In Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble you’re on a senior school trip where you’re supposed to be visiting temples in (the fictional city of) Kyouto. Instead you’re feeding a punk a knuckle sandwich. You are a bancho, a macho badass, that wants to be king of the banchos in Japan.
Banchos have honor, rules that Sakamoto’s father hammers into his son’s head before sending him off. First, you can’t hit someone without a laser eye stare down. This initiates smashtalk, a system where you sling insults by pressing buttons. A phrase like “Go to Hell” pops up and you have to put it together by selecting “go” “to” and finally “hell” before time runs out. While you’re searching for go other words, assigned to different face buttons, try to distract you. Some of them are similar like “goat” for “go”. Others are just silly like adding “Irvine” as a possible replacement for hell. Smashtalk isn’t a freeform. You only get a preemptive punch by inputting the correct insult. Make a mistake and Sakamoto gets a kick in the gut. Well, you can skip the whole smashtalk system, but that’s not the bancho way of doing things. If you knee enemies in the face without warning you lose cool points.
Once you’re in fight mode Sakamoto can punch, kick, and pimp slap enemies until they flicker out of existence. Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble lets players configure Sakamoto’s attacks. You can choose a tackle, ground pins, and even configure Sakamoto’s default combo. He learns new moves when he levels up. However, fighting – no matter which moves you use feels clunky. Invisible enemies can close in on Sakamoto and you can’t really target punches. Button mashing is also too effective. Most enemies stand around waiting for a spinning backfist to the head. Once you knock an enemy on the pavement you can grab him and follow up with a ground attack like a head butt. While you’re in a scuffle other misfits casually walking by may join the fight. A small rumble can become a brawl until a police officer walks by and breaks everything up.
Fighting peons is the main way to earn money and more importantly pick up school itineraries. These documents let you know where the other banchos will be, important info on your quest to beat all of them up. Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble takes place over seven days. Since time is limited you have to decide whether to spend a day sightseeing with Manami, a female classmate that adores you, or bancho hunting. The light sim elements encourage a second run because you won’t be able to do everything in one round. Actually, you probably won’t beat up every bancho in your first playthrough. Since you don’t know where the other banchos are its easy to miss one or two in the early days.
Planning a bancho beatdown schedule is cumbersome. When you collect an itinerary it’s pinned to a giant map of Japan. You have to click on that prefecture to find out where that specific bancho will be. Not a problem when you have three or four itineraries. But, when you have a dozen of them and you only care about the banchos appearing on the current day the map system is pain. A fix, like highlighting itineraries with active banchos would have solved the problem. I gave up on using the map. A pen and paper chart worked better.
Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble is set in Japan. That’s obvious from the map. Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble, aside from the voice acting, is totally in English. However, the game liberally uses Japanese slang almost to the point that it feels like it’s in another language. This is going to be a love it or hate it deal. Some readers (probably many Siliconerites) will appreciate the lengths Atlus went to preserve the game’s flavor and yankii subculture roots. On the other hand, this limits Kenka Bancho’s general appeal.
“If you’re not a bancho, you’re a candy-ass shabazo!” – an actual quote from the English version.
Atlus went a staircase beyond embracing Kenka Bancho’s origins — a gamble since Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble has mainstream potential. As a beat ‘em up, Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble is easy to pick up. Anyone can learn how to play the game in seconds, but I imagine the localization will feel unwieldy for the masses. The folks at Atlus must have believe strongly in their faithful fanbase because they localized Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble for them first.