By Gabriel Jones 16.10.2016
River City Ransom is a cult classic, but not everyone is familiar with the game that started the Kunio Kun franchise. Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-Kun, known outside of Japan as Renegade, follows the exploits of hot-blooded Kunio. His best friend was severely beaten by gang members, so now he has to take revenge. This simple plot led to what was essentially the very first beat 'em up. Thirty years later, this tale has been completely reimagined in River City: Tokyo Rumble. Recruit allies, clobber enemies, master dozens of special moves, and keep the streets of Tokyo safe.
It'll take more than a few punches and kicks to bring down the Tokyo Lion Alliance. This game can be considered a beat 'em up RPG, so it's up to the player to build their abilities. This is accomplished by—surprise—beating up gang members. Even those who aren't familiar with River City Ransom will grasp the basics almost immediately. Stats can also be raised by finding or purchasing various pieces of equipment. A new pair of shoes allows for more damaging kicks to the face, and a fresh undershirt makes hot-blooded heroes just a little more durable. Extra funds can be acquired through jobs; though don't be surprised to find that most of the work consists of beating up gang members. Violence is a common theme in this game, but the charming and iconic visuals make the fighting look more humorous and less brutal.
Punching and kicking might be a fine way to deal with adversity, but it lacks style. Even the ability to clobber everyone with bats, sticks, and garbage cans gets old after a short while. Thankfully, there is a wealth of special moves that Kunio and his friends can learn. Ever wanted to somersault into someone? Follow up with a diving kick? Then swing their broken body into the stratosphere? Yes, all of this and more is possible through the acquisition of special move scrolls. These attacks are simple to perform, and add so many dimensions to the fighting. This makes mundane encounters exciting, simply because the player has so many options available to them. Numerous secret shops and high-end jobs offer awesome items and abilities, so it's worth poking around in suspicious places, while inflicting a great number of thrashings.
As the game progresses, allies will join Kunio's cause. These AI-controlled buddies have unique move sets, and can also be outfitted with equipment. It's very unfortunate that there isn't a two-player cooperative mode to further take advantage of this neat feature. Having an AI companion is nice, but they don't do much aside from take some of the heat off of Kunio's back. A few rudimentary commands can be issued, but the allies never seem to be as aggressive or stylish as they could be. Then again, if that wasn't the case, then the Tokyo Lion Alliance wouldn't have a chance.
River City: Tokyo Rumble is not a hard game. In a way, this same statement could be applied to many of the Kunio Kun beat 'em ups. With enough hard work and cash, anyone can train Kunio to smash through the toughest foes. Still, with this game, becoming overpowered happens a little too quickly, so there's little incentive to specialise. A favourite strategy in River City Ransom is to invest in a few Isis Scrolls, which can only be purchased at the secret store. These scrolls boost the throw skill, which affects thrown weapons. When maxed out, a single rock can destroy bosses. However, all of the other stats suffer, so if that rock is lost, then there's going to be problems. In this game, Kunio becomes great at everything in just a short time.
To be fair, some of the bosses can be pretty threatening. Every major adversary has a couple unique moves that are exceptionally powerful. Their stats also tend to pretty high, so even minor punches can do major damage. However, it just becomes a matter of stocking up on healing items. Low on health and caught in the clutches of a muscle-bound bruiser in a hockey mask? No problem! Just pause the game and eat a cheeseburger or drink some coffee. Those seeking a challenge might want to ignore healing items entirely, or spend less time brawling with punks to keep their experience level low. Although, foregoing experience also means less money, which equates to having less special moves to play around with. The difficulty just isn't as flexible as it could be, and the harder settings only seem to boost stats, not make the enemy AI any better.
Even with all this in mind, it doesn't negatively affect the game that much. This series has always had a more experimental and playful side to it. It's not supposed to be an arcade style beat 'em up, where players are forced to complete a tough game with only two or three lives, and the move sets are mostly just punches, kicks, jump kicks, and grabs. What makes Tokyo Rumble work is that it's designed around giving the player freedom to do whatever they want, just as long as they're having fun. It's more of a sandbox approach to beat 'em ups, and there aren't many games that do this, aside from SEGA's Yakuza series.
Alongside the story mode, there are dodgeball and brawl modes. Up to four players can compete against one another, using all of the characters that have been unlocked. They're fun diversions, but they don't have much in the way of depth, at least when playing against the AI. With a few local buddies, it's probably a world of difference. Expect to lose a friend or two after repeatedly tossing them off a ledge or onto a landmine.
While River City: Tokyo Rumble is lacking in terms of challenge or complexity, it delivers on the basic concepts that have helped the Kunio Kun franchise last for decades. The character designs and animations evoke plenty of charm, and the fighting is simple and easy to enjoy. A handful of secrets and unlockable extras reward anyone who takes the time to explore. The dozens of methods for punishing everyone that threatens the safety of Tokyo is a treat, as well. All in all, this is a quality beat 'em up that's worth looking into.