Kunio’s a hot-blooded teenager who’s known as the toughest punk at school--his very name sends fear down the spines of rival troublemakers across Tokyo. Grades and respect for authority mean little to him--he’s all about fighting for his own personal brand of justice, and if that means pummeling a few muscle-heads on the back streets of Tokyo, he’ll do it. However, what seems like a personal scuffle between one of Kunio’s friends and a rival group turns out to be a plot by a vicious gang to conquer all of Tokyo. It’s up to Kunio and company to clean up the streets in order to put a stop to their plans.
River City: Tokyo Rumble utilizes much of the familiar gameplay and visual style of River City Ransom--a cult-classic NES brawler. As Kunio, you bash your way across side-scrolling sections of Tokyo, fighting off mobs of rivals and local punks and picking up the loot and cash they drop, all while learning more about the strangely lovable band of delinquent scrappers you’re controlling. Tokyo Rumble’s combat is pretty basic when compared to other beat-em-ups, but that’s not really a huge mark against it--the easy-to-learn controls make it a breeze for players of all skill levels to start delivering some beatdowns.
Of course, if things didn’t increase in complexity, the game would get dull pretty fast--but that’s a point where Tokyo Rumble excels much in the same way as the original RCR. As you pick up money and items dropped by defeated enemies, you can buy food, equipment, and skills to help augment your character. Gear like boots and brass knuckles raise your fighting stats, while buying instructions on new fighting skills from bookstores adds new moves to your arsenal--they increase your options during combat without significantly upping the control complexity. Pummeling enemies also increases your level, allowing you to get stronger and stronger as the game goes on.
Tokyo Rumble is modeled after RCR in its gameplay and visuals, but this time publisher Natsume has opted for a somewhat different style of localization that preserves much of the Japanese setting--many areas are based on real-life parts of Tokyo--and cultural tough-guy tropes that were missing from RCR. The result is a game that feels both comfortingly familiar and fascinatingly different to fans of the original RCR.
Supplementing this is an all-new quest system that has Kunio and company doing various errands in areas they’ve already cleared, such as fighting special bosses or looking for hidden mystery shops. Progressing through the game will also let you recruit CPU-controlled helper characters, who tag along with you but fight and level up independently. You can give your CPU pals basic orders, such as “help” or “stay back,” and they can be great assets during tougher boss brawls.
I say “tougher” because Tokyo Rumble isn’t a terribly difficult game on the default setting: I played through on Normal, and it felt quite breezy as long as I kept a few healing items on hand for the bosses. It’s also not a terribly lengthy game, either: you’ll likely be able to smack your way through this on a lazy Saturday. While you can extend the game length by taking on the various optional missions available throughout the game, many of these missions actually make the game less fun, like asking you to beat a high number of faceless thugs in certain parts of the city or entering the same areas over and over again in hopes of finding a rare enemy encounter.
Tokyo Rumble does a good job of avoiding repetition in the core game, but asking you to waste time bashing generic thugs can make the combat really start to wear out its welcome. The same goes with boss fights: While some bosses have a few neat tricks up their sleeves, such as surrounding themselves with speedy motorcycle gangsters that need to be KO’ed with jump attacks, a lot of them are simply brutes that favor perseverance over skill.
While the main game is brief, it’s plenty of fun, and bonus minigames like dodgeball add some extra charm to Tokyo Rumble. It’s a solid action game with a charming retro flavor that leverages RCR's foundation to construct both a new adventure and a different perspective on beloved game. Here’s to hoping that Tokyo Rumble heralds the further adventures of Kunio and company coming Westward as well.