Title: River City Girls
Available on: PlayStation 4, Steam, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Publisher: Arc System Works
Genre: Arcade-Style Beat-’em-up
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Official Site: River City Girls
Release Date: September 5th, 2019
Where to Buy: PlayStation Store, Steam, Nintendo Switch eShop, Xbox One Store
We’re the River City Girls
River City Girls is the latest installment in the long-running Japanese Kunio-Kun series, most famous in the west for the classic NES beat-em-up River City Ransom, and puts a new spin on the series by focusing on Misako and Kyoko, the girlfriends of series mainstays Kunio and Riki. After Kunio and Riki are mysteriously kidnapped, and an anonymous text of the crime is sent to Misako and Kyoko, the two high school girls set out on a mission to get their boyfriends back and beat down every punk that gets in their way. It’s a simple set-up spun on its head, and you’d think that this might result in an equally simplistic game, but you would be wrong.
As you might expect from the retro-revival experts over at WayFoward, and the fighting game experts at Arc System Works, River City Girls is a game loaded with strong gameplay, aching amounts of heart and charm, and aesthetics that put most other games to shame. It would be a big mistake for you to pass up on this game, and we’ll make you see why even if we have to beat it into you.
Whatever Happened to Civil Discourse?
River City Girls is an arcade beat-’em-up made for the modern age; embracing the most beloved aspects of the genre while filing off the rougher edges. While you start off with a small move pool of only a light attack and a heavy attack, in no time at all you’ll be stomping, spiking, spinning, bashing, throwing, punching, and kicking your way through hordes or over-confident street thugs and cocky high-schoolers without breaking a sweat. After an excellent opening level in the girls’ high school that sets the stage perfectly for the rest of the adventure – admittedly though with a somewhat persistent tutorial – you’ll be exploring the back-alleys and entertainment districts of River City one after the other to retrieve your boy toys.
All the core mechanics of River City Girls flow together very naturally, to the point that your natural instincts and curiosity will pay off very well. Everything has a clear purpose; You beat up goons because they’re in your way – and it’s fun- which gets you hurt, so you buy food and items to heal yourself up using the money you get from fighting, which also increases your stats, which then makes it easier for you to level up, get new moves and keep fighting. It’s a seriously strong core gameplay loop, to the point that you barely have to think about it. It’s far more than just mindless violence though, as there are several new ideas sprinkled throughout the experience to make the tried-and-tested formula feeling fresh. You can both purchase new moves for individual characters as you please over the course of the game, and you also learn new techniques as you level up, which leaves you the freedom to customize or minimalize your playstyle without being left without bread-and-butters to defend yourself with. You also have the ability to temporarily recruit enemies as you fight them, and can then summon them to assist in battle, adding an extra layer of strategy and diversity to your combat repertoire. So the gameplay is very solid, but it wouldn’t be a WayForward game without that extra layer of spit and polish added in to make the game pretty.
The presentation in River City Girls is what elevates the already strong core gameplay to that special level that only the best beat-’em-ups can reach. As should be expected of WayForward at this point, the sprite work is fantastic, with every smooth animation and subtle detail of expression creating a world that feels alive and full of energy. The character portraits for both main characters and tiny bit-players in the story and chilling in the background alike all have the same out of painstaking effort put into them that manages to tell you everything about them without any further explanation, and the voice acting is fantastic. The color palette ranges from pastel bubblegum pinks to industrial machinery grays without ever feeling incongruous to the overall tone of the adventure, and the energy of each environment is bolstered ten-fold by the accompanying musical score. The soundtrack in River City Girls is nothing short of fantastic, which a wide swath of synth, chiptune, and electronic beats backing up the ballet of broken teeth and shattered spines, with the occasional lyrically-driven heartfelt ballad that I kept finding myself singing along to.
Barf or Narf?
The only thing I would consider to be an issue with the game is the overall difficulty. River City Girls isn’t that hard of a game, but it is challenging at points, and when exactly those points tend to be somewhat random. I honestly died more against the first boss fight in the game than I did against any other, mainly because you’re moving pool is so limited at the start compared to even the point when you reach the second boss. Combat encounters tend to have the odd spike in difficulty here and there, and the final boss was strangely easy compared to others that came before it. I also found the ending to be a little bit of a damp squib, stopping the story with a sudden revelation that sort of puts the entire point of the narrative into question.
But putting aside the small quibbles I have about the somewhat imbalanced difficulty and the weaker aspects of the most strong writing, River City Girls is some of the most fun that I’ve had with a game all year. It’s absolutely loaded to the brim with personality and charm, it’s rewarding for both series veterans and newcomers alike with it’s updated presentation as well as loads of references for fans, and it’s got some of the best beat-’em-gameplay the industry at large has seen in years. Sometimes a girl’s night out looks like beating up the whole damn city to get your boyfriends back, and it’s a night out you’ll be talking about for years to come.
River City Girls is available now for Steam, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.
- Fun, addicting combat
- Good-by yourself or with a friend
- Fantastic graphics and sound on all fronts
- Oodles of passion and personality
- Steep learning curve
- Uneven difficulty
Greyson Ditzler is a freelance writer, aspiring author, and YouTuber. He loves games of all kinds and is always looking for something new and interesting to try. When he isn’t writing you can likely find him speedrunning Donut County or trying to convince his friends that Danganronpa is actually really cool. He can also beat the first world in Super Meat Boy without dying while wearing oven mitts.