Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble had an interesting start to its localization. Originally released in Japan as Kenka Bancho 3, Atlus U.S.A. felt the title on its own wouldn’t make any sense to North American audiences, for whatever reason. In an unprecedented move, the publisher allowed fans to vote for its new name, and the result was Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble. While the new name may not make much more sense, it does tell you just about everything you need to know about the game. Though the brawler may not feature much more than “run around and punch people” gameplay, the game’s humor and over-the-top characters and dialogue make Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble a unique beat-em-up.
In Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble, you take the role of a Japanese high school student on a seven-day class trip. There aren’t a ton of customization options available for the main character, but you do have the option of changing his name, school, and hometown; and later on you will be able to buy haircuts and outfits to add even more personal style. While the rest of the students are concerned with silly things like going on tours and staying with the group, you are much too badass for such nonsense. Instead, you wander the streets of Kyouto (not to be confused with Kyoto) looking for resident Banchos to beat the crap out of. As far as I can tell, Banchos are really good fighters, and by beating them one by one, you can raise your own reputation, become a super badass Bancho, and show the world just how manly you are. It’s reminiscent of killing the assassins in No More Heroes to take their place, only less bloody, and with less order.
As you wander the streets of Kyouto, you will see students dressed in the uniforms of competing schools, and have the option to fight them. The most unique part of Kenka Bancho’s fighting system is the way fights are initiated. You can start things off by shooting lasers out of your eyes at your rival, or he may do the same if you walk by. After the laser beams meet, it’s time for some smash talk. The opponent will say something tough and witty, and you will have to do the same by stringing phrases together in a few seconds. Each piece of the sentence will be mapped to a face button, and you have about three seconds to successfully choose each one. Being able to talk some smash will let you start the fight by knocking your enemy back or to the ground, putting you at an advantage.
Despite unlockable moves and different fighting styles, the physical fights themselves usually come down to little more than button mashing. You’ll be able to knock down most enemies without having to put too much thought into strategy or timing, particularly the rival students. The Banchos themselves are more difficult, thankfully, but it’s still not too hard to beat them. Kenka Bancho has an RPG-esque leveling system; experience earned during rumbles will go towards increasing your Bancho level, and upon leveling up, points can be distributed to certain attributes, such as raising your HP.
Finding new opponents is usually more difficult than actually fighting them. The streets of Kyouto are full of rival students, but you can only find Banchos after uncovering their itineraries or being given hints from friends. The main character carries a cell phone, which has some interesting uses; you may be sent text messages about possible Bancho locations, call upon cronies to use for backup, or do the manliest thing of all—get girls to give you their numbers. You will gain new followers as you beat up kids from other schools, but are at risk to lose them if you’re knocked out. While the students on the street don’t pose much of a threat, the cops are a different story. Trying to beat up on a random passerby will make the police come after you; trying to fight them will lead to more officers, and eventually you will probably be overwhelmed. If arrested, you will wake up in your hotel room, with the cops having taken all of your cool clothes and accessories, forcing you to wear a simple track suit—totally not badass. While some games are too linear, Badass Rumble has the opposite problem, and seemed to have a complete lack of direction most of the time. With only vague clues to go on, limited funds, and a handful of areas of the city to explore, the game felt like it had a distinct lack of focus. By the time you really feel like you’re on the right track, it might be the second or third day, meaning you have already wasted precious time (and making the need for a second playthrough more likely).
As you can probably tell, Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble does not take itself too seriously, which may be the best thing the game has going for it. The tongue-in-cheek humor accompanies the gameplay nicely. If this had been a more serious game about trying to be a badass high school student by beating up random people, I think it would have missed the mark completely. From the main character’s flashback that serves as a tutorial, in which your father teaches you how to be manly (you guessed it, by kicking ass), the entire game is meant to be humorous, and that’s why it works. The smash talk is hilariously cheesy, your sidekicks are pretty goofy, and the protagonist, in his attempt to be a serious tough guy, makes himself the unwitting butt of every joke. Though it may be a little too weird for some, being constantly amused helped me deal with some of the game’s less favorable issues.
Even though it has a seemingly large environment, Kenka Bancho doesn’t particularly impress on a technical level. The graphics are a far cry from some of the better-looking games on the PSP, though they’re certainly passable. Voice acting is nothing more than a few shouts and grunts. However, I was more annoyed by the loading screens that occur when you do almost anything, sometimes upwards of ten or fifteen seconds. Also, with a time limit to defeat the Banchos, not being able to save wherever I wanted meant wasting precious minutes going back to my hotel, which serves as sort of a home base. At the hotel you can save your game, rest, change your clothes, or visit the gift shop, and while I am fine with most of those things, I do think Kenka Bancho should have had more save points, or allowed for saving anytime through the pause menu.
If nothing else, Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble is a quirky, unique experience that is certainly entertaining in small doses. I wish there had been more direction, and despite the new game plus, I’m not sure if a second playthrough is a compelling enough reason to buy it. It’s definitely worth a try, and I can honestly say that there is no game quite like it on the PSP—or possibly any system. However, the feeling of wandering aimlessly, and the ultimately shallow fighting system, make the novelty of Kenka Bancho wear off after a few hours. Like many of the games published by Atlus, it’s certainly not for everyone, but those in the market for a humorous beat-em-up will appreciate the title.