If you feel that Arc System Works has put the River City license to work since acquiring it in 2015, you are not wrong. In 2019 alone, the developer released River City Girls, Stay Cool, Kobayashi!-San: A River City Side Story, and the subject of this review: River City Melee Mach!!. Unlike the other two games released this year, Melee Mach isn’t your traditional beat ’em up on which the River City franchise built its fame. Instead, the title takes the genre’s fundamentals—punches, kicks, throws, and weapons—and adds power ups, special moves, and team-based, last-man-standing gameplay. This PC game carries the series’ charming retro-style graphics, fast-paced action, and high school rivalries, but as with the other recent River City games, a few negatives prevent the game from achieving greatness.
A History of Violence
Melee Mach is an updated version of River City Melee: Battle Royal Special, which is itself a mode spun-off from River City Super Sports Challenge ~All Stars Special~. In fact, Melee Mach probably should exist as DLC for Battle Royal Special. The game boasts five more base teams and numerous new moves, weapons, and power-up items, but the core gameplay is quite similar to its predecessor’s.
Like many other River City games, Melee Mach features high school students beefing over bragging rites, perceived slights, and random acts of violence. There are 30 high school squads to play as here, including Reiho High School (featuring the Double Dragon boys) and the infamous Nekketsu High School led by Kunio-kun (the face of the River City games). Each team has five tough teens, and the squads face off in single-screen environments like a soccer field or rooftop. The goal is to beat the opposing team into submission and walk away as champions.
Rules of Combat
Melee Mach is billed as a last-man standing game, and you do walk away as the victor if you best all your opponents. That said, the game also utilizes a point-based system that lets you stay in contention even if you aren’t the sole survivor. Some may decry that point-based concept, thinking it’ll benefit people who camp in the corners as other duke it out. It doesn’t. The points are rewarded based on activity, so if you aren’t actively beating up other children, you won’t total enough points to win it all.
Melee Mach has a delightfully simple control scheme that lets novice gamers jump into the action with ease. Each child warrior has a basic punch, kick, throw, and dash, as well as the ability to wield any weapon in the arena. The weapons are many, and include baseball bats, brass knuckles, and even light sabers.
Your first instinct may be to mash the attack buttons, but that’ll only get you so far. Real Melee Mach mastery comes when learning to combo attacks using basic attacks and special moves like the flying Head Drill or Joe Higashi-like Tornado Upper. Like Guilty Gear or any other Arc System Works fighting game, Melee Mach lets you cancel one move into another to keep the attack chain flowing. Each fighter has his or her own offensive basic and special moves, so no two of the more than 180 characters play exactly alike. There are more than 250 special moves in total.
Unfortunately, the special moves are accompanied by a screeching noise that is incredibly loud. Even lowering the sound effects volume in the Options menus didn’t improve matters much in my test play. In fact, lowering the volume may have made things worse, as the other sound effects were also lowered and the nails-on-a-chalkboard effect stood out more prominently.
The combat has a bit more depth than what initially appears, but it could use defensive options. I understand that the lack of a block or counter move keeps the matches moving quickly, but the fighting sometimes proves frustrating when you’re sandwiched between two enemies and getting pummeled from both sides.
The match types available are Single Play (the single-player story mode), Endless Battle (a single-player gauntlet mode), Battle Royal (four teams fight in a designated number of rounds), Tag Match (2 vs. 2 action), and Change Match (a new mode that lets you select a new character once one’s defeated). You can take the fights online in the Battle Royal or Tag Match modes, but no others. Outside of Single Play and Endless Match, all modes support up to four players brawls, and you can mix human and CPU opponents.
As you make your way through the match types, you unlock new fighters and the ability to create your own team. Unfortunately, that amounts to creating a team name and poaching characters from other teams; you cannot create a character as you can in River City Super Sports Challenge ~All Stars Special~.
Melee Mach has eleven stages that include all of Battle Royal Special’s arenas, plus four new ones. These battlefields play a big role in your success, as they each possess a cool gimmick that impacts the fisticuffs. For example, if you kick a ball into the Soccer Field’s goal, all your foes take damage. The Rooftop, on the other hand, has strong wind gusts that can blow characters off the stage, resulting in big damage. My favorite stage is Fight Destruction, a large area that sees its floor collapse if you battle in one area too long. With Fight Destruction, Melee Mach has the shrinking playfield emblematic of contemporary battle royale games like Fortnite and PUBG.
Change Match mode adds another welcome complexity layer. Whenever a character is eliminated, a surprise box appears. If someone tosses it, a 10-second countdown clock appears that eventually reveals a power up. Sometimes a stamina-replenishing drink appears; at other times grenades appear that immediately detonate and dish damage.
Between the stages and Change Match’s random items, Melee Mach tosses in enough curve balls to keep the already frantic battles extra lively. And, after you’ve been KO’d by a grenade blast you couldn’t escape, you’ll be very happy that a point system is in place.
As you’ve probably assumed by the game’s simple graphics, Melee Mach doesn’t require a computer with high-end specs. According to the game’s Steam page, you need a PC with just a 1.7GHz Intel Core i3-4005U CPU, an Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU, 1GB of storage, 4GB of RAM, and the Windows 7 operating system. In other words, you can run Melee Mach on damn near anything; you don’t need a gaming desktop or gaming laptop.
My gaming desktop that sports 8GB of RAM and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphics card, ran Melee Mach without issue. Set to match my monitor’s 1080p pixel resolution, Melee Mach ran at a silky 60 frames per second. As someone who played the original NES and Famicom games that were released in the 1980s, I must say that it’s incredibly cool to see these River City characters brawl on screen without the sprite-flickering that plagued the older games due to hardware limitations.
Melee Mach supports Remote Play Together and more than a dozen Steam Achievements, but it lacks Steam Cloud support.
River City Melee Mach!! is a game for the beat ’em up lover who wouldn’t mind a fresh spin on a familiar formula. The action is fast, the weapons are plentiful, and the super-deformed art style will appeal to anyone who finds beauty in ugly things like Troll dolls. Numerous minor issues prevent it from being all it could, but even as is, Melee Mach is an entertaining title that series and genres fans should pick up.
Bottom Line: Kunio and his crew of troublemakers unleash adolescent violence in this new multi-player brawler. Featuring numerous combatants, weapons, and special moves, River City Melee Mach!! may scratch the battle royale itch for people who don’t fancy Fortnite or PUBG.