Preview: River City: Tokyo Rumble marks the return of a cherished beat 'em up series

River City Ransom is heralded as a NES classic by many. Aside from its fun beat 'em up action, the title also incorporated light RPG mechanics, and it even featured non-linear gameplay in an open world. For its time, it was quite revolutionary, but even now the old school favorite is still highly entertaining to play. A part of the Kunio-kun series, River City Ransom has had all manner of follow-ups in Japan, but most of these games haven't made their way to North America. Well, that changes with River City: Tokyo Rumble for the 3DS.

One of my first stops at this year's E3 was the Natsume booth. The company's handling publishing duties for River City: Tokyo Rumble and had a playable copy of the game. I spent a few minutes talking to a Natsume rep and playing the game myself. Judging from my time with it, the upcoming release is sure to please River City Ransom fans.

Tokyo Takeover

River City: Tokyo Rumble may look a lot like River City Ransom, but it's also based heavily on the arcade hit, Renegade, also a part of the Kunio-kun series. In fact, the first few bosses in the game originally appeared in Renegade. This helps to connect River City: Tokyo Rumble to the larger Kunio-kun series. For dedicated players who've been following the franchise, this is sure to provide some fan service. Of course, if you're like me and only played River City Ransom, you won't necessarily feel lost if you don't instantly catch all of the references to past titles.

The story of River City: Tokyo Rumble is very much old school brawler fare. You take to the streets to fight gang members using your fists, feet, and baseball bats. There's one gang in particular that's trying to take over Tokyo, and this crew acts as an antagonist until a much greater threat appears. That's when your group and that gang are forced to align for the greater good. You'll be able to use a diverse cast of playable characters, and defeating bosses allows you to play as them. I guess they just need a little convincing.

Mean Streets

The game plays a lot like a NES beat 'em up, so if you're a fan of treasured classics like the original River City Ransom, Double Dragon, and Battletoads, you'll feel right at home here. The majority of the landscape consists of urban streets filled with gang members for you to pummel. The area I played wasn't too daunting, but I did take a few hits myself courtesy of all the bad dudes who outnumbered me at every corner. You can expect later stages to feature even more baddies and tougher boss characters.

You've got a handful of basic attacks at your disposal, such as punches, kicks, and jumping strikes. There are also cool grapple moves you can perform. The professional wrestling fan in me was pleasantly surprised to pull off a German suplex after I got close to an enemy, grabbed him, and hit the attack button. Later on, I even grabbed an enemy I'd just knocked down and swung him around before tossing him. You can also pick up weapons off the floor and strike down your foes with them or just straight-up toss them at your adversaries.

You can unlock special moves, too, and a lot of these vary depending on the character you're using. Thankfully, you don't need to stress out about memorizing these maneuvers as they all appear on the bottom screen of the 3DS. That's a handy feature, for sure.

True to the series' roots, River City: Tokyo Rumble lets you roam around its world and check out vending machines and shops for some sweet goodies. Using the cash dropped by your enemies, you can purchase burgers, soda, coffee, and other treats. These items are then stored, and you can use them whenever your health is dwindling.

Lots To Do

There will be a lot of ground to cover as River City: Tokyo Rumble is quite the sizable brawler. You'll explore eight areas of Tokyo, each filled with enemies, bosses, and shops. There's even a job center filled with side quests and special objectives (such as lifting 50 enemies over your head) that'll grant you extra cash and special moves that can only be unlocked by fulfilling certain jobs. Additionally, if you want to unlock every character, you'll have to play through the game multiple times.

Aside from the main game, River City: Tokyo Rumble also includes some diversions for you to sink time into. You can play sports such as basketball and dodge ball (a nod to Super Dodge Ball on the NES, another Kunio-kun game). You can also battle it out with your buddies in four-player Rumble Mode via local or download play.

I've spent plenty of time with a lot of old school brawlers, including River City Ransom, and playing River City: Tokyo Rumble instantly reminded me of some of my favorite NES games. If you're a fan of the series, or just the genre in general, this one's sure to be right up your (gang-filled) alley.

River City: Tokyo Rumble is slated to launch on the 3DS in North America this summer.