There's just something fun and exhilarating about being a complete and utter badass. Perhaps it's as simple as the thrill of getting into fights and doing whatever you please wherever you want. Obviously in real-life this isn't possible for most people, but Atlus' newest video game, Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble, takes this idea and puts it into a video game. Does it realize its full potential, or is it a wishful idea that was better left ignored?
The game begins with a senior class trip to the fictional city of Kyouto. Being the resident Bancho of your high school, things like visiting museums, historical buildings, and tourist hotspots simply aren't interesting. Instead, the role of the Bancho is to fight others simply to be the best. For this reason, the player must hunt down other wannabe-banchos in order to become the number one bancho in Japan. However, there are only have seven days to find and beat all the opposing banchos, so there isn't much time to waste.
Kenka Bancho is a 3D, third-person perspective, beat-em-up game that gives the genre a different spin: instead of using predetermined checkpoints, the player can choose how they want to play the game. It's divided into two parts: fighting and exploring. The main character has a wide repertoire of attacks to choose from. There are the basic punches, kicks, and throws, as is expected in the genre. Punches and kicks can be charged to deal greater damage, or one can use special attacks, which can be learned by defeating the local banchos, and new basic techniques can be learned by leveling up by defeating opponents in battle, similar to gaining experience points in a RPG.
Unlike most recent games, which act like they give free reign, but really end up guiding players through predetermined checkpoints, Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble allows the player to choose how they want to play the game. Actions are classified as either shibui, meaning "really cool", or shabai, meaning "really un-cool", the opposite of shibui. Activities that get classified as shabai include attacking innocent pedestrians, destroying property, and using a weapon, and doing these things will cause other bancho to label the player a shabazo. Staring down an opponent before battling them, which is done using a technique called a "menchi beam", or refusing to backing down from a fight are activities which are deemed shibui. Both sides have their own advantages and disadvantages, such as getting special items and titles that are only available for a particular side. In addition to fighting other banchos, it's possible to buy new clothes, try out new hairstyles, and even choose one of the three local girls to be a girlfriend of sorts.To be the ultimate shibui, starting off fights with a menchi beam is essential. This leads into a quick time event whereby a phrase pops up on the screen, and players have to press the face buttons on the PSP in the correct order. If successful, players will get the first hit, which usually throws the fight in their favor. Afterwards, players must use their basic punches and kicks alongside their special attacks to defeat each opponent. However, this is where some of the issues in the game pop up, since the camera will often get in the way of attacks, even when locked onto the enemy. Pressing the R button places the camera behind the player's character at any time, but in the heat of battle this becomes hard to do since it usually lets the opponent(s) get a free hit in. During one-on-one matches this isn't much of an issue, but when there are three or more opponents, it becomes tiresome to have to continually fix the camera and while also trying to prevent damage from being inflicted.
The graphics in Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble are much better than one would expect from a small developer, and help the player feel as if they are in a Japanese city, with authentic-looking castles, schools, and cities. However, this experience is hampered by a lack of ambient sounds in the majority of areas in Kyouto. There is also a lack of music, as it's only really heard during cutscenes and fights with the other banchos. Considering some areas, such as the malls, have sounds like the chattering of the people walking by, it feels odd when entering a busy town and hearing next to nothing.
For most gamers accustomed to long games that span 20-30 hours, finishing Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble in five to six hours might make one wonder if the game was worth the purchase. The banchos roam from area to area each day, and it's necessary to either shibui or shabai to get specific items and titles. This means that it is near impossible for someone to find each and every bancho on their first run-through. One can easily spend an extra 15-20 hours playing through the game again to find all of the Banchos or picking another girlfriend. What helps to not make this a chore is the wonderful localization by Atlus, which mixes Japanese and English style and slang for a unique experience that is unlike anything ever seen before. An example of this can be found in the townspeople walking throughout the game, which range from long-time residents that give clues to local hotspots to vacationers who have an over-the-top stereotypical Western "I am lost, please help me" vibe to them. Atlus even made the loading screens enjoyable by explaining some of the Japanese terms that pop up throughout the game.
A co-op mode is also available, entitled Night Out Mode, which uses the player's save file to explore the city during night to gain stat points without worrying about the time passing. While players can play by themselves in this mode, having another friend helps to gain more stat points faster since the enemies in this mode are much more brutal than in the normal game. It is a nice side-mode that gives a break from the main game and lets the player enjoy a good tag-team match with their friends.
While the game has its flaws in the control and sound department, they aren't game-breaking in the slightest and don't heavily detract from the absolute fun and chaos Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble provides. Not many games can say that they allow the player to run through the city with a baseball bat and use eye lasers to start fights with people. Needless to say, if you don't get a smile on your face playing this game, you are a total shabazo.