Review: River City: Rival Showdown



River City Ransom is one of those recognizable names from the NES era that then stood out in the growing beat em’ up genre by using some nifty RPG elements, and is best known for the iconic “Barf” expression that enemies exclaimed upon defeat. Originally a much different game in Japan, River City Ransom is a localized version of Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, which is part of the long-running Kunio-kun series of games.

Well, the Kunio-kun series celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016 and released Downtown Nekketsu Monogatar SP in Japan, which is a remake of the game that eventually became River City Ransom. Now we’ve got that remake in the form of River City: Rival Showdown and the questions of how it lives up to the classic or will it make fans barf?

River City: Rival Showdown review

River City: Rival Showdown (Nintendo 3DS) 
Developer: Arc System Works 
Publisher: Natsume
Released: November 21, 2017 (NA), November 3, 2017 (EU) 
MSRP: $29.99

The most noticeable new thing in Rival Showdown is in its appearance, combining the trademark Kunio-kun series character designs with some very pretty pixel art backgrounds. The backgrounds have a great sense of detail to them, taking advantage of modern pixel art techniques which blend in well with some very expressive character designs. The 3D capability of the 3DS is also utilized well, mixing background and foreground elements giving a good sense of depth that just helps all the pixel art to pop out.

It’s not just the visuals that get an overhaul, the music also gets the modern treatment. The soundtrack in Rival Showdown are modern rearranged versions of the original RCR music along with some new original tacks and are pretty good chiptune tracks on their own. The new music is pretty faithful to the originals while fully utilizing the new hardware that isn't as limited as the original NES.

River City: Rival Showdown is much less about ransom and girlfriend kidnappings, and is more about hot-blooded Japanese student delinquents using their fists to settle everything. The focus this time is on Kunio (localized as Alex in the original localization) going up against a group of other student delinquents from different schools who want to take over Japan through violence. Interestingly enough, the plot of the original River City Ransom is still here but takes a backseat and becomes one of the many subplots.

The events in Rival Showdown take place over the span of three days, using a day-night cycle in conjunction with a persistent in-game clock where each day starts at 3PM and ends at 11PM. Each day is about 8 in-game hours, each in-game minute equals to 20 seconds in real life and through some math means each day is a little over 2.5 hours. This day-night cycle system changes up the game, keeping things fresh and the player on their toes. The different times of the day and night will feature changes to the environment, such as characters showing up at certain times and most stores being open only open during the day.

Planning ahead and time management become part of the game, with the possibility of missing events that happen at certain times that can unlock other pathways in the game. Thankfully, the game keeps track of events and even tells players where the important events will happen using an encyclopedia so players aren’t completely blind through subsequent runs. I never really liked a time pressure element in games I just want to chill and have fun but I found enough time to grind money and experience between story beats.

Combat in Rival Showdown stays true to its roots with some modern tweaks to the original River City Ransom formula. I got KO’d a few times playing on the Intermediate difficulty which made me switch to Beginner and was much more manageable and let me learn the basics. Though there are times I randomly ran into really tough opponents that wiped the floor with me, but those same enemies were absolute cakewalk when I went faced them again on subsequent playthroughs on new game plus with my powered up stats and gear.

Being on a newer system with more than just two NES buttons for punch and kick, other actions now have their own dedicated buttons like grab, jump, and block. New flashy cool skill moves have been added on top of the classic repertoire of moves. Button mashing won’t give you an advantage like it would in a more modern beat-em-up. While not as punishing as the original, initiating an attack like a punch or a kick will lock the character into the animation with no way to cancel and can leave the player vulnerable to enemy attacks.

Old staples in River City Ransom such as stores and restaurants are still in Rival Showdown, with items that giving boosts and some teaching special moves to the player. Food now gives you a temporary boost that last for an in-game hour, increasing character stats is now done by leveling up by gaining experience points from combat. This nicely suits the new style that adds more to the sense of progression and depth to the gameplay. There are also equipment that gives some stat boosts that can be bought or earned as loot from beating enemies. Using all these things that can make your character stronger is useful in fighting much stronger enemies that just cannot be defeated by just using skill alone.

River City: Rival Showdown review

A co-operative 2-player mode is available in the game but is limited to local ad-hoc and will require another 3DS and copy of the game. There is also a versus mode in the Double Dragon Duel fighting game mode that has a download play feature that only requires one copy. The Double Dragon Duel fighting game (or referred to as “DDD” in the game) exists as an arcade game within the world of Rival Showdown, and features even more references to the other games from the Kunio-kun series such as Double Dragon.

The DDD fighting game turns the action in Rival Showdown into a one-on-one 2D fighting mini-game while featuring the same controls and special moves in the full game. It’s a nice distraction that would’ve been nicer if given more substance beyond being just a mini-game.

The map of Yumemicho, where Rival Showdown takes place, is rather sizeable with plenty of interesting locations and is mostly populated with friendly citizens along with those looking for a fight. Talking to NPCs will provide dialogue from standard trivial NPC speak like talking about mundane things such as their favorite restaurant or social media. While some NPCs will provide helpful tips and dialogue about all kinds stuff from basic tutorial instructions to plot important details. This method delivering information provides nice world building, adding some great personality to  the game.

Rival Showdown is meant to be played more than once, having multiple paths and endings where learning to find and unlock everything is part of the fun. There are plenty of secrets to be found, with some even that can be missed thanks to the in-game clock, providing a fun challenge for completionists. A single run isn’t that long and can take up to 7 to 9 hours. Beating the game once will unlock a new game plus mode, which lets players carry over unlocked moves, experience levels, and gear over to the next playthrough. This allows players absolutely wreck shop on lower difficulties or step up to higher difficulties for some added challenge.

River City: Rival Showdown review

Being part of the Kunio-kun series, Rival Showdown wears its heritage proudly on its sleeve, featuring plenty of references to all the different Kunio-kun offshoots and more. This localized English version even contains references to the other localized English versions of the Kunio-kun games. The game strikes a nice balance of a contemporary localization while celebrating its history from an era where localization involves significant changes to game was the norm.

River City: Rival Showdown leans more heavily on the RPG elements that the original River City Ransom brought to the beat em’ up genre with a stronger focus on a narrative and exploration. Being on a handheld, the new game prioritizes the single-player experience in its core design which loses the charm of the couch co-op that made the original game so memorable to many players back in the day. River City: Rival Showdown ushers in some big changes while still does a good job bringing the original River City Ransom into modern times while still honoring its Kunio-kun roots pretty well.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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River City Rival Showdown reviewed by Red Veron



Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
How we score:  The Destructoid reviews guide


Red Veron
Red VeronContributor   gamer profile

Red likes a lot of things from Japan and wants to share more about it with the world. He even likes the bad anime. Sometimes. Maybe. more + disclosures



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