Review: Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble

When being a man isn’t enough, you’ve got to step up your game. Considerably. Good looks, charm, intelligence, and even riches can only take you so far; to really get ahead, you need swagger and strength. You’ve gotta become a bona fide badass: a Bancho. In the tumultuous Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble, another quirky offering from Atlus, your one true goal is to display the most Banchosity. That means smash talking your way into some ridiculous situations, staring down any rivals with electric Menchi beams, and striving to become the toughest on your turf (along with everyone else’s). Those familiar with the pompadoured, tough-talking, gang-affiliated students popularized in Japanese anime and culture should delight in stepping into the shoes of these delinquents who care about nothing more than being bad.

The asskicking begins as schools from all over Japan send their seniors on an excursion to historic Kyouto. While the obedient students are content to visit ancient shrines and fall into tourist traps, Takahashi Sakamoto has another goal: to prove he’s the strongest fighter in the country. He’s not alone. In just seven days, the duration of the trip, he has to wade through the wannabes to defeat the other forty-seven Banchos lurking around the town. After all, being a badass is about crushing anyone who might usurp your crown.

First, though, he has to find them. The search doesn’t have to be random; itineraries for each school can be beaten out of the low-level yankii crawling through the streets. However, navigating Kyouto in an effective manner is a basic challenge in Kenka Bancho because you have to deal with both logistical and time constraints. Hailing a cab, hopping the subway, or catching the bus are surefire ways to visit the major hubs of the mammoth 3-D city. Each method takes a different duration, though, and the hours pass in semi-real time. Curfew will creep up quickly if you crisscross between far-flung neighborhoods. There are also smaller, secluded areas that are only accessible by foot and are not marked clearly on the in-game maps. It can get difficult to keep all the locations straight in your head.

It is, however, easy to spot a Bancho; they’re surrounded in a glowing ring of light. You don’t just run up and commence to beating the crud out of them, though. That would be the ultimate cowardly, Shabazzo move. Real Banchos announce their intentions, and that’s the purpose of the game’s Smash Talking mechanic. By glaring down your opponent with laser-beams that come out of your eyes (I couldn’t make this up), you’ll engage in a mini-game where a taunt pops up on the screen, such as “I know where you live.” Three sets of partial phrases then appear in quick succession. If you can match the three parts of the original taunt by pressing the appropriate face button or shoulder trigger, then you’re awarded the first blow in the fight.

Unfortunately, the art of fighting is a bit clunky. The camera doesn’t automatically follow behind you during a brawl. Instead, you have to manually adjust it with the directional keys, essentially leaving you defenseless if your opponent wanders off-screen. You’ll also need to keep your cool when a combination of punches and kicks don’t register precisely as you intended. Finally, your allies can get in the way. There’s an option to call upon a lackey, a Bancho you have previously defeated, to back you up. If they happen to walk into the path of your fists, though, you can inadvertently beat them silly along with your enemy. At least they don’t return the favor.

The fisticuffs are still ultimately satisfying, thanks to their more excessive elements. Pulling off special attacks, like launching your opponent into the air with an exaggerated uppercut, produces some comical imagery and substantial damage. Defeating fellow Banchos will teach you their signature moves, which means you can always look forward to seeing something more outrageous.

The only thing more ridiculous are the Banchos themselves. Badass Rumble showcases the distinct style and doltish personality of each them. One is so arrogant that he won’t deign to speak to you directly; his whispers must be relayed through his henchman. Another is so pitiful that you happen upon him just as he’s turned down by a girl. Upon his defeat, he begs you to help him hook up. Then there are the Sukeban, or female Banchos. Despite being towards the top of the food chain, one is so cute her special attack makes hearts materialize into the air.

The game’s tongue-in-cheek humor is too outrageous to be taken seriously, and that’s what makes it work so well. Anime fans will find much to laugh at in the game’s obvious satire of typical “delinquents” found in many series, as well as with the prim and proper class rep and uptight teachers who find no glory in the ways of the Bancho. The school hierarchy feels so true-to-life and authentic that it’s hard not to get sucked in. The only disappointment is there’s no spoken dialogue. As side-splitting as some of the lines are, it would have been extra hilarious if the game featured a dub track.

As long as you keep on keepin’ on, fighting through the laughter and smash talking your way out of sticky situations, you’ll earn Bancho Soul. This introduces an RPG element into the game, allowing you to upgrade your skills, learn new abilities, and customize your fighting style. It’s an incentive to persist in grinding even when you begin to feel a bit run down from the incessant onslaught of fighting — because there is a lot of it.

So much that the game isn’t meant to be completed in just one play through. After finishing, you can return to the start of the week with all your stats and items intact. It may seem like this is just more of the same: spamming of the punch button, collecting money, and moving up the well-worn rungs of the world. But one trip back to spend Bancho Soul, one heady piece of dialogue, and you’re hooked again. There’s plenty to keep you playing long after you’ve beaten down the gaggle of pretenders in the social order of Banchosity. There’s an astronomical amount of character customization, provided you can afford it. New costumes (like a full baseball uniform), new contacts, and better rankings are there just waiting to be claimed. And you should be able to pay up – you are a Bancho, aren’t you?

The payoff is a hilarious look at the world of delinquents, at least as it’s portrayed in several anime series. If that aspect of youthful Japanese culture sounds interesting, then you’d be crazy not to pick this game up and at least give it a whirl for a few minutes. It’s weird, wacky, and completely insane. Come on — do I need to Smash Talk you into a purchase?

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