Despite what its title might suggest, Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san!: A River City Ransom Story really doesn’t have much of a story to tell.
Its opening scene imparts all the information you need to know, and everything after that is pretty much nonsense. But Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! is a side-scrolling beat ’em up, so it doesn’t matter too much; the action takes precedent. The gist is that you’re in control of Kobayashi, and that a strange fellow called Mizoguchi has alerted you to an alien invasion. And so with not much more said, off you go on a mission to take them down. Along the way, you’ll also save Kobayashi’s best friend. That’s the story of Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san!, give or take a few minor details.
Where Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! differs from the norm is that there are no levels. You’re simply left to explore, and every time you leave a scene, whether it’s a street, a back alley or a school hallway, you emerge randomly at a new one. To progress through the game, you basically need to defeat enemies. Defeat 30 spacemen emblazoned with a certain colour and a boss will appear the next time you change the scene. Defeat the boss and the next one will show up when you’ve overcome 30 spacemen of a different colour. And so on and so on until spacemen of five different colours have all been defeated along with their bosses.
While beating the same spacemen just with different colour trim can get dull pretty fast, Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! does throw some more unusual enemies at you from time to time. You’ll sometimes encounter hostile cubes and balls for reasons unknown, and for some they’re rather strong compared to your standard spacemen. There are also strange shadow-like enemies that you must chase, but only your companion, Mizoguchi, can kill them with his special gun. And sometimes you hop into spaceships in certain areas, too, doing battle with other aliens by firing projectiles. Yes, Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! is very random. Whether that’s a positive or a negative is up to you.
While Kobaysahi is at the centre of Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san!, you don’t have to play as him. There are three playable characters overall – Kobayashi, Kunio, and Mizoguchi – and you can switch between them at will. Two are active at any one time, with the CPU taking control of the second character unless you have someone willing to pick up a controller, though Kobayashi has to be part of the team. That means that you can pair Kobayashi up with either Kunio or Mizoguchi. The basic moveset isn’t all that different between them all, and they can all use special attacks by using up various amounts of Spirit. There are also Special Item abilities, which are powered by a gauge that is charged when you defeat enemies. When Kunio is an active member of the team, however, you can’t make use of Special Item abilities. The source of their power is Mizoguchi, you see.
Three Special Item ability types are available, each requiring the meter to be filled to a certain degree. The first simply restores some health to you and your active buddy. The next calls in some support, bolstering your team for a short while. And the last simply powers your character up. New Special Item abilities can be found and assigned as you play the game, giving some sort of feeling of character development. Although that’s all there is. There are no RPG-style upgrade systems to be found here like there are in River City Girls. Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! feels much more basic and old-fashioned.
If you have a decent amount of patience and skill, you’ll probably blast through Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! in about 90 minutes the first time around. An achievement/trophy makes it clear that the game can be completed in less than 30 minutes, though. With multiple endings to discover you might want to complete it more than once, too. Emphasis on the “might”. As already mentioned, the action can get very repetitive. Additionally, the bosses can feel very cheap at times. With both of these issues combined, some players may lose interest in the game before they’ve even completed it once. Thankfully a cat shows up every once in a while that allows you to save your game and take a rest if you need it, so you don’t have to complete it in one sitting at least.
While some will no doubt find enjoyment in beating up goons in Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san!, most will find it overly repetitive and a tad too obscure. With its basic combat, small pool of enemies and often unfair bosses, there’s little here to pull Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! out of mediocrity. Its saving grace is that it’s relatively cheap, so you won’t feel too let down by its short running time should you decide to take the plunge.