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River City: Tokyo Rumble (3DS) artwork

River City: Tokyo Rumble (3DS) review


"A fumbling, stumbling rumble."


Ask any gamer outside Japan what "Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari" means, and you'll likely get a confused reaction. Ask them about River City Ransom or Street Gangs, and chances are they'll tell you it's an NES title with super deformed characters that occasionally utter "BARF!" Fun fact: they're all the same game. Remembered fondly as a unique beat 'em up that allowed players to stat-build their character in a free roam environment, it wasn't exactly one-of-a-kind. Within Japan, the game is part of a bigger IP that flourished mainly on the Famicom and Super Famicom, later resuming momentum on Nintendo's handhelds. While the franchise's spinoff sports games somehow got more exposure in other countries, with the Neo-Geo dodgeball game even getting a friggin' US release, its beat 'em ups mostly remained Japanese exclusives.

That is until River City: Tokyo Rumble just, out of nowhere, got published in several countries, even receiving English versions.

Whether you're someone new or your only experience is with River City Ransom, Tokyo Rumble makes it pretty simple on players without prior knowledge. Though, that's more to do with almost every brawler in the series having the same plot outline, along with the same set of main characters: some Big Bad is trying to rule over territories in Japan using various gangs, and it's up to you, a hot-blooded, high school student, to put an end to this nonsense. Before you know it, gangs are lunging at you on neighborhood streets, construction sites, and alleyways, using their fists, garbage cans, bicycles, or anything else that happens to be around. The nonstop, fast-paced violence is carried out with a comical tone, as characters are once again super deformed caricatures, become wide-eyed freaks when hit, and unconscious opponents can be picked up and swung like weapons.



If this sounds very reminiscent of RCR, that's because it's intentionally using the same blueprint, just in a longer game with a little more content and improvements added in; you get to fight more enemies on screen per skirmish, which compliments the energetic combat system nicely, you can actually see which items do what prior to purchasing them in shops, the game explicitly tells you where to go next, and there's more special moves to purchase, such as the silly Orbital Swing. You haven't experienced Tokyo Rumble to its fullest until you swung an unconscious thug off the screen, only for them to come crashing into the pavement from the opposite direction. And despite having 3D backdrops, the game retains 2D sprites for its characters, which the series is visually recognized for, giving the impression that you're traveling through complex dioramas.

But for all the tiny upgrades done to its template, this release also keeps a lot of RCR's issues untouched and does a bunch of odd adjustments that come off lazy or questionable. The most glaring, returning problem is the fact that 99% of enemies you face, regardless of their differing face structure and clothing, is the exact same fighter type. They all attack exactly the same basic way, fists, kicks, and picking up weapons, with some maybe sneaking in a special move on the rare occasion you start slacking off. You need variation in a beat 'em up, and I just don't understand why this game refused to do so. That 1% are mostly boss fights using unique moves... and yet some of the bosses are just generic fighters, too! I can understand the case for RCR doing this due to limitations, but Tokyo Rumble, for being on more advanced hardware, doesn't have the same excuse.

This flaw acts as a foil to the stat-building aspect of the game, since you need to get stronger for later, tougher enemies, and to get stronger, you need to level up. How? Fight enemies to gain experience or grab their dropped money to buy special items. See why enemy combat diversity would have helped? Also, I guess the devs thought they were being clever by adding an optional job system that allows you to do different tasks in return for money or items. The issue with this is that doing them is not unlike what you've been doing this whole time: beating up thugs and punks in specific locations. The job system is just an illusion to make you think more is happening with Tokyo Rumble. It's rare that you get a job unrelated to fighting, and when it happens, it's something lame, such as searching all over for a lost dog... that runs away when you spot it, making you restart the search.

Now if the combat system wasn't as vibrant, wacky, and fast-paced, this adventure would have been a complete, unbearable trek. When I'm fighting off goons for the experience, especially doing it for hours across the game's plot, it feels more work than fun. But with enemies constantly flinging themselves my way in groups, and my character countering their assault with an assortment of silly-looking attacks, it never feels like boring work. Seriously, these games have a good, simple fighting system, and the devs just need to include more genuine variety to it.



However, Tokyo Rumble still feels like one of the most trivial successors in recent memory; it's a modern sequel in the sense that they simply dusted off an old, interesting idea with flaws, and slightly modified some of its aspects so it can flow in a longer journey... while keeping its flaws and removing a very memorable component. You're literally playing an extended version of River City Ransom, minus two-player co-op. For a "consolation prize," the devs instead give you an AI partner, which diminishes the challenge for people intending to play this solo anyway. It's an insult to both player types. RCR's flaws were somewhat offset by its short length and co-op feature, making for a fun, brief diversion, but Tokyo Rumble took away those two aspects, and you end up with an emptier, more time-consuming experience because of that.

2/5

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (February 27, 2017)

Tidbit: prior to writing a RunningDead review, PickHut convinced himself it would be impossible to write more than four paragraphs. He's still surprised how many paragraphs he eventually wrote...

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