It has been quite a year for Kunio games. River City Girls and River City Melee Mach!! both appeared, and now they have been joined by Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! A River City Ransom Story. While it falls outside the main series and is a spin-off, it follows the traditional beat’em up format. Unfortunately, when it comes to style and substance, it trails behind its siblings released this year.
The setup for Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! A River City Ransom Story is remarkably brief and honestly, feels like it comes in expecting you to already know who everyone is and what is going on. Masao Kobayashi, an antagonist in the normal line of games, and Koki Mizoguchi, a time-traveling ally from the future, are telling Kunio that enemies from the future have appeared and need beating up. Kunio reluctantly joins right as Kobayashi learns his close friend/romantic partner has been kidnapped. You head off to beat up enough minions of each of the five bosses to force them to show up, then defeat their boss when they have all fallen to save the day.
Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! A River City Ransom Story feels like a simpler version of traditional Kunio games. Every character has a standard attack button, which can trigger different combos based on you inputs and if you choose to jump or be in certain positions when you attack. Each one also has a special attack, which can be charged up to three levels if you have enough Spirit and hold the button long enough. If you have defeated enough enemies, you can direct Kobayashi’s currently active partner to use a certain ability or summon an ally. You can also swap to the second character (or have another person control them) and change which of the partners could be in the second player slot (Mizoguchi and Kunio appear initially). There’s no real leveling. You don’t have shops to visit or maps to consult. Essentially, all RPG elements are absent. All you really have to do is go to an area, see which color enemies are there, keep going back and forth in the space until you have defeated 30 of that color, then face the boss connected to them. You repeat this for all areas until you trigger every boss and the final boss battle.
What’s heartbreaking is what a wasted opportunity this is for fans of the Kunio series. With River City Girls, we had a game that handled its cameos masterfully. It even used this effectively in its ending and secret boss fight. Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! A River City Ransom Story squanders them. There could have been optional dialogue between Kobayashi and Kunio as you went through the story, to play on their history from River City Ransom. It could have played with the identity of Ryuichi and Ryuji Hattori, the Double Dragon twins based on Billy and Jimmy Lee, some. It brings in side characters like Mamoru Todo and just… doesn’t really make an effort with their appearances.
It would also have been nice to see Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! A River City Ransom Story do more with the fact that you choose your relationship with Kobayashi. When you create an avatar, who ends up being the person kidnapped by these people from the future, the game asks you all of these questions. It wants to know what the relationship between Kobayashi and your avatar is. You can choose friendship or love. You choose which three items certain enemies will drop to show your connection. But then, the payoff in the end is rather anticlimactic. But then, given that Kobayashi isn’t really given much attention, someone might not really be that perturbed about missing an elaborate reunion.
But, what might bother people most is how it handles its multiple endings. Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! A River City Ransom Story toys with the idea of time travel. If Kobayashi falls in battle, time rewinds to a checkpoint where he is still alive. When you reach an ending, you could end up seeing text suggesting Mizoguchi needed to head to an alternate timeline and rewind again. But, from what I have seen, there are two ways to get certain endings. The best ending is triggered by beating the bosses in numerical order, something you’ll learn after they tell you their names the first time you fight them. Other endings all seem to be dependent on the score you earn. But, given how little the story seems to matter and how repetitious the experience is, someone might not want to return.
If people were expecting a lot depth, exposition, lore, or time-control abilities in Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! A River City Ransom Story, they will come in disappointed. It isn’t a challenging, complicated, or even long game. There’s no real resolution, unless you are willing to go for the true ending. (Other endings are connected to your score.) Compared to other Kunio games and spin-offs, it feels a little disappointing. Especially since it happened to launch in the same year as the exceptional River City Girls.
Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! A River City Ransom Story is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.