Smooth fights and fabulous hair: You should be playing River City Tokyo Rumble

What is it?

A modern successor to the beloved River City Ransom that also happens to be a remake of Renegade, its predecessor.

Play it if you like...

Classically style brawlers, sweet hair, stubby little gang members.

  • Format: 3DS
  • Price: $29.99
  • Release date: Out now

The secret of River City Tokyo Rumble’s allure lies in its star’s gorgeous hair. Behold Kunio’s pompadour, stare into his lustrous coif and know: whatever happens in this game will be a dollop of solid gold righteousness because it involves that dope ‘do. What begins with Kunio’s hair, though, carries out over the course of six to seven hours of deeply, deeply mesmerizing brawls. All you do in River City Tokyo Rumble is wander from neighborhood to neighborhood in Japan’s most famous metropolis, punching people with Kunio’s stubby arms and legs, wondering how he keeps his hair like that. When it’s all over, you’ll come out of your daze baffled that there isn’t anymore game. Then you’ll restart and do it all over again.

Okay, there’s a little bit more to it than that but it’s true that Tokyo Rumble is a beguiling old school game for Nintendo 3DS. For vintage NES fans that recognize the name, this isn’t actually a sequel to the classic River City Ransom but a remake of Renegade, the original arcade game that Ransom was actually a sequel to. It doesn’t play like the linear, level-by-level Renegade, though. Tokyo Rumble is structured a lot like Ransom, with Kunio and his gang of high school toughs doling out vigilante justice by visiting Tokyo neighborhoods ruled by different gangs. Each neighborhood is made up of a few interconnected screens full of landmarks, restaurants and shops. Head to the Kabukicho train station and walk left to head through a loop of streets where you can pick up books to teach Kunio new moves, new undershirts and belts to up his stats, and a bowl of ramen to heal up between fights.

That’s pretty much it. There’s a story about a shadowy force organizing the rival gangs and you meet a colorful crew of other high school fighters you can partner with (just one partner at a time, though), but even if you indulge in side missions to beat up specific thugs or find a lost dog, Tokyo Rumble boils down to the same cycle. Go to a neighborhood, beat on people with Kunio’s adorable tiny arms, level up so you have more health and attack power, repeat. What sounds like the most rote ‘80s-style action game ultimately has a delicious rhythm. River City Tokyo Rumble just feels good to move in. It doesn’t matter that the background environments look like they’re from an early PS1 game or that the action doesn’t dramatically change from beginning to end. What’s so affecting is that the simple visuals and smooth feel of the action blend together into a warming soup of action. Getting lost in Tokyo Rumble’s flow, much as you get lost in Kunio’s hair, is as relaxing as the repetition and quest for perfection in puzzle games like Tetris or Bejeweled.

There are some funny diversions. The Kunio Kun series housing this and River City Ransom also produced a few sports games like the cultishly adored Super Dodge Ball, and those athletics show up as mini-games here. Kunio’s classmates can invite him into a quick dodge ball match. Funny? Definitely, but not a meaty side game. Of course, Tokyo Rumble doesn’t need a meaty side game. It’s got the fights. It’s got Kunio’s hair. That is all it or your 3DS or a lazy afternoon gaming needs.

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Anthony John Agnello
I've been playing games since I turned four in 1986, been writing about them since 1987, and writing about them professionally since 2008. My wife and I live in New York City. Chrono Trigger is my favorite game ever made, Hum's Downward is Heavenward is my favorite album, and I regularly find myself singing "You Won't See Me" by The Beatles in awkward situations.