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River City: Rival Showdown (3DS) artwork

River City: Rival Showdown (3DS) review


"Welcome Back, Mr. K"


For the Kunio franchise's 30th anniversary of beat 'em ups and sports games, the current license user, Arc System Works, decided to remake the series' most recognizable and beloved title: River City Ransom. Known for its slapstick portrayal of young delinquents causing violent mischief with the use of super deformed caricatures, the NES beat 'em up title easily stood out on the system. The inclusion of stat-building elements through grinding for coins and an "open world" aspect that allowed players to run to and from sections of a town further molded its uniqueness. And with a two-player co-op feature thrown in for good measure, RCR was definitely a fun and frenzied experience for its time.

With the remake, the devs took the template of the original title and broaden its scope in many ways. Combat feels the same, but several modifications were made for a better sense of balance towards the overall system. Coin drops from normal defeated opponents, for one, are much rarer here, meaning you can't stack on special move purchases mere minutes into a session through grinding. And when a special attack is performed, it now drains from a SP bar, so you have to make sure every attack connects properly during crowded scuffles. Furthermore, both the protagonist and enemies have invincibility frames after recovering from a knockdown, preventing easy abuse from either side. Toss in occasionally large groups of five to seven hooligans and frantic, smart AI that sometimes perform "human" tactics, such as approaching your character at an angle, and this stuff feels polished.



Another such change is the town itself; Rival Showdown transforms the "straight line" map design of the NES game, with construction spots and "empty" housing areas aplenty, into a bustling residential area, along with branching paths filled with content. NPCs are beaming with personality, not only in the way they converse, but visually, too, as the devs "evolve" the 8-bit, super deformed style. With these basic sprites, the team elicits so much emotion and expression with so little, from sparkly eyes and subtle winks from awed women, to the way drunk businessmen stumble outside bars. Even a muted smirk is enough to comprehend a tone shift. All this within a town that effortlessly blends 3D(?) pixelated locations with 2D objects and buildings.

The revised and robust atmosphere works in tandem with another surprising new feature: a day and night cycle. With this, different crowds of people appear during specific times, which also factors into triggering certain plot-related moments and battles. On top of that, there's a time limit of four in-game days to unravel an insidious plot to take over high schools; it's using the ridiculous story from the original Japanese version. Don't worry about losing track of everything, as the game is helpful enough to pinpoint events on the map, as well as keeping notes in the menu. At best, you'll miss some vital moments on your first or second playthroughs, which locks you out of obtaining the true finale. Yup, multiple endings. You can actually sit in an Internet cafe for four days, get yelled at for being lazy, have your butt handed to you on the last day, and receive a bad ending.

Brimming with variety and creativity, it's easily the best modern River City beat 'em up released so far. But, from a distance, Rival Showdown might not seem too different from Tokyo Rumble, another River City title released for the 3DS that borders on being a quasi-remake of RCR. However, Tokyo Rumble basically just goes through the motions, shoving in situations showcased a million times in other River City products. Worse, the devs force you to play with an aggressive AI partner for the entire journey, negating 99% of the challenge that could have been if you were by yourself. Depressingly, Tokyo Rumble also doesn't have a two-player co-op feature. Rival Showdown is the opposite: no AI backup, includes co-op, is energetic, and has actual stakes with its time limit function. The game is lively.

Though, Rival Showdown still has its share if bizarre shortcomings in certain areas. The latter half of the third in-game day, which is right before the finale, feels like the weakest part out of everything; events just stop popping up, plus you likely have a stack of strong special attacks at this point, making anything thrown at you here not much of a threat. I'm guessing the lack of "content" during this brief section is because the devs were considering the possible end threads the player could fall into, based on good or bad performances, thus creating a "save space" for grinding? Regardless, it's still feels like wasted potential.

Another weird flaw is how the hardest of the two difficulty settings, Intermediate, feels more like an afterthought. Enemies are much, much tougher to defeat at the beginning, which turns into a massive grind when you're trying to level up your strength and get better moves to counter them. It's a "bullet sponge" fest. Keep in mind: coin drops are scarce and time is constantly moving forward. Also, the default control set-up is really awkward, where guarding is the L button and running is activated by pressing R. Feels really stiff in the midst of a chaotic battle. Thankfully, you can make changes, and the game even has an option to use the original NES set-up. I bring this up because the Intermediate difficulty and default controls are labeled as "recommended." I first played the game using both... and it was the most stressful first hour I've had with a Kunio game since Renegade.



There are other oddities, such as two-player co-op requiring two copies to function, yet only one copy is needed for the bonus Double Dragon fighting mode. Yeah... nothing suspicious about that. Not to mention, despite enemies of varying visual designs, everyone still conforms to one fighting style outside boss confrontations. But since nearly everything else about Rival Showdown has shown considerable improvements to the main template, these two complaints come off as mere nitpicks in a solid title. I just find it hilarious that, out of all the recent River City offerings that tried recapturing the magic of RCR, a remake of said game is the one to show how it should be done.

4/5

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (December 07, 2017)

Well, the names have all changed since you hung around, but those dreams have remained and they've turned around...

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