The elite students of Reiho Academy are plotting something big, unimaginable even. Only two students stand in their way: Kunio and Riki. They are the heroes of Nekketsu and Hanazono High School, and have never lost a fight. It’s up to them to take a stand against the enigmatic “Big Four,” face the Double Dragon Brothers, and protect the innocent from a brutal turf-war. In less than a week, the heart of River City will be set aflame by the most hot-blooded brawl in history. This is River City: Rival Showdown, a re-imagining of the seminal NES classic.
ADVERTISINGinRead invented by Teads
When it comes to cult-classics of the 8-bit era, the first to come to anyone’s mind is River City Ransom. On the surface, it resembles a standard beat ’em up. Kunio and his best bud, Riki, roam the streets of River City, thrashing anyone that accosts them. What sets this game apart from so many others is its depth. Whenever a punk is punched or kicked into oblivion, they leave behind their pocket change for the heroes to collect. In time, those earnings can be used to gorge on stat-boosting food and learn incredible martial arts techniques. The iconic visuals and fun fighting system have also contributed to making this title positively unforgettable.
River City: Rival Showdown presents an interesting spin on an old favourite. In this entry, players are given three days to solve the mysteries surrounding Reiho Academy. Events in the storyline are tied to the time of day, so if the player misses them, chances are high that they will miss out on the best possible ending. On the bright side, failure isn’t all that punishing. There’s a New Game+ for carrying over stats and equipment across multiple play-throughs. Various other incidents can also occur while exploring the city, which really helps to flesh out the story and characters.
Unquestionably, the bulk of Kunio’s time spent in River City will be in fights. Aside from the numerous gang leaders, who only answer to fists, scores of punks can be found while exploring. The combat will be familiar to long-time veterans, or anyone that has played a beat ’em up or two. Punches, kicks, weapons, or objects lying on the ground; all of these tools are available to both the heroes and the baddies. Coming to grips with the basics doesn’t take long at all. Although, the dash command is done by holding down the R button, instead of double-tapping left or right on the d-pad. Dashing is also not as responsive as before, which sometimes makes fights a little stiff.
As might be expected, there are also a wealth of RPG elements to consider. Cracking skulls and beating people until they fade from existence results in experience points. With every level-up, Kunio and Riki can invest points into various statistics. When certain stat-requirements are met, then special skills are unlocked. These can include new moves, a boost in power, and so on. When dealing with a tough opponent, grinding out a few level-ups isn’t always the answer, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s still possible to buy food. In most cases, however, it’s only used to advance time, or give a temporary stat-boost.
What’s more likely to determine the player’s success is their equipment. Clothes make the man, particularly when it boosts their parameters by an obscene amount. Jackets, belts, and other adornments can be bought in stores, or swiped from defeated delinquents. Yes, it is possible to beat the pants off of someone. Gear comes in many types and rarities, so expect to do a fair bit of farming to find the especially useful items. In a nod to Diablo and other similar titles, bosses have a habit of dropping several pieces of clothing when they are taken out. It’s just like cracking open a piñata. While it’s easy to appreciate the rush of excitement that can only come from scoring a rare drop, it does get old after a while.
Oh, and naturally, simple punches, kicks, and body slams aren’t nearly enough to survive in River City. Bookstores offer a selection of special attacks that can be learned. The always popular ‘Stone Hands’ allows Kunio to unleash a flurry of punches. With practice, enhanced versions of these moves can be learned. ‘Stone hands mk. 2’ is a devastating series of jabs, followed by a nasty uppercut. A lot of special attacks are earned via rare drops, so keeping on brawling is necessary if wanting to collect them all.
On the surface, the RPG aspect of this beat ’em up is engaging, plus it offers players the chance to come up with diverse play-styles. However, this flexibility doesn’t last for very long. First off, it’s worth noting that of the two available difficulty settings, new players should always start off as a beginner. Why is that? It’s because the intermediate setting is actually geared for people who have already beaten the game, and thus earned a lot of great equipment and skills. Without these necessities, Kunio and Riki will be lucky to do more than a single point of damage with every hit.
Even fully kitted out heroes can sometimes struggle to hold their own in a fight. This is because the special attacks aren’t balanced very well. On the harder settings, a number of moves become outright useless, simply because their damage is so pitiful. On the other end of the spectrum, there are absolutely broken skills like ‘Club Special.’ When equipped with a wooden sword, the player-character spins with all the ferocity of a Tasmanian devil. Although they can be hurt while performing this devastating dervish, they can’t be knocked down. Once ‘Club Special’ is obtained, it’s not uncommon to spend the entire rest of the game in an almost constant spin. Suddenly that sandbox doesn’t feel like much of a sandbox at all.
Given a long enough period of time, as well as a handful of especially wonderful rarities, the combat system begins to right itself. By that point, however, players are liable to be mentally drained from the repetition. It’s especially unfortunate because River City: Rival Showdown has some impressive features that help to keep it from becoming monotonous. Story events are short and easy to fast-forward through, and the handy map tracks almost anything of interest. When there’s nothing left to do for the day, fight clubs and restaurants are fine diversions for eating up the clock. Unfortunately, none of these features do anything to make fights more engaging, and fighting represents the bulk of the game.
On the plus side, this entry in the River City saga supports two-player action. Teaming up with a friend to clean up the streets is always amusing. This mode is also convenient in that it doesn’t require its own save data, so there’s no need to start from scratch whenever a buddy wants to help out. A versus mode, called ‘Double Dragon Duel,’ is also included. It’s a nice extra, but it won’t hold anyone’s attention for very long.