Retro Done Right
River City Ransom and Super Dodge Ball are a couple of my favorite NES games. While America received some Dodge Ball sequels and other Kunio-Kun spin-offs, we never got a true sequel to River City. Now, over 25 years later, Natsume, in partnership with Arc System Works and Million, has released River City: Tokyo Rumble on the 3DS eShop and has most definitely been worth the wait.
Toyko Rumble takes its 8-bit origins and embraces it instead of trying to reinvent itself like so many other sequels and remasters these days. Everything about this 3DS exclusive is a natural and welcomed enhancement upon the original game, taking what was most fun and simply building upon it. Not only is this a great sequel but it can easily stand on its own if you never played the original. It is a new retro game done right.
River City: Tokyo Rumble is a beat’em up brawler similar to Final Fight, Double Dragon, and even Castle Crashers as a modern comparison. What makes this beat’em up so great is the fluid and addicting combat, the RPG level progression system, the adorable art style, and the surprisingly humorous localization. Hearing Kunio constantly refer to his teacher as “Babe” in front of his entire class is confidently funny whereas NPCs also provide humor, such as a warning from a little girl that tells Kunio to watch out for some bad “dudes.”
You play as Kunio on this quest to liberate the greater Tokyo area from rival gangs. In order to do this, you will need to punch and kick your way through a throng of creative bad guys from masked kabuki warriors, to a biker gang, to a posse of female fighters. The most important element to Tokyo Rumble’s success is the combat system. Like the NES original, one button kicks and the other punches. A third button jumps or you can push punch + kick just like the NES original. But even though Kunio’s attack buttons might seem limited, the unlockable abilities and upgradable leveling system constantly gives the player something new to master. But unlocking abilities, like being able to throw your enemies like an Olympic hammer or performing a Double Dragon-like flying knee, is only the tip of the ice burg.
Most environments feature a random item or two just laying around that can be used as a weapon. Everything from a rock, to a crate, to a whip, to a garbage can, each weapon can be thrown or swung depending on which button is used. It looks very simple on the surface and is easy to control but there are tons of way to approach each and every battle. Outside of a slight frame rate drop when the screen displays six characters beating the crap out of each other, combat is fluid, well animated, and fun.
The player also has access to a tons of optional jobs as well. These tasks are creative and varied, everything from finding a lost dog to beating someone up to retrieve some stolen concert tickets. While the main quest is always highlighted on the map on the bottom screen, most job missions point you in the right direction by reading the description. After all, if you knew exactly where to look for that lost dog, it would ruin all the fun.
Traveling throughout Tokyo is a snap once the player learns the mechanics of the game. Basically each section of the map is broken down by just a few screens that loop together from left to right or right to left. Once the player needs to travel to a different town, just hop on the train and the player is instantly warped there with no loading screen. This fluid means of travel is easy on the player and also becomes interesting since there are always sights to see, items to buy, and shops to visit. Since all enemies drop money, the player can use these pick-ups to buy food to replenish health, buy some new clothing to increase stats, or purchase new fighting abilities. There are even secret shops to find that sell expensive but highly effective items. This constant urge to keep upgrading makes River City: Toyko Rumble so addicting.
Without giving away specific spoilers, there are some cameos and nods to longtime fans of River City and other popular 8-bit brawlers. The final battle, which took me about 6-8 hours to reach, will have beat’em fans squealing like a little girl when they see who the final bosses are and the environment in which they are fought.
Even when Toyko has been liberated of the Lion gang, the player still has plenty to do. First is Dodgeball mode which is essentially Bean Ball from Super Dodgeball on NES. Here, players run around different environments and whip dodgeballs at each other. Super throws are more difficult to pull off but can cause more damage than regular throws. Then, there is your standard battle mode but instead of throwing dodgeballs, each character simply fights to beat the crap of your opponents; last man standing wins. Both of these extra modes feature download play for up to 4 local players. The roster of characters easily grows to a couple dozen, each with unique abilities; meeting characters in the campaign unlocks them in these battle modes. Each mode is fun and can easily suck away a couple hours of your life if you let it, especially if you have four local buddies to play with. Bots will fill out the remaining roster with adjustable difficulty.
Visually, the game is a treat. The cutesy sprite work of each character is just as humorous as the script, with animated faces and fluid motions. Unique to this 3DS sequel is the ability to zoom in and out and even adjusting the pitch of the camera by tapping the shoulder buttons. Playing zoomed in with camera at the pure 2D angle with the 3D slider jacked up allows the player to appreciate the detailed sprite work that went into creating each character and animation. The same goes for the soundtrack. The main River City theme is always a welcomed tune that never gets old but there are some tracks not found until later in the game that were thoughtfully implemented for the fans.
As good as River City: Tokyo Rumble is, there are just a couple minor complaints. One, the campaign is single player only. While your friendly AI bot does a pretty good job of helping to fight, and can be called over to help by hitting the X button, it is not the same as playing with a human buddy. The two player co-op option was one of the highlighting features in the original and is sorely missed here. Worse yet, the multiplayer battle and dodgeball modes are local only. No option to play online seems like a huge missed opportunity. Luckily, the NPC AI of both companions and foes have been programed with care as each side provides a fair but challenging fight.
Even putting my nostalgia side, River City: Toyko Rumble is now one of my favorite brawlers of all time and is a stand-out title on the 3DS eShop. The new features mixed with old school vibe is a near perfect enhancement over the original. It is a must download that doesn’t rely on the name alone. Fans will definitely enjoy this long awaited sequel while newcomers can be easily entertained by the pick-up-and-play gameplay and hilarious tone.
FINAL SCORE: 9.3/10
Remember?: Nintendo World Cup (NES)
Better Than: River City Ransom EX (GBA)
Also Try: Super Dodge Ball Brawlers (DS)
By: Zachary Gasiorowski, Editor in Chief myGamer.com