Review: River City: Tokyo Rumble

The Kunio-kun series has always been something of a sleeper in gaming. The late ’80s saw it garner its biggest release with River City Ransom on the NES, but since then, Western entries in the franchise have been few in number. Many have come out in Japan, but few have been localized, with the last brawler-centric version being River City Ransom EX on the GBA over a decade ago. Now, Natsume has teamed up with Million to bring River City back to prominence on the 3DS.

Tokyo Rumble opens up with Kunio’s friend eating a beating from a local gang, and Kunio doing what video game characters do best — swearing vengeance via as much physical violence as possible. As with RCR, you’ll run through the city attacking rivals with all sorts of weapons. Brass knuckles, sticks, pipes, chains, and even bikes are available to use against your adversaries. You can hop around the world and even fight on ledges and walls. Having something to fight on other than just streets makes the in-game world seem more alive — and the shops have that same effect.

Tokyo Rumble‘s core gameplay is rooted in the 8-bit era, so it isn’t exactly full of surface-level depth. You can punch and kick, attack with weapons, do jump attacks, and some throws. Your arsenal does expand, but you are stuck to a fairly limited core game. Fortunately, everything the game sets out to do is done very well. Attacks are dished out exactly when you press either the A or B buttons and jumping is a breeze. You can never blame the game for a death because any hits you incur are going to be your fault — although playing on a smaller 3DS screen can make things a bit tougher. Control-wise though, this plays exactly how a brawler should and it shows that RCR’s formula was done so well the first time around that it holds up well nearly 30 years later with minimal changes.

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Tokyo Rumble gives players quite a bit for their money. Beyond the brawler-based story mode, you can also take part in fighting tournaments either against the CPU or against local opponents. The biggest extra feature the game has is its dodgeball mode. Anyone who grew up with Super Dodgeball will be right at home here — as will those who adored Super Dodge Ball Advance on the GBA. This gives you the exact same engine used there, only with a truncated amount of players to use and courts to play on. It’s not quite like getting a whole extra game thrown in, but it’s awfully close and a fantastic addition to the game.

Shopping gives Tokyo Rumble the same brawler/RPG style that RCR had. You can boost your stats, recover lost health, and learn new techniques thanks to the many shops that litter the streets. Tokyo Rumble is a fair game — but it can overwhelm you at times with enemies. The small nature of the regular 3DS screen can also make seeing enemies a bit harder than it should be. Blows don’t go out very far, so even things like kicks and weapon-based attacks still need a skillful eye to judge. Fortunately, you can move the camera around the game world a bit by pressing the shoulder buttons. L and R can shift things to a closer view of the action to the side, tilt the angle to help you judge distance, and finally zoom in really well to make a few characters stand out while blocking out most of the background.

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The latter approach is how I chose to play the game more often than not because it allowed me to focus on the task at hand and destroy enemies. Having larger sprites makes it much easier to figure out whether or not a shot is going to land or not. It also showcases just how impressive the pixel art looks, and the blend of NES-era sprites for the characters with the GBA-style gradience is different, and very easy on the eyes. Animation is still very limited, but that’s part of the franchise’s charm and it makes attacks easier than other games to time since there are so few frames to factor into an attack. Character expressions have always been a huge part of the game’s comedy because they’re so expressive, and that holds true here with exaggerated faces for attacks or even seemingly mundane things like eating that go from being ordinary to funny simply due to the expressions used.

Tokyo Rumble does have some shortcomings though, and they’re largely related to the audio. The soundtrack is chiptune-inspired and enjoyable, but far too limited. There are a fair amount of songs here, but they all loop and don’t lost very long. As a result, you wind up hearing the same thing over and over again and that gets old fairly quickly. Fortunately, the sound effects do the job and everything that you’re hitting people with at least somewhat reflects what it should be. A brass knuckles shot sounds violent and sudden, while a stick shot is blunt and forceful with a bit of wind flying through the air at the same time.

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Closing Comments:

River City: Tokyo Rumble takes everything good about River City Ransom and improves upon it. The things that didn’t need alteration, like the easy-to-use menu system and core gameplay, remain. Minor improvements to the gameplay have been made with the different camera adjustments allowing blows to be landed easier than prior games. The franchise’s trademark humor is intact as well — so all-caps exclamations of everything from pain to anger will get a chuckle out of you alongside the wacky facial expressions. Anyone who has ever enjoyed the franchise will love this latest entry and its inclusion of additional game modes makes it an excellent value.