I don’t know what they put in the water in River City, but it’s quite possibly the most violent place in video game history. You can barely walk a single block without being accosted by high school bullies, corrupt cops, suspiciously well-dressed street thugs, or overly excited, yet equally violent cheerleaders. Even the most stereotypically awful depiction of 1970s New York doesn’t compare to the level of day-to-day mayhem that occurs in River City.
River City Girls continues this trend of inexplicable violence, and lucky for us, these girls know how to have a good time.
Your Princes Are In Another Castle
In River City Girls, our main characters, Misako and Kyoto, break out of detention after receiving a text telling them that their boyfriends, Riki and Kunio (aka the original River City Ransom protagonists), have been kidnapped, which is a fun gender switcheroo of the usual River City premise. From there, our heroines essentially tear through the entire town, beating up just about everyone they come across in order to find out who captured their beaus.
The story is basically just these two going up to random people, asking if they know where their boyfriends are, beating information out of them, and then moving on. This kind of plot could get incredibly old, but thankfully, Misako and Kyoto are incredibly fun characters that are easy to cheer for. Misako is the sardonic, sarcastic, take-no-nonsense one, while Kyoto is the adorable, shopping-obsessed, slightly dim one who’s incredibly nice, unless someone threatens her “Riki-poo,” in which case she flies into a violent rage. They’re bursting with personality, and it might be hard to get through the game if it wasn't for them.
Not that the gameplay is bad, because if you’re going to be playing a beat-em-up, there’s few better places to go than River City. This a full-on street brawler, with your main goal being to punch, kick, throw, and occasionally fling a yo-yo at anyone who gives you the stink-eye. The combat is fun and smooth, although it is a beat-em-up, so occasionally it can be a tad repetitive. Fortunately, River City Girls has all the standard hallmarks of a River City game.
As you beat up various hoodlums, you’ll gain money, which can be used in any of the local shops. You can then buy healing items, or accessories that’ll either boost your stats or give you a particular buff. There’s also dojos where you can train to learn new moves that will freshen up the combat. The game also has some mild RPG elements, and as you smash more faces in, you’ll gain experience points in order to level up, which will, in turn, unlock more new moves for you to learn. Beyond that, it has local two-player co-op, which is great because every beat-em-up is even better with a friend.
The game does have some flaws that are typical of the beat-em-up genre. I found that the blocking and parrying system was a little finicky, and it was hard to determine when I was supposed to actually parry. It was also pretty easy to get caught in an enemy’s combo, which leads to you bouncing around until you’re on your back. As mentioned earlier, the beginning can get really repetitive, so it can be a bit of a grind to get enough money and EXP to unlock some new spicy moves.
If you’re not really into beat-em-ups, you may get a bit tired of River City Girls in the beginning. These games typically take a little while to get going, but once you get better gear and diversify your move set, this game becomes one of the best that this genre has seen in quite a while.
Gang Wars Are Rarely This Nice
The amount of personality contained within River City Girls really can’t be understated, as it’s a delightfully colorful game. The sprite work and animation are fantastic, and everything from the backgrounds, to the outfits of the various evil cheerleaders are ridiculously detailed in fine pixelated form. It truly looks like something that could have run on a souped up Super Nintendo. This isn’t too surprising, considering it was developed by Wayforward, the masters of making retro games that feel like they came right out of the 80s and 90s.
Aside from the retro-styled graphics, the game also has a kind of anime/manga art style for cut scenes, and character portraits. All the stores even have their own specific merchants, and there’s a lot of cool character designs in every shop.
There’s also some nice nods to the past of not only River City Ransom, but also the other Kunio-kun games, as well as Double Dragon, and a bunch of the other properties now owned by Arc System Works. There’s a lot of nice touches, like how every character has a funny line to indicate that they’re beaten, or how Misako and Kyoto lean over their health bars to talk when they have voice lines. Even cult gaming hero Abobo shows up to help teach us a valuable lesson about growing up.
Kickass Music To Kick Ass To
The voice acting for each character is perfect, and the voice cast is filled with a murderer’s row of expert voice actors and Youtubers. The writing is actually pretty strong, and I was actually pretty impressed with the quality of the humor and dialogue. Combined with the art style, play starts to feel like you’re watching a really fun anime.
It’s also worth mentioning that the music is really, really good. Most of the time when you’re annihilating punks, you’ll be backed by some of the best chiptune music I’ve heard this year. In addition to that, there’s also some pretty dang catchy pop tunes thrown in that absolutely heighten any battle you’re embroiled in. The theme song alone made me seek out the soundtrack on Spotify.
The Future Of River City Looks Bright, And Even More Violent
River City Girls is a love letter to fans of the Kunio-kun series and beat-em-ups in general. It’s so bright and vibrant that it feels like a violent cartoon brought to life. This game actually reminded me fondly of the sadly delisted Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game, which was similarly inspired by the River City franchise. While it sucks that you can’t buy that anymore, this game happily fills the wacky beat-em-up void.
If you want to experience the joy of German suplexing a man in a tiger mask, or buying food from a giant skeleton, then you should come hang out with the River City Girls.
4 Out Of 5 Stars
A copy of River City Girls was purchased by TheGamer for Nintendo Switch. River City Girls is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.