Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun – which roughly translates to “Hot blood tough guy Kunio” – hit Japanese arcades in 1986. Western audiences will be more familiar with the reskinned version of the game, a single player scrolling beat ‘em up called Renegade. Renegade became a smash hit in the arcades and quickly made its way to home computers and consoles. The success of Renegade led developer Technos to create the now legendary Double Dragon in 1987. Double Dragon featured enhancements to the original formula such as the use of weapons and is one of the first beat ‘em ups to successfully incorporate two-player cooperative play.
The Kunio-Kun series celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and to celebrate this milestone publisher Natsume has brought River City: Tokyo Rumble to the west. Based on the 2013 Japanese release – Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-Kun SP: Rantou Kyousoukyoku – River City: Tokyo Rumble brings its familiar brand of scrolling beat ‘em up action to the 3DS. Once again you play as Kunio, a tough high school kid that is feared and respected by all the local gangs. Kunio is set up and forced to confront a fellow rival gang leader. However, all is not as it appears and soon Kunio and his pals find themselves embroiled in a fight against a new rival gang that is intent on taking over all of Tokyo’s districts. While the story isn’t particularly complicated there are enough twists and turns to keep you engaged. Kunio and his friends are likeable characters and there are some genuinely funny moments. The interactions between Kunio and his high school teacher are quite amusing and there is some meta-humour thrown in for good measure. For example, when you defeat certain enemies, they will shout “Oh no I am going to disappear again!” referencing the familiar beat ’em up trope.
The gameplay consists of exploring the various districts of Tokyo, pounding rival gang members and levelling up your stats. You dish out punishment using your fists, feet and various weapons such as chains, bats and brass knucks. The combat is easy to pick up and you are free to use various combos and special moves. New special moves and equipment, that boost your characters stats, can be purchased from the shops located in the various districts of Tokyo. Each one will provide new enhancements for your character and adds a bit of strategy and depth to proceedings. After the first few story missions you are free to choose one of your friends to aide you in battle, you can give them simple orders to assist you in combat, and they can prove very helpful when fighting bosses. New to the series is the job shop where you can take on mini challenges such as defeating 20 enemies of a certain type or finding a lost dog. Unfortunately, these tasks offer little reward for the time invested into them and do feel like padding.
The game also features a small suite of multiplayer games that fans of the Kunio series will be familiar with. Rumble mode features four players in a last man standing fight to the death whilst Dodgeball allows four players to compete against each other with two balls. The two modes allow four players to play locally and also includes the download play feature. However, not featuring online co-op in either the main story campaign or the mini games greatly hinders the longevity of this game. The main story will last around four to five hours on the normal difficulty setting and after beating it once, pun intended, there isn’t any reason to return to it.
Graphically the game is nothing spectacular, the sprites are nice and retain their River City heritage but the backgrounds are dull and bland. The 3D mode is pretty much useless, as it does not provide any enhanced depth to the background, which is required for judging character spacing. For example, the 3d mode in Streets of Rage 2 3D added depth to the backgrounds, making it easier to line up your character with the enemies, negating one of the big issues associated with 2d beat ’em ups. The biggest issue with River City: Tokyo Rumble is the price. Retailing at £24.99 UK, $29.99 USA and €29.99 EU does not represent value for money when considering the far superior Streets of Rage 2 3D or the original River City Ransom/Street Gangs are available at a fraction of the price.
River City: Tokyo Rumble is a charming little romp that pays homage to its predecessor well. The combat is fun and the story does provide some genuinely funny moments. However, the lack of online multiplayer, a short campaign and the high price point make recommending the game very difficult. New players should check out the original River City Ransom/Street Gangs available on the Wii U and 3DS eShop. Long-time fans of the series need to wait for the game to be made available on sale.
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