River City Girls is a game developed by WayForward, who have been absolutely crushing it lately. Duck Tales Remastered, the Shantae games, Double Dragon Neon (which is great, fight me), and even the ridiculous Cat Girl Without Salad. When they announced they’d be tackling a spinoff of the River City/Kunio-kun franchise, I was pretty excited. Was my enthusiasm misplaced, or is River City Girls a rip-roaring hootenanny of a game?
River City Girls
Publisher: Arc System Works
Platform: Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch
Release Date: September 5th, 2019
Players: 1-2 (Local)
Kunio-kun, or “Hot-Blooded Tough Guy Kunio” is a game series originally started by Technos Japan in 1986. Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun was released in the west under the title Renegade, and Technos went on to release about a million follow-up games and spinoffs before declaring bankruptcy in 1996. The rights to their games were purchased by a company called Million Co. Ltd, who would release enhanced ports of their titles for the GBA and DS, as well as porting the original catalog to the Virtual Console.
You may have played Renegade, River City Ransom, or even Super Dodge Ball on the NES back in the day, and if so, you’ve experienced the Kunio-kun series to some capacity. In 2015, Arc System Works purchased the rights to Double Dragon and Kunio-kun from Million Co., and have been releasing games in both series ever since.
River City has always preceded the titles of all Kunio-kun games in the west, such as River City: Tokyo Rumble or River City: Rival Showdown. River City Girls follows in the same tradition, though with an interesting twist. Kunio and Riki (two of the main characters from the Kunio-kun franchise) have been kidnapped, and it’s up to their girlfriends Kyoko and Misako to save them.
The visuals are, frankly, amazing. The animated cutscenes, in-game pixel animations, and even the character art just ooze style and talent. Each enemy has unique movesets, each boss has dynamic, entertaining abilities, and every shop and area you enter is crafted with love and care. It’s just a fun game to feed your eyeballs, no matter how you slice it.
River City Girls doesn’t slouch in the sound department either. While the in-game sound effects are nice and punchy, the music really blew me away. While pretty much every track in this title straight-up slaps, the songs with vocals are what take the cake. I will definitely be putting these on the ol’ playlist once the soundtrack drops, along with Mango Tango Neon Jungle from DDN. They’re just that good.
The voice acting is mostly great, though some actors definitely sell their performances more than others. Kyoko is voiced by Kira Buckland (2B from Nier Autotomato) and Misako is voiced by Kayli Mills (Emilia from Re: Zero), and both of them are really great with the material they’re given. The dialogue is often ridiculous and over-the-top, which does a lot to endear the characters to the player, even if a few of the jokes fall a bit flat.
A ton of fan-favorites from the Kunio-kun series make appearances here, like Misuzu, Yamada, and Abobo. Jimmy from Double Dragon even shows up as the owner of the Dojo, occasionally commenting about how much he misses his brother.
The narrative is extremely tongue-in-cheek and doesn’t take itself too seriously, which lends itself well to a spinoff game like this. You’re fighting through all sorts of freaks and weirdos to rescue your boyfriends, and there are plenty of sarcastic quips from the protagonists, as well as callbacks to earlier games in the franchise. While the story is nothing mindblowing, I found myself laughing occasionally and smiling frequently while the various character interactions played out.
That’s not to say the writing is perfect, though. It has a lot, and I mean a lot of overused slang, to the point where I had to check to see if I was accidentally watching an episode of Totally Spies. After awhile I kinda settled into it though, and it didn’t bother me so much. In a way, it’s almost nostalgic, as if a cartoon from the early 2000s stopped by to have a chat.
The ending is also extremely weak, though I won’t get too much into spoiler territory here. Suffice it to say that while it was somewhat entertaining, I was left pretty unsatisfied once the ending credits rolled.
The gameplay is absolutely king in a beat-em-up like River City Girls, though, and I’m pleased to say that it certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front. Combat is fast-paced and feels great, which is helped in no small part by the incredible animations on display. There are a wealth of new attacks and combos you accrue as well, either by leveling up or spending the lunch money of dweebs you pulverized at the dojo.
A RPG-esque progression system really helps games like these, in my opinion, as it combats some of the repetition by adding a solid reason to keep drop-kicking school delinquents until the cows come home. There are also items you can equip to your characters via the cell phone menu that add useful buffs, and these can be swapped out on the fly to suit your particular needs.
Another fun feature was the addition of a recruit system. Once you’ve clobbered a certain baddy enough, they display an animation where they beg for mercy. When this happens, you can recruit them, giving you the ability to summon them later for a special attack. This move has a cooldown, however, and if they are struck while on the map, they’ll lose health. Once it’s at zero, you can no longer summon them, and will have to find a new enemy to recruit.
The bosses are great, and some are fairly challenging to boot. There is also 2-player co-op, wherein you and your buddy pick one of the two protagonists and bust heads together. Unfortunately, it’s local-only, but in a time where couch co-op games are extremely sparse, it’s always nice to have more games to choose from.
It only takes about six hours to get through the main story, give or take, with perhaps a few more tacked on to find all the extras and max out your characters. Unfortunately, once you’ve cleared the main game, there aren’t any other modes to keep you playing. This might disappoint some players, and would certainly be a bigger problem for me if River City Girls was a full-price title.
At the end of the day, though, I can wholeheartedly recommend River City Girls to anyone who enjoys beat-em-ups and brawlers, and maybe even those who are on the fence about ’em.
If you’ve got a friend and some free time, I think there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had here with River City Girls, and the amazing art and music certainly enhance that.