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Sean Pettibone


River City Soccer Hooligans (DS)

Players who grew up during the 8-bit era will be happy to learn that a new version of the classic River City franchise has arrived on the Nintendo DS. This isn't an emulated or slightly enhanced version of those old titles, but an entirely new game based on the characters and settings from the classic series. It's an entertaining comic-sports title that gives you the chance to play with some cool power-ups that add to the fun. It's humorous take makes it a refreshingly fun and accessible title that should please new and veteran players with its retro-graphics and action-oriented arcade play style. While it's not going to win any awards, River City Soccer Hooligans is an entertaining diversion that offers a solid mix of new and classic gameplay elements.

While the series has lied dormant for many years, Aksys Games and developers Million Co have unleashed a new wave of River City Soccer Hooligans on the DS. The new title brings the classic comic-sports series back to life in an engaging and entertaining game that effectively mixes old and new elements. For those unfamiliar with the series, it's basically a mixture of traditional sports action with humorous anime characters and stars the confident Kunio as the team captain. There's a silly backstory behind each match that unfolds as you progress through the matches. You basically take on the 'role' of Kunio in the game and don't have to worry about switching players, realism or any of the sometimes esoteric rules in real soccer. There's no off-sides or penalties in Soccer Hooligans, so there's no barriers that get in the way of the fun. Unlike traditional sports games, River City emphasizes role-playing and team elements. Instead of controlling each player individually, the game places you in the role of team captain Kunio as you command and control their moves and actions. For example, when your team has the ball, you can command that player to shoot, or on defense make them attack or tackle opposing players.

From a control standpoint, Its fairly easy to get the hang of things, though it takes awhile to learn all the special moves. The game's layout is fairly simple with the action screen occupying the upper half of the DS while the command section, which includes a complete view of the entire field on the lower section. River City doesn't use the DS touch screen, instead commands are input manually using the face buttons. It's a fairly simple game to get the hang of and most players should be able to run through a quick practice match and learn the basics without much effort. The basic objective is basically to win the matches, though in the longer story and quest modes, you are given other tasks that you can complete, such as winning a match without giving up a goal, that will increase your team's overall ranking. There are several modes of play. In River City League you take your team through the standard versus matches, against several opponents and try and work your way to the world championship. The game also includes a Continuous play mode where you have only a goalie and a defender, and play an extended tutorial match that helps you learn some of the more advanced techniques. As you play through River City, you'll probably earn trophies and prizes and you can view these items in the game's Collection mode as well. It's fairly simple and adds to the game's replay value.

The game's command and play system is unique and makes River City Soccer Hooligans more challenging and interesting than you'd expect. The gameplay offers a fairly traditional soccer game, with a five a side match that keeps things simple. However, there are numerous humorous power-ups and special attacks you can use that give the gameplay a more comical feel. There are some standard moves can be triggered at various points using the standard buttons. You can perform numerous special moves depending on the character you're selecting and whether they're in control of the ball. These include an Aerial ace move where you can kick the ball into the net with a flying kick, a Tornado kick where you can make a lot of wind in the air and a triple axel move where you'll spin continuously and which you can use to knock nearby players off-balance. 

These special moves can be used several times, but they deplete your energy and can be countered by opposing teams. During each match, you can choose which players will perform these special moves or do them yourself when you're in control of the captain. Other techniques you can use in River City Soccer Hooligans include dash attacks and super sprint moves, which can be quite effective when you need go to get past an opponent. The matches themselves move at a fairly fast pace and you can choose how short or long they're going to be. The game also has different types of weather such as rain and snow that will also affect the outcome of each match. These elements change the strategy on the pitch and affect your movement and the effectiveness of shots, adding to the fun. The gameplay is quite fast and each half of the match only lasts a minute or two, which makes things go by quickly. You won't have to play too long in order to see that the AI is stronger than you'd expect, which makes it hard to score but your defenders and goalie is usually very effective, so the matches usually end up as low-scoring, yet entertaining games.

From a visual standpoint, the developers have done an excellent job in recreating the look and general feel of the classic River City games. The characters are rendered in polygons, not sprites this time around and look fairly good, though a little chunky in the animation department. Its definitely in the spirit of the original games and doesn't stray too far from its source material, but River City's increased resolution gives it more fluidity than the classic games. The game's music and soundtrack are good enough and add to the atmosphere without getting in the way of the action. Overall, the game's presentation and visuals are decent by DS standards. While the visuals echo the original, its gameplay is actually quite a bit faster than the 8-bit games, and this increased pacing makes for a more entertaining title. The various tournament modes and collecting challenges add some replay value, but the lack of multiplayer support is disappointing. River City Soccer Hooligans is the kind of title that should appeal to lots of players. Its winning mixture of classic and current elements makes River City Soccer Hooligans a charming and challenging game that makes a solid addition to your DS library.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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