Developer: WayForward, Arc System Works
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Reviewed By: Josh Barnickel
The River City name carries a great deal of weight in the beat-em up genre. “Nekketsu koha kunio-kun” or “Renegade” as it was released in the States, is considered the inception of the Beat-em up genre as we know it. That’s a lot of weight to have on your shoulders when you are developing a game with a name that carries such an important lineage.
From the moment you start River City Girls, the game’s style, personality and attitude immediately slaps you with it’s stunning animated intro and pop punk soundtrack. Subtlety? RCG’s never heard of it! This game wears it’s heart on its sleeve and each screen is bursting with so much character and detail that it’s almost fun just navigating the menu’s before you even start playing!
The story is simple, there’s two girls Kyoko and Misako who attend River City High and are the girlfriends of series veterans Kunio and Riki. While slowly dying of boredom in detention, Kyoko receives a mysterious text message showing an image of Kuno and Riki being kidnapped! These two aren’t just going to sit idly by and let their boyfriends be taken without a fight. So, they set off punching hooligans, kicking criminals and mopping up mob bosses to rescue their boys.
All of this is portrayed in beautifully drawn, manga style motion comic with excellent voice acting for all characters involved and top-notch sound design. The game looks gorgeous in motion, featuring a wonderfully expressive pixelated art style and inter-connecting room-based worlds to navigate are distinctly unique but flow together incredibly well. Even the shops feature their own distinctive flair, varying drastically from cutesy kawaii candy shops to dark and brooding heavy metal apparel dealers. The writing is simple, clever and at times, damn funny. There are many hidden jokes and nods to other retro games from pixels past which always tickles my nostalgia strings when I see them. But where River City Girls really shines, is in its gameplay.
The controls are incredibly simple at first glance. You have a light attack button, a heavy attack button, block and jump. Pretty standard brawler fare, except as you continue through the city beating up baddies, you will earn experience and levels which makes you stronger, faster and adds new moves to your repertoire. The base move set offers some amount of experimentation and variety, but the longer you play the deeper the combat system becomes! Each character has their own unique move sets and abilities making each feel distinct and fun.
In addition to just beating up thugs, you can also improve your character by visiting the plethora of shops scattered throughout River City. These shops range from fast food restaurants to video game stores, all of which offer consumable items or equip-able accessories that offer stat boosting perks in addition to health replenishing effects. The items you carry or equip allow a level of customization and strategy to the fights you will encounter as you progress through the story. This combined with the moves you can purchase through the dojo’s makes your journey feel more catered towards your unique playstyle.
The room to room combat plays like an incredibly smooth and fluid beat em up, but the bosses add a interesting level of depth with unique variations and genre styles. The highlight of which being the fight with “Noize”, a Rock star of the River City universe where the battlefield becomes a Guitar hero-esque combat arena during one of her concerts. Dodging the notes, she plays while avoiding her rabid fans at the time was so much fun. The music was all written and performed by one Megan Mcduffy, whose rock styled synth beats fit the scene perfectly and really keep the adrenaline pumping while you smash your way towards your goal. My physical copy came with the free inclusion of the soundtrack and I found myself listening to it in the car for a good 2-3 weeks straight.
Beat em ups are some of my favorite genre of games to come back to again and again. The simple gameplay hook of beating the snot out of a bunch of baddies is host to some of my favorite gaming memories and always floods me with a wave of nostalgia. From playing Double dragon on the NES with my cousin, to waking up on Saturday’s and playing through Turtles in Time after the morning cartoon block. These style games are very near and dear to my heart, and to see that classic formula be injected with new life as the genre continues to reinvent itself. River City Girls is quite possibly the brawler formula, Perfected, and is hands down worth your time!
-Old school nostalgia brawler feel
-Smooth, fluid combat
-Smooth and gorgeous pixel art
-Upgrading your move sets
-Ha! I couldn’t find any.