Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san!: A River City Ransom Story – Nintendo Switch
Developed By: Arc System Works
Published By: Arc System Works
Category: 2D Side Scrolling Beat ’em up
Release Date: November 7, 2019
2D Side scrolling beat ‘em ups were once a very popular genre in arcades and consoles. Japanese developer Technos played a significant part by releasing multiple games in the genre. This included Double Dragon but before this there was Renegade (Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun in Japan) which was the first game in the Kunio-kun series, where you play high school kid Kunio who must fight a series of gangs to rescue his girlfriend. Kunio would then go on to appear in a number of spin offs developed by Technos including cult classic River City Ransom. Since Technos bankruptcy in 1996, Arc System Works have continued releasing new entries in the River City Ransom franchise including re-releases, remakes and spin offs, and in 2019 alone we have seen the excellent River City Girls with help from developer WayForward and River City Melee Mach!!.
Now we have our third River City Ransom title of 2019 on Nintendo Switch in Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san!: A River City Ransom Story. Developed and published by Japanese developer Arc System Works, this is another 2D side scrolling beat ‘em up with an open world structure which is a hallmark of the franchise. This time you play as the eponymous Masao Koyabashi, a rival of Kunio in the original River City Ransom, to fight alongside Kouki Mizoguchi, a mysterious boy from the future, and the famous Kunio himself. The three must team up to rescue Koyabashi’s friend and take down the evil organisation keeping them captive. In a slight twist on the original River City Ransom, you can choose Koyabashi’s relationship to the person you’re trying to rescue such as a friend or a lover, male or female and you can choose items which enemies will drop which provide you with buffs when you collect them. The choices you make also determine which of the 20 endings you get.
In keeping with River City Ransom, when you start you can go anywhere. All areas are open when you start, and to progress you need to defeat enough of each enemy type to face off against their boss. As you progress you can collect the items you chose at the start of the game to provide buffs, but if Koyabashi is defeated you lose the item buff. Randomly placed talking cats are placed throughout which allow you to save your progress with them, and your last save place is where you return if you’re defeated.
You can play as any of the 3 characters but only 2 can appear on screen at once. The CPU controls the other character when playing in one player and isn’t the smartest. If Koyabashi is defeated you are sent back to your previous save place even if you weren’t playing as him, so for this reason you might find yourself playing as Koyabashi most of the time. Playing as or alongside Mizoguchi allows you access to special abilities which you need to charge up by defeating enemies. You can heal your party, add a temporary extra pair of fighters to your team on screen or increase your strength. Playing with Kunio on screen however doesn’t allow you access to special abilities, so you might find Kunio unused a lot of the time. But if Mizoguchi or Kunio is defeated, the other can be changed to while the defeated fighter is recovering.
As you progress you can upgrade your special abilities but that’s it as far as upgrading your characters skills are concerned. Unlike in the original River City Ransom, the RPG elements are mostly absent here with no opportunity to upgrade your characters’ attributes, the strength of your characters’ moves or learn new moves. This is part of what makes a River City Ransom game and fans of the series may feel like it is missing here.
Controls are quite simple with a regular attack and a special attack. You can perform combos and different regular attacks can be performed with the jump button or if you’re standing up after having been knocked over, and you can interrupt enemy attacks if timed correctly. Different special attacks can be performed depending on how long you hold down the button, and each special attack drains your spirit gauge which fills back up over time. When performing special attacks you also are invincible while you perform one which is a helpful mechanic, particularly when fighting more difficult enemies.
To progress you must face and defeat each boss by defeating enough of each of the 5 core enemy types. These enemies disappointingly look and behave exactly the same except each type is a different colour. They won’t cause you too much trouble, the only thing that may cause you trouble is finding the correct colour of enemy so you can defeat enough of them to face the next boss. Other enemies randomly include flying spaceships and missile launchers. Adding to the randomness, there are sections where you can jump into a spaceship and shoot enemies.
Speaking of randomness, unless you are familiar with the Kunio-kun and River City Ransom universes, you may be quite confused as to what’s going on. The story is fairly bonkers involving time travel and there are easter eggs and characters from both existing franchises turning up which will be lost on those who haven’t played a Kunio-kun or River City Ransom game. The translation is passable but it doesn’t have the high quality of localisation we’ve been used to seeing these days. Impressively the game is fully voiced in Japanese throughout, but no English voice dub is available.
Traversal is a bit confusing as you aren’t provided with a map. The world isn’t particularly big but you may find yourself doing a lot of walking around each area after you’ve defeated most of the bosses as you try to find a particular colour of enemy you need to defeat enough of to get the next boss to appear. There is a bit of a difficulty spike with some of the bosses. Some of the later boss fights last forever and are frustratingly tough, and to compound this none of the bosses have a health bar. Add to this that when you’re defeated, your special ability gauge is empty and you start back at your last save place. So you either have to go out and defeat enough enemies to fill it back up or you reset your game and restart from your last save. Quality of life improvements are needed here so you can jump back in to a boss fight without all this faff.
Further quality of life improvements could be made such as some more music themes as the same music wears thin after hearing it repeatedly throughout. A larger and more interesting range of detailed environments would also have been welcome. But having said all that, the graphics have a nice 16 bit pixel art style with attractive character art during cutscenes and it runs perfectly on Switch in handheld and docked modes.
It’s great to see the continued resurgence of the 2D side scrolling beat ‘em up which was so popular in the late eighties and early nineties. But there are better examples of the genre and better River City Ransom games available on Nintendo Switch. Unfortunately for Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san!: A River City Ransom Story this side story in the series is a backwards step.