - the last placed gets one point, the second-last two, etc. So you should remember, these scores are nothing but a pointer towards what kind of comparative overall quality to other versions you should be expecting, not how impressive and good the version actually is on each machine based on their hardware capabilities.

1. ARCADE: Playability 7, Graphics 10, Sounds 10 = TOTAL 27
2. SEGA MASTER SYSTEM: Playability 8, Graphics 8, Sounds 9 = TOTAL 25
3. NINTENDO: Playability 8, Graphics 7, Sounds 9 = TOTAL 24
4. ZX SPECTRUM 128k: Playability 5, Graphics 6, Sounds 8 = TOTAL 19
4. COMMODORE AMIGA: Playability 3, Graphics 9, Sounds 7 = TOTAL 19
5. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 5, Graphics 5, Sounds 8 = TOTAL 18
5. ATARI ST: Playability 3, Graphics 9, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 18
6. COMMODORE 64: Playability 6, Graphics 4, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 15
6. ZX SPECTRUM 48k: Playability 5, Graphics 6, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 15
7. APPLE ][: Playability 4, Graphics 1, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 8
8. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES: Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 6
9. THOMSON MO5: Playability 1, Graphics 3, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 5

Despite the unusually great amount of versions for the game in comparison, I'm amazed how well the final overall scores actually represent my feelings on the matter. Really, I have nothing to correct in terms of placement, but I do suggest you still give the playability score more importance than the overall scores. Of course, you could separate the three extended versions from the rest of them, but what's the point - just go and do your own explorations, if you're not convinced.

Renegade was also being developed for Apple ][GS, and if anything can be gathered from the game's page on the unreleased section at a website called What Is The Apple GS2?, apparently reached some sort of preview state at least, or it might have been even finished, if the claims mentioned on the website are truthful. As of yet, there is no evidence of it having actually been released, so we're still waiting for clarity on that one.

Screenshot from Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun Special
(Nintendo 3DS)
The only remake of the game that I'm aware of at the moment is a fairly recent Japan-only release of a Nintendo 3DS game called Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun Special from Arc System Works, which is unfortunately difficult to come by. It takes the original Kunio-kun game and gives it a forced 3D look with the more familiar pudgy-looking characters, some more game content, and apparently, some RPG elements have been added into the mix to make it more like Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, which we know better as either River City Ransom or Street Gangs. Somehow, I would have expected at least one remake from the indie remake scene from about 10 years ago, but alas, it was not to be.



Since there are so many true Nekketsu sequels, as well as Nekketsu spin-off games, in addition to the two Renegade sequels from Imagine Software, it would be silly to write another article of similar length entirely on those, when you can easily find some in-depth information on at least the Kunio-kun series at Hardcore Gaming 101, and with more effort put into googling, I'm sure you will find plenty enough of information on Target: Renegade and Renegade III: the Final Chapter as well.

That's it for now - hope that was worth the wait! Now, I'll be taking the rest of this month a bit more easily, and focus on some real work. Coming up next, we have another Finnish Retro Game Review, so look out for that one. Thanks for reading, see you later!

3 comments:

  1. Hi,

    an interesting lowdown of an old favorite of mine (both in the arcades as Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun and at home), but you missed a detail in the gameplay section (I believe it should go there in my opinion): the 48K Spectrum version lacks the ability of throwing away grabbed enemies, a feature present in the 128K one.

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    Replies
    1. Oh, I actually didn't notice that one. Thanks for the correction, but in the light of the scores as they are, I don't see that this detail is all that significant. Just for the sake of having the detail mentioned, though, I will include it in the text, once I find a good place for it. =P

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