River City: Tokyo Rumble

A game by Natsume for 3DS, originally released in Japan in 2013, and released in the US in 2016.
River City: Tokyo Rumble is a proper entry in the Kunio-kun series, which dates back more than 30 years. The first entry in the series was an arcade game entitled Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun (Hot Blooded Tough Guy Kunio), which came to Western arcades as Renegade, with some changes to the setting and storyline. The game was also ported to a number of home computers and consoles, notably an NES port which was Technōs Japan’s first home console release.

The next entry in the series was a spinoff, which arrived the form of Nekketsu Kōkō Dodgeball Bu, otherwise known as the cult classic Super Dodge Ball, which sees Kunio and pals facing off against a number of dodgeball champions from around the world. This game also got its start in the arcade before being ported to consoles and computers. Next up was Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, the first Kunio-kun game developed specifically for a home console release, which was known in the US as River City Ransom.

While the series continued to be popular in Japan, with numerous sequels and spinoffs, few of those ever made it to the US, and those that did were not marketed as part of an existing series, appearing as Nintendo World Cup and Crash 'n the Boys: Street Challenge. Even though the Kunio-kun series did not become widely popular in the US, one of Technōs’ other series certainly did: Double Dragon.

Technōs Japan declared bankruptcy in 1996, though a number of their intellectual properties lived on, with Million releasing their back catalogue on modern download services and producing enhanced ports of some of their more popular titles, with releases including River City Ransom EX, Super Dodge Ball Advance, and Double Dragon Advance. In 2015, Arc System Works acquired the licensing rights for Technōs Japan’s catalogue, releasing River City: Tokyo Rumble as a proper sequel and retaining the River City prefix. (Concurrent with the release of this game, developer Conatus Creative was also working another officially-licensed entry in the series, entitled River City Ransom: Underground).

Not only is River City: Tokyo Rumble a direct sequel to River City Ransom, the gameplay, world design, and aesthetics are almost completely identical. Rather than beefing up the visuals to take advantage of modern hardware – aside from the 3D-ified backgrounds to add depth of field on the 3DS – the game falls very much in line with its NES predecessor, featuring identical character designs, the recognizable Kunio-stye proportions, and the series’ trademark “BARF!” exclamations. However, the new hardware does allow for smooth performance with lots of onscreen enemies and no flicker, making combat smoother and more fast-paced.

Once again, the game world consists of a series of interconnected areas which are accessed by moving off the edges of the screen, allowing free exploration of each area, with each district offering at least one enemy-free area with NPC’s to speak to. The game takes place in and around Tokyo, with such real-world locales as the wards of Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ueno, and Akihabara, and the city of Yokohama. Each region is quite small with no more than half a dozen or so areas representing each.

Combat starts out simply, with one button allowing Kunio to punch and another allowing him to kick. Getting multiple hits in succession stuns enemies and opens them up to stronger attacks, such as an uppercut, high kick, throw, or suplex. As in the NES predecessor, both buttons may be pressed simultaneously to jump, although there is also a dedicated JUMP button for that function. As with most brawlers, double-tapping left or right allows Kunio to run quickly, and more powerful attacks may be performed by attacking while running.

While these combat basics remain in place throughout the game, Kunio’s moveset expands rapidly. By completing optional missions and purchasing scrolls from bookstores, Kunio is able to unlock supplemental attacks. Some of these make his basic attacks more powerful, such as allowing for three quick punches or kicks with a single button press. Others allow for more nuanced combat, allowing players to grab enemies by the feet and swing them around, perform powerful spinning jump kicks, and bash the faces of downed foes. More than a dozen moves are slowly unlocked during the game, and your fellow fighters are capable of learning new moves as they level up.

The main campaign is a solely single player experience, but early on, you join up with several new companions, and you may select one of them to take into battle with you. You may also opt to go it alone if you don’t feel like managing or healing a CPU-controlled ally, but they do a pretty decent job of fighting and they can draw the heat away during some of the more hectic battles and boss encounters.

