The resurgence of the side scrolling beat-em-up genre is something that I truly appreciate and hope continues forward for years to come. It was a staple back in the day on older platforms, with franchises such as Streets of Rage, Final Fight, and pretty much every arcade cabinet you walked up to in your local stomping ground being a beat-em-up in one way or another. But one classic series always stood out to me being just a little bit different in the way it handled the aspects of day to day life. River City Ransom. It wasn’t just a beat-em-up. It had elements of roleplaying games, such as going in to stores and purchasing items, leveling up, and doing side quests. While it may not be my favorite retro beat-em-up game (that honor still belongs to Streets of Rage 2), it’s certainly up on the list. When WayForward and Arc System Works announced a spin-off game in the Kunio-kun series by the name of River City Girls, I was instantly hooked by the name and aesthetic shown off in the artwork alone. But here’s the best part. The game is freaking magical.
Title: River City Girls
Available On: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4 Pro
Release Date: September 5, 2019
Game Provided By WayForward for the Purpose of This Review
River City Girls puts you into the shoes of Kyoko and Misako, two street-tough high school girls who set out to take anyone down on their quest to save their kidnapped boyfriends, Kunio and Riki. Yes, that’s right. Roles are reversed here from the original River City Ransom, and it was insanely cool getting to see a different side and perspective to River City. All part of the Kunio-kun franchise, there’s a plethora of games that are share similar characters, similar settings, and oftentimes similar gameplay. You don’t need to have knowledge of any previous game to enjoy what WayForward has done with this release, but having played at least River City Ransom will expand your knowledge on the locale and some of the back story that isn’t quite directly thrown into your lap.
The game can be enjoyed either by yourself or with a friend through local couch co-op. If you’re solo, you have to select between Kyoko and Misako. Kyoko is the blonde haired girl with a much more laid back personality, very bubbly at times, and is sometimes presented as quite ditzy. Misako is the short haired brunette girl with a fiery temper that doesn’t take shit from anyone and is always willing to put her fist right in your face in order to get what she wants.
Experience is not shared between the two characters, so in order to level them both up, you’ll need to select them individually and take them out onto the mean streets of River City to punch, suplex, powerbomb, and kick practically anyone or anything that moves. The developers did an amazing job at mixing in bits of comedy to lighten the mood and make the game just an absolute joy to play through. This was also aided by the voice acting, which I felt was incredibly strong for a beat-em-up game. I recognized a good majority of the voices almost immediately, and hearing some of my favorite female voice actors in the game like Cristina Vee was an absolute pleasure.
Side scrolling beat-em-ups are remembered for their combat and brawling mechanics, and River City Girls does not disappoint in the slightest. Stringing together combos and moves that we’ve come to expect from these types of games feels effortless and fun at the same time. You start off with a handful of things you can do, but it isn’t long before you come across your first Dojo and can then really start expanding your arsenal of attacks to have the freedom to basically do anything you want. Defeating enemies on the streets, doing side missions, and taking out the bosses for each particular area will award a certain amount of money that can then be spent on items in the various shops around River City and in the Dojos.
Definitely invest in some new attacks and grind the money needed if necessary, as it’ll make later areas and fights a lot less challenging and time consuming. This mechanic always was something that set River City Ransom apart from the other games in the same genre, so it was nice to see WayForward had kept that going in the newest entry. Most of the boss encounters were amazingly fun to play through and figure out the mechanics of by dying over and over again. Dying never felt bothersome, as each death was one step closer to being able to figure out that boss’ particular movement and pattern styles.
Speaking of the side missions, there’s a particular character named Godai (voiced by Jacksepticeye of all people!) that will give you a new side quest for each area you go to. He’s always hiding in a dumpster, and approaching the dumpster will start the missions. They’re completely optional and do not require completion whatsoever, but the missions themselves are so easy to do whilst leveling up and taking care of other objectives like destroying the 25 Sabu (not the wrestler.. though that would have been amazing) statues. The experience earned and money rewarded should be enough of a deciding factor to just do them all as you come across them.
One of the biggest complaints I have about River City Girls deals with the button layout and assigning certain actions to different buttons. Your basic light attacks are assigned to the square button in the PlayStation 4 version.. the square button is also the same button used to tell the game you want to progress into another area when standing near a door. Almost anytime you’re brawling with citizens near an entrance or exit to an area, you’ll accidentally transition to a different area, resetting the combat. This could have easily been rectified by allowing button remapping or simply not assigning the basic action command to the same button as your light attack moves. It was a very bizarre design choice and interrupted the flow of combat and the game enough to be a nuisance for the entire length of the game.
Other than that, there were minimal technical hiccups. The game crashed twice on PlayStation 4 during our time spent going through the campaign for the review period, and once after we finished the game and were just messing around with some of the unlockable content after the game concludes. Newcomers to the genre can expect to invest around 10 hours or so into River City Girls, while those with more experience in the genre and those that choose not to go after all the collectibles or side missions will probably be able to squeak out 6 to 7 hours worth of playtime from start to finish. There is a New Game Plus mode for those who want to keep going!
Let’s talk about my favorite aspect of River City Girls. THE FREAKING SOUNDTRACK! Oh my God is it incredible. An amazing fusion of synth-pop and retrowave composed by Megan McDuffee, who herself is someone I was not familiar with before this game released. There’s way more vocal tracks than I expect there to be, and I’m thankful for that because each one, with vocals done by Megan herself, is an eargasm from the moment they start if you’re in to this type of music like we are here at Level Down Games. Cristina Vee lends her beautiful vocals to the games opening theme song, while NateWantsToBattle is the male vocalist you’ll hear from time to time. The soundtrack is available to stream on Spotify, and you’re doing yourself a disservice by not going and listening to this thing immediately.
River City Girls really did impress me but how polished of an experience it ended up being while staying faithful to the Kunio-kun world. The minor annoyances we had throughout the game and headaches from moving to areas during combat were quickly forgotten about anytime combat initiated because the gameplay was just so much fun. And when it all boils down, that’s truly what matters in a side scrolling beat-em-up, is it not? Fans of the genre, purchase this game. Actually, I’d go as far to say anyone should purchase this game whether you’re a fan of the genre or not. WayForward continues to kill it with each new game they develop, and that really does bring a huge smile to my face.