River City: Tokyo Rumble carries itself with all the tone and appearance of a fan project. It's an unabashed homage to the NES classic River City Ransom, and models itself so closely after that classic that it feels like a lost sequel. What it lacks in originality it somewhat makes up in charm, but it's difficult to see how this would appeal to anyone without that sense of nostalgia for the original.
Most of that charm is built on the foundation of oddball humor that brought us street toughs yelling "BARF" when you punch them. River City Ransom was a more light-hearted take on the kung-fu beat-em-up action of Double Dragon, right down to identical plots about kidnapped girlfriends. Tokyo Rumble attempts a more cohesive story as delivered by a lot more dialogue and distinct story sequences.
Its writing occasionally falls flat or goes overlong, but for the most part it delivers solid chuckles with its meathead protagonist constantly skipping school to get in fights with neighboring gangs. The plot is still pretty simplistic, offering a series of successive boss fights without much rhyme or reason, and moments that I could only tell were supposed to be twists by seeing the characters themselves react with surprise. It's all weirdly arbitrary, but as a loose framework for the usually amusing punchlines, it holds together well enough.
If it seems I've gone on at length about the story for a game that doesn't have much of one, that's because it's the largest addition made to the game's structure. The core of River City Ransom remains largely unchanged. You'll still be wondering the streets, punching and kicking thugs, and then refreshing your stats by stopping at a shopping mall for some food. The world is larger, and is now composed of distinct Japanese areas that you can reach by train.
Playing the Role
The original was known for mixing RPG elements into an action brawler, and Tokyo Rumble carries the concept a step or two further. You now gain experience from beating up enemies, leading to permanent level increases that impact your stats. Some stores also sell gear to increase your stats. You can learn special moves by purchasing books from shops, but you'll also get move books from bosses that teach a specialized, signature move. These wrinkles do push the concept forward in a logical way, but it all feels like it would have been perfectly at home in the 8-bit era.
The permanent level increases and stat-boosting gear goes for your teammate too. As you traverse the city beating up rival gangs, many of them will join as selectable companions. Since they each level up individually, the game really rewards you for sticking with one for most of the journey, which diminishes the appeal of having multiple options.
Outside the story, Tokyo Rumble offers two largely disappointing bonus modes, Dodgeball and Rumble. I had fond memories of Super Dodgeball and I was impressed that this package appeared to bring it under the same umbrella as a mini-game. However, this version of dodgeball is free-for-all style, with balls simply laying on the ground and no boundary lines or outer guards. The less regimented style makes for a more chaotic experience, but it simply isn't as fun as the old game with its campy international competition and powered-up super shots. Rumble is exactly what it sounds like, a four-way bout with other players or AI opponents, with a few weapons sitting on the ground. It's even placed in the same Dodgeball environment.
River City Rerun
Thankfully that slapdash treatment isn't indicative of the game as a whole. The story mode is well put together and serves as a faithful homage to the classic. It's loving to the point of almost fawning, and it feels a little too willing to play it safe at times, but it's an enjoyable nostalgia trip regardless.
This review is based on a 3DS download code provided by the publisher. River City: Tokyo Rumble is available for $29.99. The game is rated E10+.
River City Tokyo Rumble
- A faithful and worthwhile homage to River City Ransom
- A few updates add slightly more complexity
- Chuckle-worthy writing throughout
- Not much has changed since 1989
- Bonus modes are dull and slapdash
Steve Watts posted a new article, River City: Tokyo Rumble Review: Brawler Recaller
Important: how do the enemies scale along with the level system? Do you get a level 50 rat (stupid), or 50 level 1 rats (like in the original doom and thus awesome and correct)?
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