2011 marks the fortieth anniversary of the Kamen Rider series. Since 1971, Japan has watched countless insect-looking masked riders save the country from a variety of evildoers on TV, at the cinema and in manga. As part of the celebrations for this milestone, a new Nintendo DS game has been released, featuring all of the heroes together in one game.
All Kamen Rider: Rider Generation may be a bit of a challenge to say, but its gameplay is a lot more basic and easy to understand – this is a scrolling beat 'em up in the style of classics such as Final Fight and Streets of Rage, albeit with a lot more flashy specials and shouting.
The controls are easy to get to grips with; in addition to the standard jump, block, weak and strong attack commands, the A button performs a character-specific special attack and the R shoulder button is another rider-specific attack, this time taking the guise of a special move that will deal out extra damage at the expense of a portion of the health bar or even allowing the rider to change form and gain access to a completely new move set. As a general rule, the more modern riders are the ones that will have the ability to change form, with the older, more classic, ones relying more on less of an arsenal of attacks.
The combat system gains more depth the more a character is used. Levelling up by defeating enemies will unlock combos initially and then eventually allow more specials (using left or right on the d-pad along with the A button) and even a finisher to be unleashed upon enemies. A blue meter under the player's health bar will build as enemies are attacked and defeated and, when full, pressing the L shoulder button and A together will trigger a scene where the rider will perform a powerful attack, clearing the screen of enemies. It's something that isn't just a useful game mechanic when the player is in a tight spot, but it looks great and fans of the Kamen Rider series will recognise and really appreciate them. Adding even more fanservice is the fact that if the player's character is partnered in battle by a rider that has something in common with them (for example, by using Kamen Rider Ichigo and Niigo from the very first series or Black and RX from Kamen Rider Black) then a special, two-character finisher will be triggered as it would in the respective TV series. It's a minor addition to the game but again, is something that fans will really get a kick out of.
Upon starting, the player is given the choice of three riders. One is picked as the main, playable character and another as a computer controlled partner. Unfortunately this secondary character is always AI-controlled and there is no option for co-operative play with another person.
Once the two man team has been selected, it's off to a world-map of sorts where stages are selected. There are five worlds in all, made up of several stages.The most commonly occurring of these are the traditional scrolling stages where enemies must be defeated in order to progress. Once defeated, enemies drop a variety of items – medals which can be cashed in to purchase upgrades, health, items that will fill up the finisher meter and so on. Bosses appear at the end of some stages and the final stage of each world is always a boss fight. The player is given the choice of three difficulty levels when a stage has been selected and a fourth is unlocked once it has been completed. This adds depth meaning that although there are only five worlds in the game, they can be replayed in order to finish them on each of the difficulty levels. Another way that the longevity is enhanced is that each stage has a certain requirement that must be fulfilled to earn a gold star. These range from finishing the stage with a certain character to defeating a certain amount of enemies using special attacks. Upon completing a stage, bonuses are unlocked including new riders (twenty eight in all) and this is yet another reason for the player to keep coming back.
Additionally, there are some auto-scrolling stages where the player will automatically run from left to right and must jump to avoid obstacles and collect items. Finally, there is a shop stage in each world where medals can be used to refill health, provide temporary attack and defense power-ups for the next stage or, perhaps most usefully, buy the finishing attacks that come in useful throughout the game.
All Kamen Rider looks great. The stage backgrounds are detailed and the riders and enemies are well animated. This is showcased in the finisher attacks where the character mimics the moves of the rider from the TV series. Viewtiful Joe took most of his influence from Kamen Rider style heroes and a comparison could be drawn between this game and Joe's outings, perhaps most notably Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble, also on DS. The background music is also effective at setting the scene and, although repetitive, is catchy enough that it isn't something that is likely to bother most players. One negative that could be levelled against the game is that the engine shows strain when there are more than six or seven characters on screen in terms of some slowdown. It happens a couple of times on some of the later stages, but is infrequent throughout the course of the entire game.
All Kamen Rider: Rider Generation is a game that should be on the radar of any importer that is a fan of beat 'em ups in the classic 16-bit style, regardless of whether or not they are fans of, or even familiar with, the Kamen Rider TV series'. Anyone who sticks with the game and gets pulled in to levelling up each rider will find hours of entertainment here and that is a big achievement for a game whose source material will be alien to most on a system that is slowly winding down in terms of important releases.
- Huge amount of playable characters, each with their own move sets.
- Lots of replay potential.
- Pure fanservice for the Kamen Rider fan.
- No co-op play.
- Some slowdown.