River City Girls is a brand-new entry to the long running Kunio-kun series from Wayforward Technologies and Arc System Works. Some of the entries have been localized under various titles such as Renegade, Super Dodge Ball, Nintendo World Cup, and Crash ‘n the Boys Street Challenge, but perhaps the most famous was River City Ransom.
The original River City Ransom was a seminal game on the NES, a side-scrolling beat ‘em up with RPG elements (before we knew what RPG elements were), where the main characters Alex and Ryan went on a rampage through River City in order to rescue Ryan’s kidnapped girlfriend Cyndi, beating up enemies in Double Dragon-style action and leaving a trail of coins and barf in their wake.
River City Girls plays much the same way but sees the genders reversed- Kunio and Riki (the boys formerly known as Alex and Ryan) are missing and it’s up to new (to the Western World) protagonists Misako and Kyoko to find them. The gameplay is fairly simple. You travel around River City, defeating enemies, collecting money, entering shops and buying items to replenish your health and boost your stats, and search for bosses to defeat to advance the anime-as-heck storyline. In addition to money, you also get XP for winning fights which levels you up, teaching you new attacks and unlocking new ones for purchase in certain shops.
At first, I was a little disappointed in the graphical style of the game. The original River City Ransom sprites hold a special place in my heart, so when this game I was announced I hoped they would use a similar style to previous entries in the Kunio-kun series, but just playing this game for a few minutes quickly put those thoughts out of my mind. The new sprites are large, colorful, and gorgeously animated. It actually reminded me a lot of Ubisoft’s Scott Pilgrim vs the World: The Game. I’m not sure if there was any overlap between staff members on these games, but I would not at all be surprised if this was the case. The backgrounds are likewise outstanding sprite-work and encompass a wide variety of areas. From schools to arcades to dingy tunnels, they all look amazing.
The soundtrack is great as well. It features a mix of synth-pop by Megan McDuffee, chiptunes by Chipzel and Dale North, and a catchy opening theme and ending music by NateWantsToBattle. The artists did an excellent job of scoring the action and I’ll definitely be picking up the soundtrack to give it a closer listen outside of the game. Even after running back and forth throughout River City seeking collectibles and grinding money and XP the music never felt tired or repetitive.
I played through the game to story-completion in single player on hard mode, which was a decent challenge. I died often in the beginning, but you respawn on the same screen when you continue so you don’t end up losing too much progress. You do lose some of the cash you had in hand when you died though which can be a much bigger setback when you’re trying to save up for some new attacks at the dojo.
Also, some of the later bosses feel a little cheap, even when you learn their patterns. Dying at a boss is extra frustrating since you then have to skip through (sometimes multiple) cut scenes and dialog to get back into the action. Stocking up on health items to power through the late game is almost mandatory. Other than that, the action feels great. There are a wide variety of attacks, combos, and special moves to utilize which are unique to each character. I found Misako’s dashing strong attack useful for clearing space when fighting groups of enemies and Kyoko’s dab attack never got old (to me). One minor quibble is that the primary attack button is also the button used to transition through areas, so there were quite a few times where I would be jamming the attack button in combat and accidentally enter a shop or change screens.
My only major complaint about this game is the lack of online co-op. I understand that online would be a significant increase in cost and time on the part of the developers, but if there are any future games in this series (and I really, REALLY hope that there are) I hope it can be added. It does have couch co-op though which is a lot of fun. If/when the other player goes down you can curb stomp them back to life, although can be difficult to pull off if the screen is full of enemies. Otherwise they have to wait until you clear the current screen to respawn.
Having multiple players can lead to some frustration however (especially if the “friendly-fire” option is turned on). There’s an early part of the game that functions almost like a stealth-platforming section that both players have to clear, otherwise you have to start that part over from the beginning. We spent longer than I’d like to admit trying to clear the multiple jumps with one or both of us failing which led to some rising tempers… (then again, when I later tried to do that part in single player, I passed it on the first try, so I guess the solution was to just “git gud”?) The only part that really feels bad about the co-op is that as a PS4 trophy hunter, even though the trophy list includes a few multiplayer-required trophies, only the account logged in as Player 1 earns them. (Yes, ultimately trophies don’t matter, and while I will gladly play through this game multiple times, it shouldn’t be a requirement).
Overall I had a great time with this game and will continue playing it to try and 100% complete it. If you’re at all a fan of beat ‘em ups,River City Girls is a must-play. Even if you’re new to the genre there is a lot to love in it. The humor in the story may be off-putting to some (as I said earlier, it is anime-as-heck), but I had a big smile on my face the entire time. This has been one of my most anticipated titles of the year and it fully exceeded my expectations.