Stay Cool Kobyashi-san!: A River City Ransom Story is a retro, time-warping, beat-’em up game set within the universe of the River City series. Full disclosure: I haven’t played any of the other games in this series. So, while I thought the entire premise was ridiculous and silly, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some solid gameplay underneath the bizarre style, sounds, and themes.
The plot is not easy to describe, but I’ll try: You start the game in menus entering your name and other aspects about yourself. After this you choose “Love” or “Friendship” as your theme, and from there the game fills in the blanks. You are either a friend or lover of Kobyashi-san, and you have been kidnapped. He then tasks himself with stopping at nothing to find you. He enlists the help of his gang, and his time traveler friend Mizoguchi. Don’t worry, I’m also confused.
The graphics are simplistic and retro. The playable character designs are varied, but the same can’t be said for the enemies. Most are just palette swapped goons. Bosses, however, do have their own dedicated designs. The status indicators and HUD are too clustered on top, and I needed some time to decipher them. Otherwise, the colors pop and animations are fun. There’s nothing truly hindering about the visuals, but there’s also nothing special. It looks like a game that came out in 1992, and that seems to be the developer’s goal.
The controls are easy, but also easy to screw up. This is entirely a Switch issue and not a design problem. But if you’re dead set on getting this game for your Switch, try to use a Pro controller. I had a hard time executing some of the combos just because of the small button size on the Joy-Cons, and movement would have been far easier on a real cross-style d-pad. But this isn’t a deal breaker.
Sound design on this game was outright irritating. The electronic and high-pitched effects, Japanese language voice acting, and cheesy keyboard music is just not for me. The entire game sounds like a parody of a Japanese candy commercial. The sound track is underwhelming, and just noise to me. I muted the game and felt like I lost nothing the rest of my time playing. But if you find the sound in games like this to be charming, or if you have some kind of sick inclination for self inflicted misery, you may like what you hear.
Looking past all the weird aesthetics, the game’s combat is very fun. I got used to the Switch controller pretty quickly, and figured out swapping between the two onscreen characters. If you’ve played a beat-’em up before, you’ll get the hang of things pretty quickly. From there you can complicate things with combos and special moves and clean up the battlefield pretty easily.
Those who are already fans of other River City games likely have a lot here to enjoy. Those who are not, may still find some value here. Overall, it’s a solid brawler, with a fun game loop. And once you’re deep enough into the combat, you’ll likely enjoy your weird, and often confusing, stay in River City.