Dave E rediscovers this graceful beat-'em-up...
Target Renegade is a rare type of game - a violent beat-'em-up which plays almost like a graceful dance to classical music. You are a 'renegade' dooschbag, whose punk-ass brother was recently murdered by the city's Mr. Big. The same Mr. Big is evidently after you too and has put a price on your head that every street-thug wants to claim.
The game runs on everything from a 48K Spectrum up, with the 128K version being noticeably better and more melodious than the machines with less memory. The 48K tape version is also multi-load - with each of five levels needing to be loaded in individually. The 128K version benefits from everything being loaded in at once.
Now there are several things to love about Target Renegade. Firstly, it looks good and it plays well - which is a good combination for an arcade game. It is written in 100% machine code, and both your characters and the bad guys glide around the playing area quite smoothly. They execute a combination of moves designed to drain your precious energy bar. Some dudes arrive on motorcycles and you need to dismount them with a well-placed high kick; one particularly devious mutha on the second level practises a driveby; and, as the level count increases, the baddies get progressively tougher - you can't do a high kick on everyone and hope to get away with it after level three because the thugs start to duck.
Secondly, the baddies behave in a predictable way, but one which never really seems to get dull. There are a maximum of three of them on any screen at a time and, wherever you are, they will approach you. On arriving a few inches from your nose they will either high-kick you or punch you in the face. Get your own jab in first and you're well on the way to laying them out because you can execute a fire-fire-direction key and fire combination to jab them once in the face then seize them by the shoulders and knee them in the groin until they bite the dust.
Whatever you can do however, they can do too. Level two is set in a back alley of the city's red light district where The Worlds' Toughest Prostitutes will inflict some painful punishment on you if you let them get too close. These hos manage to pull off a startling trick - they make monochrome 8-bit graphics look really scary.
Thirdly, there's a great deal of variety introduced by the ability to pick up, and use, weapons. Some meatheads appear on-scene carrying hammers or staffs - drop them and, by pressing fire over their body, you can pick up the weapon they were carrying and take a swing at any other baddies using it.
Fourthly, I've alluded to the music. Sadly it only really comes into its own in the 128K version - but if you are lucky enough to have a Plus 3 and a disc drive, it really drives up the 'Impressometer'. As baddies only ever seem to attack you when you are standing still, you wind up weaving in and out of them, trying to position yourself well enough to win the hand-to-hand combat session, to the strains of haunting melodies.
Fifthly, it's hard but not hard enough to be considered difficult. In most of the fights you will win but occasionally some bad timing will make you lose. Or if you're unlucky enough to get in the way of bullets, you'll be deader quicker than it takes to say bullets!
There are some irks about Target Renegade though. You are often attacked by one dude from the right, and another from the left. However, your character tends to face the baddy which is nearest to him. This can leave you in a situation where you want to back away from the dude on the right and spin around and kick the dude on the left. However, assuming the dude on the right keeps pace with you, and is closer to you, you will remain facing in the wrong direction - and back right into the dude you wanted to turn around to face!
Also, particularly on level one, there are some baddies who arrive on-screen in such a way that they always, always take you out. I'm speaking mostly of the guys on motorcycles. Some of them simply cannot be avoided.
The variety of levels, in contrast to the vast arrays of thugs, drug-dealers and tramps (not to mention women of the night!), that you face - is unimaginative. A car park, an alley and a park are all done in glorious Spectrum monochrome.
I suspect that the reason the levels load in individually is not because of a lot of memory being taken up by graphics and musical masterpieces but rather because of the Intelligence Quotient of the punks out to claim you as their bounty. As alluded, they do not just punch you; rather they leap at you, grab you and knee you in the groin, kick you to the head or, in level four, even set their dogs on you!
In all fairness I also must mention the 'co-operative two player mode'. Rather like Double Dragon, a friend can join you in the quest. Not, at any time (a la arcade machines of the day) - but if you select a two, rather than a one, player game. There is no increase in the number of baddies if you play with a friend, meaning the game is made significantly easier in two player mode. On the positive side though, there is no decrease in speed and you can beat your friend up if you wish!
A final tip is to make sure you always hug the sides of the screens to make progress - you should only stay in one area until you've dealt with two or three thugs at most. If you don't move, more will come.
Target Renegade looks more than a little dated but is rightly considered a classic of its time on the Spectrum. Well worth adding to your games collection.