If you have been around video games for long enough to remember the success of Renegade and Double Dragon it is also highly probable you stumbled into one of Kunio’s numerous 8-bit Famicom outings, perhaps even disguised in the West with some hit-and-miss localisation efforts like River City Ransom or Nintendo World Cup. So can this upgraded 2016 reboot carve a niche space for itself in Switch's already luxurious fighting catalogue? Let us barf into it.
First and foremost, River City Melee Mach!! will likely disappoint those who believe this to be an entry in the fighting/action-RPG/exploration hybrid series along the lines of other titles that carry the name of Kunio’s home turf. There is nothing apart from fighting on offer here, not even extreme sports events (despite the welcome appearance of a football field complete with a goal and keeper – familiar to anyone who played any of the previous Nekketsu Soccer League games).
Don’t “Barf!” just yet, though. This may be a stripped back entry, but certain fans could consider this to be the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate of the series; everyone from the “Kunioverse” is here. On top of that, the fighting remains incredibly fun, true to its 8-bit roots but thankfully without any of the Famicom’s original flickering due to sprite-per-line limits. In fact, with over 180 different characters, each with their own individual stats along with two or three special moves, there is quite a lot of bang for your buck here.
If you previously played Nekketsu Kakutō Densetsu on the Famicom, you will feel right at home here. The game takes place in single-screen fighting arenas alluding to Kunio’s many past adventures, filled with interactive traps and unique arena features (like a rideable bike in the Wharf stage, level two from Renegade) and set pieces designed for four-player mayhem. Single Play is this title’s story mode, allowing you to pick a team of six heroes (or villains, no judgement!) from different high-schools, criminal organisations or even special teams that provide variants from other Kunio’s spin-offs so you can experience the fighting tournament from their unique perspective.
Free Battle is where you will spend most of your time if you have like-minded friends around, offering you quick pick-up-and-play, fully-customisable brawls. Online battle is a welcome addition if you don’t have aforementioned friends, but at the time of writing, we have failed to secure any opponent in Europe or America, leaving us to square off against Japanese opponents with some tolerable lag that, despite not being game-breaking, was enough to mess up combo timings.
The graphics are nostalgia-inducing 8-bit remakes of the iconic Famicom character designs along with familiar locales stuffed with character cameos and other nods to the series lore. But what truly shines is the gameplay. It was incredible how many diverse moves a character is able to pull off using the Famicom’s 2-button setup and that is elegantly translated into this reboot. While at first glance the title may appear to be merely a button masher (and sometimes it does derail into that), still images can’t really translate the amount of hidden depth that goes into every match.
Each team is made up by one insanely powerful captain (Kunio, Riki, Sabu to name a few) and five other different characters whose stats and special moves divide them into brawlers, grapplers or weapon enforcers. Even characters that may look statistically weak can become dangerous, match-winning, giant-combo monsters (even bigger in this entry thanks to the newfound ability to cancel certain moves) under the right conditions along with the random nature of spawned items. Unless you are lucky to find and use mid-match one of the health recovery items, damage for the characters you use carries over to the next round, forcing you to use your teammates. You can even “die” every round and still come out on top if you rack up a high enough score in the final tally. Along with local multiplayer bouts, discovering every nuance for each character is the most fun we got out of this generous package.
Some issues can’t disguise the nature of the original HD reboot, though; while sparse and not really critical (unless you're trying to keep up with the plot in Single Play), in-game text is absolutely tiny in portable mode. Hopefully, an option to change text size may get patched in at a later date. As previously mentioned, online seems dead in the water in both America and Europe, so if you plan to get the most out of this, make sure you have Kunio-connoisseur friends at hand.
There are other minor disappointments. While you can edit your six-men (or women) custom dream team by picking characters from the pre-built gangs, we feel that the lack of a proper “create-a-Kunio” mode is a missed opportunity. It would have been nice to get the entire Nintendo Life team in on the hot-blooded, 8-bit delinquent treatment.
If parachuting onto an island with 99 other people (or, alternatively, staring at a black hole for hours) is your exclusive definition of Battle Royal(e), we can be fairly certain that you weren't around at a time when Kunio’s 8-bit, 4-player multitap-enabled Famicom rumbles coined the expression. If you're a fan of Kunio and want the most up-to-date entry of the series' fight-and-exploration games, WayForward’s utterly brilliant River City Girls should be your first port of call. If, however, you grew up with the Famicom Kunio games and are lucky enough to still have your friends around from those simpler days, River City Melee Mach!! is a reasonably priced nostalgia trip that's worth going on.