River City Girls
With the release of River City Girls 2 this week, it's time I finally took a look at one of 2019's beloved beat-em-ups. River City Girls was a spin-off and spiritual successor to the Kunio-kun franchise. Better known in the west as River City Ransom, the game centered around a high schooler that found himself in brawls. The success of the 80s-90s action beat-em-up was enough for the series to come back in some capacity. At this time, many dormant IPs from the same period would also make a return, including the Wonder Boy series. It would be a chance to introduce a new generation to River City as well as reintroduce the older fans.
Rather than centering on Kunio and Riki, River City Girls focuses on their girlfriends, Misako and Kyoko. Both girls play slightly differently, with Kyoko utilizing her baseball bat and Misako using extreme forms of martial arts. Regardless of who the play begins the game with, the story will largely play the same as the girls are a pair. Because of this, local co-op is available, allowing the second player to play as the other character.
After receiving the news via text while serving detention, the entire school is summoned to prevent Misako and Kyoko from leaving the classroom. Of course, as this is a beat-em-up, they plan to do it by force, with the pairing fighting through several students. To be fair, Kyoko doesn't even go to this school, but like a true ride-or-die (and her boyfriend's sake), she tags along with Misako. One of the main details that set River City Girls apart from other beat-em-ups I've played is its importance of story and visualization.
Almost all of the dialogue is voiced, with each character given a personality and a story in relation to Kunio and Riki. One of the first enemies the player fights against, Misuzu is what appears to be hired muscle sent to stop the girls from leaving. As it turns out, she's a delinquent who has somehow gotten held back seven times, considering herself the "smartest" in the school. WayForward could have simply made the character as just another face to beat up, but each major boss character has their own motives and aspirations.
Occasionally there will be NPCs who will give the girls side-quests, such as "go to this shop and buy me X." This is meant to progress the plot but it ends up being a way to teach the player how to utilize shops. It also builds a relationship with one of the main side characters, giving hints that they may become useful in the future. Speaking of shops, each location has a different vendor with their own unique personality. These are all minor details, but it's what brings the city of River City alive and not just another "Construction Zone" backdrop.
The player will find themselves backtracking and revisiting places and it ties into the non-linear yet linear gameplay of River City Girls. River City is a pseudo-open world map. Any places that are locked are revealed as the story calls for it, but any main areas can be revisited at any time. The dojo, a place where Kyoko and Misako can learn new skills, is located in a specific part of the city only.
Certain shops that sell equipment and items that provide certain types of buffs are also located in certain areas. Fast travel to these locations is accessible in the form of buses. This makes River City Girls feel more like a "Metroidvania" as the backtracking increases. This, combined with the Action RPG elements of leveling and earning money from defeated enemies makes RCG a unique experience.
In the spirit of most beat-em-up brawlers, players can express themselves via combos from special moves that are simple to pull off. The complexity lies in River City Girls' execution as most enemies can be juggled infinitely into death. Having the knowledge of things like timing and realizing the properties of your moves will help tremendously. As such, I found the AI of the enemies to be aggressive. Some types, like the masked wrestlers, wise up to the girls and begin to block. The male fighters will even throw dust at the player, stunning them if they are guarding.
Upon inches of defeat, some enemies will beg for mercy. Kyoko and Misako can use this opportunity to recruit the enemy, unlocking them as supporting characters. Each support uses its signature move, such as the sand throw and the girls' rising tornado kick. After each use, there's a cooldown and if the assist character gets hit three times, they are knocked out. In River City Girls, there are six bosses located all around River City, each with their own intro cinematic and ways to defeat them.
The first boss, Misuzu, is a very simple boss for example. Fighting her head-on as with most bosses will lead to death, so the trick is to bait out an attack until she leaves herself vulnerable. Then it's free hits until she retaliates. The second boss, Yamada, had dabbled into dark arts which can cause trouble for Misako and Kyoko. Fortunately, the fight takes place on the rooftop of a construction site. As Misako, all I had to do was throw my haymaker out as a combo ender. The haymaker knocks Yamada off the roof, dealing damage, and forces him to respawn in an unfavorable position.
After several loops, the fight is over. It took me several losses to figure out this cheese strategy, however, and it's something that I enjoyed exploiting. If the bosses and enemies refuse to fight fair and tell us where Kunio and Riki are, why should we? This is the beauty of River City Girls, in that the protagonists have just as much energy as the main characters of Kunio-kun. Over the past weekend, there was a free trial to enjoy the original before its sequel comes out later this week. It's not too late to try out River City Girls, a beat-em-up with a lot of charm and personality. The sequel is sure to be something to keep on the lookout for...
RIver City Girls is available on the Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.