I fondly remember my first exposure to the River City series: a big full-page ad in Nintendo Power that advertised the Atlus-published River City Ransom EX with goofy-looking super-deformed characters. I’m not sure what it was exactly that made me gravitate toward that Game Boy Advance remake of the classic NES title, but I’m sure it had something to do with the large menus of food the characters could purchase and eat (while I hadn’t quite rounded out yet, I was still a fat kid waiting to happen). In any case, once I got my hands on the game, I fell in love with its weird and wacky blend of beat-’em-up sensibilities and role-playing elements. It wasn’t anything revolutionary, but it was an extremely fun and simple game to take on-the-go — and happily, I can report that exactly the same is true of the new River City: Tokyo Rumble.
Like the first game, there is a story in this River City rendition, but it’s basically just an excuse to walk from place to place beating the crap out of different people. The star is a goofy, stereotypical bancho named Kunio, whose existence can be summed up in just a few elements: casual sexism (always calling his teacher “babe”), bromance with his fellow delinquents (all of whom are just about as one-note) and an irrepressible desire to punch and kick any other punk who crosses his path. He eventually comes up against the nefarious gang known as the Tokyo Lion Alliance, who are trying to take over the entire city. Considering every street is already teeming with gang members from the start, I’m not sure how this really changes anything, but it’s up to you to help him throw trash cans and tire irons at them anyway.
The story may not exactly be thrilling, but it is quite funny, especially when every exchange is a cheese-tastic back-and-forth of macho posturing and lame threats. I’m not saying that like it’s a bad thing, either; this dialogue feels like it could be right at home in an ’80s-era martial arts film, which is pretty much the highest praise I can offer a narrative like this. I particularly love the speech that pops up onscreen in the middle of fights, echoing the ever-classic “BARF!” of the original. Lines like “Who you calling a freak, bub?” and “Whoa, is this how I go out…?” are pretty much impossible not to smile at. This version seems to be closer in spirit to the original Kunio-kun series that was Americanized for the U.S. releases of titles like River City Ransom and Crash ‘n’ the Boys, and it’s nice to see the original culture making it through intact.
The same goes for the addictive gameplay at the center of River City: Tokyo Rumble, which is pretty much identical to the old-fashioned scrappin’ in the first game. Simple punches and kicks can be performed with the face buttons, and you can pick up weapons — like brass knuckles, chains and the aforementioned garbage cans — scattered around the streets for additional damage. By collecting coins and sellable treasures from your fallen foes, you can go shopping for all sorts of things in the various Tokyo districts: food and drinks that recover your health, other items that increase your various stat parameters and books that teach you how to use special moves.
It’s very simple stuff, admittedly, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks to an anytime, anywhere save function, “pick up and play” is the operative phrase here. This is the perfect reason to flip open your 3DS while you’re waiting for your plane to board or for the subway to reach its destination. You can make a little progress each time, collecting money, levelling up your character and progressing in the story as you get ever-closer to confronting the Big Bad behind it all.
Plus, things don’t end with the Story mode, either — as you continue to make progress in it, you’ll unlock characters, moves and stages to use in the other two modes, Rumble and Dodgeball. The first is a pretty simple free-for-all brawl for up to four players, with weapons dropping in for your use at random. The real joy in this mode is the chaos, which can be increased depending on which stage you pick (my personal favorite example being the nutty conveyor belt mode). Dodgeball brings the Kunio-kun favorite (localized here as Super Dodge Ball on the NES) back, but it’s unfortunately been reduced to a less-fun version of the Rumble mode where you can only throw balls at people to hurt them.
The graphics of River City: Tokyo Rumble are marginally better and more detailed than in the classic version, but they’re still appealingly simple — and I have to admit, it’s really kind of adorable watching these chibi delinquents whip each other with chains. There’s a bit more depth to the environments than before, and turning the 3D effect on makes it seem like you’re peering into a diorama of Tokyo with 2D standups. It’s a neat aesthetic, and I found myself using it more often than I’d expected to. The music is also in keeping with the rollicking, upbeat chiptune tracks of the original, and I caught myself — and a few of my family members who happened to be standing nearby — toe-tapping along to the tracks.
River City: Tokyo Rumble is a great love letter to both the original game and to fans who enjoyed it way back when. The classic combo of beat-’em-up and light RPG elements continues to work as a fun pick-up-and-play experience, and portability — along with the ability to save anywhere, anytime — only lends it more appeal. There’s no denying that the gameplay is very simple, and it’s a bit of a shame to see the Dodgeball mode get shafted in its reappearance, but anyone who enjoyed River City Ransom (or, for young’uns like me, the EX version on the Game Boy Advance!) should check this one out.
This review is based on the 3DS exclusive, which we were provided with.
River City: Tokyo Rumble is a fun throwback to the original's combo of beat-em-up and role-playing elements, even if it's an admittedly one-note experience.