If you grew up playing video games in the ‘80s you’ll be very familiar with the beat’em up genre. Games like Bad Dudes, Double Dragon, Final Fight, and Streets of Rage were some of the most popular games of that era. Later in the NES lifecycle a little game by the name of River City Ransom made it to the market and it was an instant cult classic. It never reached the mainstream success of something like Double Dragon II, but for those that discovered its existence, it was truly something special and unique for that time. It blended the “punch everyone in the face until they die” mechanic with slight RPG elements to create a rather spectacularly fun co-op experience.
For the most part, the series pretty much died in the west. Only recently have we seen a resurgence of these games make their way over the Pacific, and that’s a great thing because they’re usually worth checking out. The latest of the bunch to release on the 3DS is River City: Knights of Justice. Unlike prior games in the franchise, this one is set in the past – all the way in medieval times. No longer are you simply pummeling street thugs to death in the back alleyways. Now you take on multitudes of enemies, including things like dragons and zombies. You’ll be roaming the countryside and exploring caves and cemeteries, leaning more heavily in the Japanese RPG direction. Indeed, you’ll even get to form a party of companions that you can recruit as the game progresses, each with their own HP and MP to use.
The main crux of the game revolves around you completing quests. You’ll obtain these in numerous ways, but I got more than a slight Zelda II vibe exploring the town and talking to the passersby. Some of them will give you challenges that you must complete, and often these revolve around securing so many items or defeating a certain foe. In other words, things that you’d normally have to do in any other RPG. The problem here is that most of these are throwaway missions that you’ll forget even existed after you’ve completed five similar ones. If you don’t mind repetition and enjoy mindless action, then you should have a good time here.
The game’s graphics and music are adequate. The various environments are colorful and the retro 8-bit look to the characters definitely tugs at the nostalgia strings for those of us that played the original game. There isn’t anything mind blowing here that will make you sit up and take notice, but it gets the job done.
For a $14.99 title on the eShop, you’ll get your money’s worth with River City: Knights of Justice. At its core it’s still a basic beat’em up, but it lacks one of the core building blocks that makes these types of games so much fun in the first place – simultaneous 2-player co-op. I feel that this is a major omission that really drags the entire experience down, as I would have loved to play alongside a friend. Still, if you’re into brawlers and are looking for something slightly different, this game definitely delivers with its unique setting, multiple characters, and plenty of quests. It’s worth a try for those not sure about the genre, and a safe bet for those who grew up playing these types of games.