The co-op is just as great as RCR. You can toggle friendly fire (a setting that was removed from the US version of RCR) and other settings mid-game, not just at the beginning. The first player controls series protagonist Kunio-kun, while player 2 starts as his brother Tsuu. The latter can even be swapped out for the bosses and other allies like Rikki who sometimes join up. The heroes can still carry and throw each other – more for kicks than any useful purpose. To that end, a player equipped with the rickshaw can even give his partner a ride! If you don’t have a partner, the AI will control your ally, just as in the GBA version of RCR. You’ll be thankful for the support, as this game is tougher than RCR, even on Easy.
Downtown Special boasts much more elaborate level design than its forefather, with sloping mountains, levels that stretch up and down instead of just left and right, and water to swim in. However, the game structure has become less linear, and not to its benefit. You’re supposed to hunt down bosses who randomly move across the new map screen. Enter an area not occupied by a boss and you won’t even see any enemies, which often makes the many interconnected areas feel like ghost towns. You may want to brush up with an FAQ to reduce confusion. Also, while the graphics have improved significantly, the game suffers from major slowdown problems whenever enemies are on-screen. Adjusting the emulation speed might lessen the feeling of fighting through molasses.
River City Ransom fans will definitely want to give Downtown Special – Kunio-Kun no Jidaigeki Dayo Zenin Shuugou! a try. The change in setting and character building make for a sequel that simultaneously feels fresh and faithful to its predecessor. I only wish the structure was more linear and action-packed and the fighting less plagued by slowdown. Still, if you’ve got a local co-op partner who digs RCR, those issues won’t outweigh the joy of this little-known classic brawler/RPG mash-up.
Language barrier: Nonexistent when playing the patched ROM. Low-medium if playing the original cartridge without a patch.
Difficulty to import: A collector could play the original cartridge in one of those knock-off NES consoles that has a Famicom slot. But most of us will just play the translated ROM on an NES emulator, eliminating any import barrier.