A couple of multiplayer modes are available outside the main game in the form of Rumble and Dodgeball, each of which may be played by up to four people. These are both free-for-all events with each player fighting for himself and trying to wear down the life bars of his three opponents. Both modes offer open areas where players use some of the game’s basic combat tactics to fight each other, with each character possessing at least one special move.

A few new levels and dozens of playable characters (and music tracks) are unlocked as the player makes progress in the main game, and some arenas offer unique challenges, such as one that has a pair of opposing conveyor belts on the ground, and walls of spikes on either side.

Unlike the previous dodgeball games in the Kunio-kun series, the Dodgeball mode here simply places four players into one of the selected arenas with a pair of dodgeballs on the ground. Hitting enemies with the dodgeball reduces their health, and just like Rumble, the last player standing wins the game. There are also a handful of special moves in this mode which affect special throws for different characters.

As with previous entries in the series, Kunio is still a hothead and is still getting himself into trouble with kids from rival schools, and eventually with a variety of street gangs. Despite the game’s inherently violent premise, the story remains light and charming, with humor spread throughout. Enemies are cartoonish, with many wearing silly masks to indicate an association with their chosen gang, and there’s even an entire gang of girls, over whom the boys debate the morality of beating to a pulp. Major characters and bosses are overblown caricatures, not to be taken seriously, and there are several humorous moments in the dialogue exchanges preceding boss encounters.

After each mission, Kunio returns to school where he slacks off profoundly and makes it a habit to ignore his teacher while constantly mouthing off and referring to her as “babe”. After most of these exchanges, Kunio simply gets up and walks out in the middle of class, commenting to himself about the next major rumble that he’s about to get himself into, and establishing that Kunio would much rather be out in the streets pounding thugs than doing anything to better himself.

There are even some hidden shops with more powerful equipment and attacks. Stocking up on food is helpful before going into a major battle, as getting killed halves your current currency. However, any collected badges remain in your inventory, and many of these can be sold for a high price, allowing the player to retain much of his spending power.

Beating up baddies causes them to drop a coin or a badge, although some will occasionally drop health-restoring food items. Collected money can be spent in a variety of shops, including the aforementioned bookstores with scrolls that unlock new moves, as well as clothing stores which offer items that boost attack and defense stats for Kunio and his allies, and several food places that sell health restoratives.

Another way to earn money quickly – as well as special equipment and new moves – is by taking on side missions at the Job Exchange. As the game unfolds, new missions become available, and the player may select up to three of these at a time. Some missions have standalone objectives such as finding a lost dog, or seeking out a certain baddie and challenging him to a fight.

Other missions supplement your primary objectives. For instance, if you’re getting ready to head into a new area to defeat a specific street gang, you can accept a mission that requires you to defeat a certain number of members of that gang, thus granting you an additional reward. Other objectives work on any enemy type, such as taking on missions where you have to pick up and throw a certain number of enemies.

Since this game has RPG elements, including stats that rise as you level up, players are encouraged to hang out in certain areas and defeat multiple waves of enemies rather than just double-tap dashing straight to the boss. The job system provides additional rewards for engaging in combat, and these rewards result in new equipment and combat techniques that increase the player’s survivability and offer him more combat options.

This makes leveling up less of a chore for those who choose to grind for experience points and cash, although skilled players will find that much of the grinding is not necessary, as the game is not terribly difficult, especially given the abundance of inexpensive health items that can be carried in bulk and the ability to save the game anywhere. Completing the game opens up a New Game+ which allows players to tackle the game again, retaining their special moves, stats, and equipment to truly embarrass the bad guys with super pummelly death.

River City: Tokyo Rumble was developed by Natsume, a studio based in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan and founded in 1987. The game was originally released in Japan in 2013 as Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-Kun SP: Rantou Kyousoukyoku. Natsume is best known for their simulation-style Harvest Moon series, although they have developed a number of action games over the years as well, including Shadow of the Ninja, Power Blade, Shatterhand, and Wild Guns.

The game was published by Arc System Works, best known for the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue series of fighting games.