Street Gangs — known as River City Ransom in North America — is a strange game. It's one of many in the extremely popular Japanese "Kunio-kun" series, which started in the arcade and is still going strong today, with the latest instalment being on the DS.
Every game in the series has the same main character, Kunio, but the story and setting in some of the games differs completely from others. In most, the goal is to fight groups of thugs and gangs in order to rescue someone or prove your innocence, but Kunio has also starred in some (actually quite violent) sports games, like dodgeball. Most games take place around a school or multiple schools.
Street Gangs is a Westernized version of Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, the third game in the series and the first to be a fighter/RPG hybrid, with multiple sequels following its example. You play as Alex or Ryan and the latter's girlfriend, Cyndi, is kidnapped by one of the local gangs. Your mission is to fight your way past a whole bunch of other gangs, train to become stronger, and eventually reach the school where Cyndi is being held hostage.
The gameplay basically involves running around and beating up gang members who come running at you. At first you can only perform a few moves, such as regular punches or a jump kick, but with money dropped by enemies, you can purchase additional moves in some of the game's shopping districts (which are devoid of enemies). Attacks such as "Acro Circus", "Stone Hands" or "Dragon Feet" pack much more punch and can take down enemies more easily.
Money can also be used to buy food, magazines, shoes and other things to restore health and boost stats. Some items can be carried around and used at a later time. You can also pick up weapons lying around, such as trashcans to smack your enemies around with! Or you can run in order to outwit opponents and get around faster.
It's quite a linear experience, consisting of a straight path leading toward the end. But, you'll have to train for some time to get strong enough to get that far, otherwise the other gangs will beat you into a pulp. Every time you enter a screen, the "turf" you encounter changes.
While one time the screen might be the turf of a weak gang, other times you might encounter a very strong gang, meaning you might want to run away. On very rare occassions, the screen is nobody's turf, meaning it's enemy-free!
If you can't do it alone, the game also has a 2-player co-op mode in which player two takes control of whoever you're not playing as, so you can take on the enemies together.
Packed with the charm the Kunio series is known for (you'll also notice most games in the series has nearly identical character design), this one will give you a few laughs along the way. The line "BARF!" shouted by some enemies upon defeat has gone down in gaming history!
This is the only "fighting RPG" Kunio game released outside Japan, which is quite a shame. Due to the import category on VC, however, we have some hope that the other games will be released to Western gamers as well,
Although a basic, linear game, it nevertheless succeeds at being enjoyable to play; yet, it's bested by several of its sequels and even some other games, so it just falls short of full marks. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be checked out, as it has plenty of fun to offer.