River City Super Sports Challenge ~All Stars Special~ (PC) Review

The Kunio-kun series has an interesting history in the West. It’s been known as Crash N’ The Boys, Renegade, and even Nintendo World Cup, among other things. It’s perhaps best known, however, for River City Ransom, an early NES cult smash. Perhaps that’s why publisher H2 Interactive went with the “River City” moniker for the latest entry in the series.

River City Super Sports Challenge ~All Stars Special~ is exactly what it says on the tin: a collection of sporting events featuring characters from the Kunio-kun series. It’s a nostalgic get-together for fans of the franchise. While Western gamers won’t necessarily be privy to every character or setting, many old-school diehards will probably recognize some of the stuff on display.

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Even if they don’t, it won’t impact the fun that Super Sports Challenge has to offer throughout its four events. The two racing modes are the highlight of the package. Cross Country is a knock-down, drag-out race to the finish, in which players can pummel the living daylights out of the competition. Obstacle Race is a riff on that, only with giant treadmills and springboards standing between you and the finish line.

The other two modes are a tad less interesting. In Camphor Ball, players climb poles and try to punch open a large ball, while knocking would-be assailants to the ground. Battle Royale is a giant cage fight to the death, suspended dozens of feet above ground. Both feel a bit clumsy and cobbled together, and offer little incentive to replace other, better “fight to the death”-type games.

All these modes control like their retro equivalents would. Players guide a plethora of cute, squat 8-bit sprites on a side-scrolling, top-to-bottom plane (rendered here with crisp 3D backgrounds.) If you’ve played any sort of brawler, you know exactly what to expect here. It’s definitely interesting, though, to see this style of gameplay being used for something that isn’t just beating the tar out of people. While you can definitely do that, it’s complemented by other wacky antics that add some variety to the package.

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It mostly works, too. There’s a good bit of fun to be had here, thanks in large part to the patent absurdity of the objectives. Sprinting across rooftops lobbing grenades at high-schoolers, using a tire as a weapon in a cage fight, tossing a baseball into someone’s face so they get knocked into the sewer by a giant hand… few competitive games offer as much charming stupidity for players to enjoy. It’s basically the video game equivalent of Wipeout or MXC.

Also adding to the atmosphere of absurdity is the off-the-wall Single Play mode. It’s a giant, awkwardly translated soap opera that involves, among other things, amateur terrorist attacks on track meets and schemes to poison team captains so they can’t participate in competitions. Imagine the most melodramatic high-school anime and you’re halfway there. It’s a fun, funny little yarn that I’d argue is the highlight of the game.

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Unfortunately, it’s undercut by the main problem here: lack of content.

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Humour and originality can only go so far. While there’s a lot to admire here, there’s no denying that there simply isn’t enough of it to merit paying full price. The campaign is fun, sure, but it only lasts a handful of hours, and most of the content is repeated, thanks to a lack of maps. That carries over to the map creation mode, which is laughably sparse, and the character creation, which can only go so far thanks to the very nature of 8-bit graphics. There’s local and online multiplayer, which is nice, but nobody’s playing online, and if you’re gathering friends to play something, this is only going to last so long before you move onto something with more depth and more content.

This is why River City Super Sports Challenge comes as a cautious recommendation. There’s definitely some fun, entertaining stuff here, but to be frank, there are better, cheaper games out there, with more to do and more to see. For a few dollars, it’s a no-brainer, but for fifteen bucks, only a select few would really feel justified in the purchase.