07 February 2010

Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble

Do you think you have what it takes to be the biggest badass in all of Japan? Or are you just some punkass wannabe puppy trying to run with the wolves? Hopefully, you're a real man. A manly man. The kind with manliness coming out of his armpits and machismo to spare. Otherwise, don't bother. Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble doesn't have time for you.

Seriously, though, this game is downright fun. Early on, as your dad trains you in the ways of the fist, he gives you three handy steps that just about sum up a huge part of this game:

1. Stare 'em down.
2. Talk 'em down.
3. Beat 'em down.

That's right, this game is a brawler. I've seen some people claim this is an RPG. Calling Kenka Bancho an RPG is like calling Persona 3 and 4 dating sims. Just because it has some of the genre elements does not make it of that genre. Kenka Bancho is a brawler with RPG elements, so while you can expect leveling up and navigating a very small number of menus to "equip" your attacks, the brunt of the gameplay focuses on beating the living snot out of anyone who looks at you funny.

But before I go into all the individual elements that make up this game, I want to make something clear from the beginning. Aside from the restraints of the clock and one or two cut scenes at the beginning, this game does not require you to do anything. Yes, there is a story. Yes, there is a "goal." But if you're just too much of a delinquent for things like "plot" and "purpose," you can throw it all to hell and do whatever you want. Think of the sandbox game format, only everything is unlocked from the beginning and you never get shoehorned into doing quests if you don't want to. It's like that save file that everyone has on their memory card for GTA: Vice City, where you can just mess around. Only, you know, you can also not mess around, and do what you're supposed to. Maybe this all sounds a little confusing, after all, don't games normally want you to play them? Yes, and Kenka Bancho encourages you to play it to its fullest, but in keeping with the spirit of the kind of attitude the game centres on, I like the fact that it never forces you.

Honestly, this aspect is one of my favourites, in part because I think everyone will play the game a little differently and get a different experience out of it.

In the same way, your fight style is versatile (especially as your list of available moves grows). Yes, you can just pick the strongest attack, but that won't always work. Some attacks leave you open. Some attacks may be weaker but have a wide range and be able to hit multiple enemies. I really enjoyed spending time in the Moves menu developing my character's fight style and then testing it out on the streets. The input for attacks stays the same, but you get to customize what each button will do in a given situation. Plus, between fast hits, strong hits, charge attacks, tackles, pushes, back attacks, grabs, pins, local specialties, and so forth, just how you utilize your fight style can vary. I found myself loving the grabs and pins, in particular against bosses. In large groups, though, holding onto a guy while you headbutt him and knee him in the teeth leaves you open to charge attacks from his friends. So I often focused on heavy hitting grabs and pins for bosses and wide ranged pushes, strong hits, and local specialties for times when there are just too many enemies on me. My fight style seemed to be best suited for one-on-one (the real man's way to fight, if you ask me), so I actually had less trouble with most bosses than I did with some of the punks on the street (especially those shabazzos with lead pipes—real man don't use weapons, punks!)

Oh, and before you fight, the honourable thing to do is stare them down with your "menchi eye beams." Some peons will just run off crying, but those worth their weight will stare you back and you'll go into smack talk mode. You'll be shown a phrase and then have to push the right button sequence to correctly say it and not sound like an idiot. For example, it'll say, "Yo mamma's so fat!" And then you have to select "Yo," "mamma's," and "so fat" in time. (To see it played out, watch the trailer embedded below.) If you get it right, you get in the first hit. If you fail, they get the first hit. Oh, and if you string together another phrase that also makes sense, they'll give it to you too.

However, while fighting all the other banchos (the strongest guy from a prefecture, a kingpin, and thus a boss fight) so that you can be the most badass bancho in Japan seems to be the primary goal of the game, that's not the only thing you can do. In addition to shopping for clothes and new haircuts, you're also supposed to be on a class field trip. So, you know, you're supposed to go with your class to temples and stuff. Pretty boring, right?

At first glance, the story events don't look as fun as brawling with the other yankii (Japanese delinquents), but it adds another element of interest. If you want the most "plot," this is where it happens. And don't worry, sometimes you get to fight someone threatening a friend, though this story seems to be more focused on your friends trying to get you to not fight. Now, the first time through, I tried to get to the final bancho and claim my spot as most badass punk in all of Japan, so I skipped some of the plot to try tracking down as many banchos as possible, but on subsequent playthroughs, I plan on trying one where I focus solely on the story and try to avoid confrontation as much as possible. I have to wonder what kind of ending you'd get. Would the game laugh at you for playing something called "Badass Rumble" and then doing nothing but hang out with your friends at temples in Kyoto? Or would this be another valid ending?

As backwards as it sounds, I think it's in the spirit of the delinquent attitude of the game for the ending to be just as valid. "Look at you, you delinquent. Yeah, so what if it's called 'Badass Rumble'? You don't care. You're too cool to care."

Speaking of which, did I mention that the game ranks your badassitude depending on if you do honourable things or if you're just some candy-ass cheater? For example, you can pick up weapons like baseball bats and wooden swords to wail on your opponents, which gives you great range and damage, but that's just not how a real man does it. You'll loose points, and the pompadour in the upper left corner will start to droop. Plus, your coolest bancho friends won't want to hang out with you. That's just not cool, man. Of course, for all intensive purposes, using a weapon is easier, and they give you the option. The punishment of a sagging pompadour doesn't seem too severe. Who needs friends when you have a baseball bat, right? But it's a mental thing. I played through the entire game with my pompadour icon huge and sparkling. That meter was always at max, because I didn't try to pull that cheap stuff. But why? It would've made the game easier and it's all provided to you in the game. You aren't entering a cheat code, and god knows your enemies love to use them. Still, it gtes to you. It puts you in the place of those wannabe yakuzas that are Japanese delinquents: You want to be honourable and cool. You don't want to just beat everyone up, you want to do it the hard way, and have everyone respect you (even if "everyone" is just an icon in a video game). In the same way, if you just up and attack delinquents, you'll always get the first hit. Staring them down and then talking them down is more risky—they might hit first!—but it'll raise your badassitude instead of lower it. Plus, it's more fun anyway!

However, the game does has its issues. In particular, the camera can be a little frustrating at times during those big fights. Someone will appear out of a blind spot behind the camera and hit you with a tackle, but then I suppose that would happen normally in a fight against a gang of punks anyway. Still, it can be annoying. Also, while there is a lock-on feature to help you hit, and I certainly encourage it for one-on-one fights, it doesn't really matter if you use it or not in big fights. With so many people, you sometimes just end up swinging around wildly like an idiot. So you try to lock-on, but you need to keep refreshing it to target the closest enemies or you end up swinging wildly again when they move out of range and you try to hit that guy coming up behind you. Overall, whenever a fight gets more than three of four against you, things can just get frustrating, but I guess it's my fault for bullheadedly standing my ground anyway.

Also, the button you use to grab or pin is the same button for picking up items, which means that sometimes you try to grab an enemy and end up picking up the weapon they dropped, only to have to discard before you can do anything or start swinging and make that pompadour sag.

These minor technical issues aside, the game is really fun, and in its uniqueness (though I suppose this is the third in the series for Japan), you're more willing to excuse it for a few faults.

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