Review – Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san!: A River City Ransom Story

Arc System Works have been on a roll as of late. Between the releases of River City Girls, the Switch versions of Guilty Gear XX and BlazBlue, as well as the announcement of a brand new mainline Guilty Gear for next year, the Japanese company has been on great shape as of late. They are steadily alternating between big releases, small but interesting titles, as well as Switch ports. Their latest release is the nonsensically long-named Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san!: A River City Ransom Story, a game that clearly explains itself with its title alone.

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Everyone is adorably well-animated.

Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! is a sequel, as well as technically a spin-off, to the original River City Ransom game, also known as Kunio-Kun in the East. This series might not have been the most famous of beat ’em up franchises this side of the pond, but there are countless sequels and spinoffs that have sold millions in Japan ever since the 80’s. I even reviewed one of those spinoffs for the 3DS, which I found average at best. This game follows the premise of the original, being a semi open brawler that gives you a small amount of freedom to explore a small map.

Unlike other games on the franchise, Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! is even smaller in scope. The plot is simple: you control Kobayashi, who was a villain in the previous River City Ransom games, and your objective is to save a male/female friend/love interest (you can decide that) from kidnappers by defeating a gang of ridiculously dressed Power Rangers villains. Move around the small map and look for the right amount of foes to defeat in order to unlock the necessary boss fights. It’s as complex as a ten-piece Lego set, and it works, as Arc System Works clearly never intended for this game to be anything more than a quick arcade fix.

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Don’t bother with the storytelling. It ain’t the best thing in this game.

Normally I’d be a bit annoyed with Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! being so short, as you can beat it in less than an hour and a half. However, there are more than twenty different endings, all depending on what you do in the game and how you do it, allowing for a surprising amount of replayability. Not long after I beat my first run, I decided to restart the game with a different interest to save, trying to defeat all four gangs in less time, and so on. It works well enough, as this otherwise shallow title becomes a lot more interesting in the long run.

Visually-speaking, Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! is an improvement over other Kunio-Kun titles. Instead of the tiresome 8-bit character models that, while iconic in their own right, have already outstayed their welcome years ago, the entire game features a 16-bit visual style with impressively high-quality animations. A lot of effort has been put into animating everyone. The sound department is the perfect definition of “overcooked”. It features one single Deep Purple-inspired background tune that, surprisingly enough, never tired me, as well as a lot of voice acting. A TON of voice acting. Not only is there a lot of dialogue in-game, but every single menu option and icon onscreen is accompanied by minutes worth of tiresome dialogue. Do we really need that? It even reminds me of Race With Ryan, and nearly made me puke just by thinking of it.

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You gotta be stylish when killing people.

The gameplay is where Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! stumbles. This is one of the simplest beat ’em ups I’ve seen in years, and while that can occasionally be a good thing, it isn’t in here. The combat is as shallow as in Double Dragon IV. You have one normal attack button, one special attack button, one jump button, and depending on who you pick as a sidekick, an extra button to make you drop small buffs for your team. You can only create a handful of combos with these buttons and you can count all of them on one hand, with fingers to spare. It gets menial after a while, as there are no RPG elements to speak of or new moves to acquire. You’ll see a mob of enemies coming your way and you’ll spam the A button like there’s no tomorrow. You’ll also occasionally press the B button to deliver some special blows, as the game is very generous with the size of your special meter, as well as how quickly it replenishes. The only time when the game spices things up a bit is when it throws you into some neat, but forced, shoot ’em up sections.

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I have no idea why these sections are in the game, but I’m grateful for them nonetheless.

Although I did enjoy Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! a lot more than expected, I think this game was released in a very inconvenient time. Being released after the fantastic River City Girls just highlights the game’s issues even more. I really like that its short duration was perfect for multiple playthroughs, but its story is nowhere near as engaging as its female-led predecessor, nor is its combat. I still recommend it if you’re into beat ’em ups. This is a very competent game with nice graphics and a neat gameplay loop. Just make sure to know that there are other better River City games out there, one of which was released just a few months ago.

 

Graphics: 8.0

It does feature a fun 16-bit aesthetic with excellent animations and charismatic characters. The environments aren’t exactly spectacular, however, as there isn’t a lot of variety.

Gameplay: 5.5

The controls aren’t bad per se, but the combat itself is very shallow. You only have one normal attack button and one special attack button, as well as a jump function. You can only create combos by mixing the normal attack and jump buttons.

Sound: 7.0

The game does feature a very decent soundtrack and an ungodly amount of voice acting, to the point of being excessive. Did we really need voiced commentary on every single menu option?

Fun Factor: 7.5

What makes this game so perfect for a portable is the fact that it is very short, easy to pick up and play, and very replayable due to its various endings.

Final Verdict: 7.0

Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san!: A River City Ransom Story is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san!: A River City Ransom Story was provided by the publisher.