IGN Review of Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble
I'm always immediately taken by a game that wholeheartedly embraces its Japanese origin. When a Japanese title is released here in the United States, it's always disappointing (though somewhat understandable) to see it brutally Americanized for a mainstream audience. Fortunately, Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble, a wonderfully quirky brawler published by Atlus, is a game that's not only entirely Japanese, but carefully localized to wholly preserve its unique aesthetic. This is an over-the-top and funny game that anime fans and the like could really get into.
The problem is that Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble's gameplay tends to be awkward and the overall presentation is bland. It's a shame, really, because the style and premise of Badass Rumble is fantastic, but the rest of the package fails to provide the smooth brawling experience that has been brilliantly executed countless times before it.
Before we examine Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble at length, it might be worthwhile to explain the game's title. "Kenka" essentially means "fighting" in Japanese, while a "bancho" is a tough guy or badass type. Hopefully you already know what "Badass Rumble" means, as that part of the title is in English...
In Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble, players take control of a rough-around-the-edges high school student who finds himself on a week-long school trip to the historic city of Kyouto. While the main purpose of the trip is supposed to be educational and fun, our hero -- named Takashi by default -- is much more interested in being the No. 1 bancho in Japan. As banchos from all across the country (one from each of Japan's prefectures) are staying in the city, Takashi plans on fighting them all and dominating the bancho universe.
Although Takashi is an unruly character, he obviously has a soft spot for some of his classmates (especially the token cute friend) and he follows the bancho code of honor well. This demonstrates one of the strongest aspects of Badass Rumble: the premise. Playing a total badass who wanders through a Japanese city, conquering different territories while also maintaining relationships with several lovely female characters is a great time. The structure of the game is also quite sim-like and will definitely appeal to gamers interested in Japanese high school simulations.
Each day of your single vacation week is divided into three sections: the morning (which runs from 9:00 to 13:00), the afternoon (which runs from 13:00 to 19:00), and then the evening (which is the final hour of the day). As you run around the open city of Kyouto, which is divided into different areas, time passes at about a minute every couple of seconds. Triggering certain story events will also move time forward, but players should have plenty of time to go about their business in the city.
Although the sim elements do occupy a fair portion of the gameplay landscape, the brawling is what Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble is all about. It is here that I was disappointed with the game, because Badass Rumble just feels clunky. Techniques are slow to execute, movement is stiff and the controls take some serious getting used to. This is definitely an unfortunate flaw in the game's design, as the rest of it is very enjoyable, despite the somewhat bland feel of the city.
The combat system in Badass Rumble is just a bit more complex than a standard brawler. Before you even start a fight with a local baddie, you need to "cut a Menchi" at him. This involves shooting him in the face with your laser eyes. This is not a joke. Once you have engaged in this epic laser battle, you'll then square-off in a game of insults where you must construct a badass phrase out of several onscreen key words. For example, something like "Cry to your momma!" will appear on screen. Quickly memorize it, and then find each segment of the phrase in the following bubbles of text. It gets old after a while, but by the end of the game this system gets much more challenging.
Once you actually get to the fighting, you have your standard light and fierce attacks, as well as some grapples and charge attacks to take advantage of. Players can lock on to nearby enemies to make the carnage a little more manageable, but mainly you'll be following a pattern of executing a combo, grabbing your opponent, throwing him, pinning him for a few extra hits and then waiting for the next attack. The different attack types certainly keep things interesting, but again the battles feel so stiff it's hard to fully enjoy the systems in place.
As you level up in Badass Rumble, players will learn more moves and acquire different "Local Specialties" from each of the defeated banchos (there are more than 40 main banchos from across Japan to beat, besides the generic cookie cutter enemies). When Takashi is in his room at the inn, you can fully customize his move set and even change the flow of his three-hit combo. These techniques can also be adjusted while Takashi takes a form of public transportation around the city. This is all great stuff and would have been extremely exciting had the combat not felt so stiff and inorganic. Even the two-player Ad Hoc multiplayer does little to alleviate these issues.
I really enjoyed the ability to customize Takashi's appearance, as there is a clothing store and barber shop in Kyouto that players can access at any time. These changes to Takashi's appearance are then reflected in the game's cutscenes, which can lead to some humorous situations. Even better: you can take pictures during cutscenes and proper gameplay and save them in an album to view later. This feature is irrelevant in terms of gameplay but it's a nice option to have.
Besides the less-than-ideal combat, I do have a few other complaints to level at Badass Rumble. The first: where is the music and ambient sound when you walk through the city?! It's terribly awkward to be strolling down a busy city street and not hear any chatter or sound effects besides your own footsteps. Couple that with a complete absence of music and you have a vapid Kyouto. Fortunately, music does play during battles and cutscenes (And it's good, too!), but I would have liked to see more of it to keep the in-game environments from feeling lifeless.
Lastly, I would have appreciated a few more in-game tutorials that describe the structure of the Badass Rumble experience. As soon as you leave the inn, you're given very little instruction on what to do next. This is a game that actually has a very helpful instruction manual, so consider peeking at it before playing.
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