River City Ransom was a fantastic NES brawler that - in many ways - was a pioneer for the then-fledgling genre, and has gone on to achieve something of a cult following. It was actually part of the much larger Kunio-kun series, though this perhaps wasn't so easy to keep track of due to spotty localization and a lack of similarity between the various games. Now that the Kunio-kun series is hitting its 30th anniversary this year, Natsume thought it'd be appropriate to release a sequel to the NES hit. River City: Tokyo Rumble is everything that you loved about the original, though it runs into some issues with repetitive gameplay that may struggle against modern-day expectations.
The story of the game is simple and unintrusive. You play as Kunio, a scrappy high school student who is feared and respected by all the kids in the various local gangs. After being manipulated into fighting with a fellow rival, Kunio learns of a new gang that's completely taken over local suburbs and is looking to extend its reach into Tokyo as well. It's up to Kunio and his friends to repel them, and they'll of course do most of the talking with their fists. It's not a story that'll win any points for its depth or emotional impact, but it does its job and introduces some likable characters. Though dialogue can get a bit campy at times, there's plenty of humour and lightheartedness to keep you interested.
Gameplay is typical of a brawler, but it's greatest strength and weakness is how simplistic it can be at times. Walking onto a new screen is almost certain to trigger an ambush by some local punks, who you fend off by using a series of punches, kicks, and jump attacks. Trashing loads of gang members can be great fun and the controls are extremely easy to pick up, but the action tends to plateau fairly early on. Kunio always seems to be far more powerful than his adversaries, and this becomes even more pronounced the more you level him up and once he can have an ally follow along who is of comparable strength.
Environmental weapons like pipes and trash cans help mix things up, and you can eventually buy scrolls in shops that help to add some powerful new moves and diversity to your moveset, but it tends to become a bit of a grind when you keep using the same attacks over and over to fight off the endless tides of faceless grunts. After a certain point it becomes an exercise in patience as you fight through yet another screen of generic enemies while on your way to the next objective.
The overworld is fairly deep, and the story will take you all over the various districts of Tokyo. Along the way, you'll encounter new gangs depending on which neighborhood you're in, though they all tend to blend together after a while. Each district also has a shop area where you can stock up on status items and equipment that boosts various stats, which adds a bit of customization and strategy to the otherwise one-note gameplay.
The main campaign can be beaten in a matter of hours, but it can be extended a little by the new job system. Kunio can take up to three jobs at once, and these range from beating up X number of enemies in a certain district, defeating a certain rare mini-boss that seldom appears in a particular area, or searching for a lost item for someone. While these jobs reward you with money and powerful loot that you otherwise couldn't get, it feels like unnecessary padding and can quickly become tedious. Still, it's a nice way to extend your playtime and make Kunio and friends even more overpowered.
Once you tire of the main solo campaign, you can back out and also choose to play in the Dodgeball or Rumble modes. Progression in the story unlocks new characters, stages and music tracks in these, so there's always good reason to keep checking back. Rumble plays a lot like the main mode, where up to four players duke it out in a street fight and the last man standing wins. Dodgeball is a bit different in that there are two dodgeballs, and they're the only means of harming your opponents. Each of these two modes has support for up to four players locally – including Download Play – though the absence of an online mode does hinder their longevity. Still, it can be great fun to play through these games with some friends, and they also serve as a nice distraction form the main game every now and then.
In terms of presentation, River City: Tokyo Rumble fails to impress, but it nonetheless gets the job done adequately. The game was built to look quite similar to the NES original, though the environments are rendered in 3D while 2D sprites move over them. The problem with the visuals is that they're a tad too simple for their own good. Although the sprites have plenty of character, the environments have a plastic, lifeless quality to them, and it feels like more effort could've been placed into making them more interesting. The soundtrack is similar. It's there, and the main theme is particularly catchy, but most of it is rather forgettable.
River City: Tokyo Rumble is the epitome of a 'safe' game. While the core mechanics of the gameplay are solid and the graphics are unintrusive, there's little here that stands out as being particularly exceptional. This is the kind of game that's fun to play every once in a while, but doesn't have any characteristics or memorable traits that'll keep you coming back again and again. We certainly give River City: Tokyo Rumble a modest recommendation, but only to fans of the genre or franchise that are looking to get a nostalgic fix. If you're new or indifferent towards brawlers, perhaps less expensive options like the excellent 3D Streets of Rage 2 might be a more fitting purchase.