There is more to being a bancho than just getting into a bunch of brawls. One thing you need to do is warn your enemy first, that way you aren't known for being the guy that sucker punches everybody on the street. It turns out that reputations matter in the big city of Kyouto. The good news is that warning your foes means that you get to play a fun and exciting smack talk mini-game. In this mode you will have to assemble an insult using the game's face buttons and should triggers. You only have a few seconds to choose the right parts of each comeback. If you successfully insult your opponent, it will knock him off guard and you'll land an early blow. Fail to get the saying right and you'll be on the receiving side of a hard punch to the face. This mini-game gets harder the further you get into the story, but it always remains fun, if not a little stressful.
There's something of a story in the game, though it's split up and not always easily found. The story is extremely disjointed, often told in quick cut-scenes as you travel through the different districts. I don't mind this narrative, it's confusing and a little hard to follow, but it's not unlike most of my big vacations. It often feels like everything is a blur, but isn't that how most people feel when they're having fun (and beating people up) in a foreign land? While I definitely feel like the story could have been better fleshed out, it really isn't the focal point of this game.
What I really like is that you're rarely forced to get into fights. Oh sure, the focus of the game is to beat up a bunch of district heads and take control of character part of Kyouto, but there's nothing in the game forcing you to do that. You can stroll around and sightsee, all while avoiding fights and actually learning a few things about this beautiful city. On the other hand, if you want to fight everybody that gets in your way, there's nobody stopping you (except for the occasional police officer). You're free to play the game however you want, which really gives you incentive to go through the story mode more than once.
Where the game excels is in its clever writing. Instead of going for a deadly serious approach, Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble realizes how absurd the genre is. Beyond embracing nearly all of the classic brawler cliches, this game includes a cast of characters that seem well aware of the joke. When you buy clothes or change your hair style you'll have to deal with snarky comments and one-liners. Your enemies will bad mouth you and drop pop culture references. The whole town is full of cheesy characters spouting even cheesier dialog, all perfect for the spirit of the genre. The game's sense of humor is certainly one of its most endearing qualities.
Sadly, the game's visuals don't hold up as well as the comedy. You will run into a lot of repeating characters in your travels, all of them wearing bland colors and having almost no fashion sense. Even the regular civilians of Kyouto are poorly detailed and unremarkable in every way. The locations are diverse and interesting, but you'll never be wowed by their high polygon counts. Even the 46 boss characters all look pretty silly, never as menacing as they are portrayed. Visually the game is a major letdown.
Another problem is the game's difficulty, which barely makes you break a sweat. No matter how far into the game you are, you'll always be able to dominate over your enemies, even when there are a dozen of them and they have baseball bats. You are always stronger and more agile, even when it looks like you're clumsily laying down combos. Most of the bancho fights turn into one on one battles, allowing you to move around and avoid powerful attacks. The challenge comes from finding all 46 of the boss characters before time runs out. Let me tell you, that is not an easy task.
When you're not tracking down a bunch of boss characters, you can check out the Night Out mode. This alternative to the story mode lets you take to the streets at night and do nothing but kick butt. Better still, you can play this mode with a friend via ad hoc. I only wish that the main combat mechanic was more refined, perhaps that's something they can work on for a sequel. Incidentally, Badass Rumble is actually the third game in the series (with a fourth installment hitting Japan later this year).
There's no question that Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble is a niche product. It's a love letter to those of us who grew up loving games like Double Dragon, Final Fight and, of course, River City Ransom. It's not a perfect game, but it has a lot of ideas and a great hook. Even after I was done with my vacation to Kyouto, I wanted to go back and visit (and find the banchos I missed the first time around). There's a lot to love about this surprising action game, so don't shy about jumping head first into this Badass Rumble.
Even with some questionable controls and outdated graphics, Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble feels like the River City Ransom sequel I've been waiting for. There's plenty of exciting action, tons of boss fights and a whole city to explore. If you can get over the game's shortcomings, you'll discover that Kenka Bancho is worth fighting for!
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