The Power of LOVE… and Violence! – River City Girls Review
The River City, or “Kunio-kun” in Japan, series is a fascinating subject when you look at the difference between its reception in the West and Japan. While in Japan the series is a venerated classic with DOZENS of entries, a large number of which have never seen American shores, in America, it is far more obscure. While most have at least heard of the NES classic “River City Ransom”, most in America don’t even know it’s part of a much larger franchise, let alone its connection with other game series like Double Dragon. So when Way Forward announced a new title in the series coming to both East and West with a bright anime art style, a tongue in cheek sense of humor, and a synth-pop soundtrack, most were surprised, to say the least. But as more information started to come out about this new entry entitled “River City Girls” it became clear that we might have something special on our hands. Featuring a fantastic voice cast, tight and fun combat, and an absolute BANGER of a soundtrack, River City Girls is one of the biggest surprises of the year, and easily one of my top games of the year.
Although perhaps it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Way Forward is a company known for releasing solid and well-received mid-budget titles, and Arc System Works has been absolutely on fire for years now, with everything they touch turning to solid gold. RCG has a very simple setup, as most good brawlers do. You play as either Kyoko or Misako, the girlfriends of series protagonists Rikki and Kunio respectively, as they search for their kidnapped boy toys among the seedy underbelly of River City. Taking many cues from previous River City titles, you use money from completing missions and defeating enemies to purchase items, accessories and new combat moves from shops strewn across town and face the boss at the end of each area. You have a light attack, strong attack, special attack, and can wall jump and grab dizzied opponents as well. Each of these types of moves have upgrades that can be used by pressing a direction in addition to the button used, like my favorite move in the game used by pressing forward and triangle, THE DAB.
RCG adds a new wrinkle by being able to recruit enemies that you defeat that can be called in for Marvel vs. Capcom style assist attacks, but for the most part, RCG sticks to what makes brawlers great by being simple and straightforward. The combat is fun, and with two players you can create wild and wacky combos by juggling enemies back and forth between both characters. While the co-op is limited to offline only, the game is still fully playable with one player. Thankfully the game adjusts its difficulty to accommodate the lack of another character on screen while still remaining challenging enough without feeling frustrating or cheap.
But what separates RCG from being just another solid brawler is its absolute overload of charm. The art style is bright and fun, with every character, even static images of shop owners, dripping with charm and personality. Kyoko and Misako are both fun characters that you want to spend as much time as possible with, and all of the game’s six bosses are a blast. While some are the more traditional type of bosses you would expect from a brawler, some are completely unique utilizing mechanics from other games, some not even 2D, to make absolutely stunning and memorable battles. Each boss has an amazing design and presentation, and loads of character that shine through even in the relatively short (depending on how much you die that is of course) amount of time you spend with them. The level of polish is impressive with tons of details littered about the game world and animation from blink and you miss it references to other games and internet personalities in the background to small things in the animation like when you pick up the yoyo item and start running, Kyoko and Misako will fling the yoyo as they run along.
The two other aspects that push RCG above the pack beyond its art style and presentation are the voice acting and soundtrack. The absolutely stellar voice cast includes talent ranging from professional voice actors to Youtube and internet personalities (seriously, try and figure out who voice the two Dojo owners without looking it up) but is helmed by Kira Buckland and Kayli Mills as Kyoko and Misako respectively. Kayli is a relative newcomer that has been slowly working her way up from roles as side characters and does a fantastic job as the tough as nails, no-nonsense, world-weary Misako. Kira Buckland, who many will know as 2B from Nier Automata, is quickly becoming one of the best voice actors in the business whose enthusiasm can be heard in every word uttered from Kyoko’s mouth. But every voice actor from the side characters to the bosses give 110% percent in their performance and it shows.
Lastly, we have the soundtrack, and wow is it really something. Mixing chiptune, synth-pop, and fully voiced songs for certain segments, every track on the game’s OST is a head bopper, especially the opening and closing themes sung by another of the best voice actors in the biz, Christina Vee, and Nathan Sharp of NateWantsToBattle respectively. If my only complaint is that I wish the songs were longer, that is a good sign. Seriously I WISH the opening had just one more verse…
What small nitpicks the game has absolutely pale in comparison to the overall polish of the finished product. Not being able to play with friends in online co-op does hurt, and the middle portions of the game can stretch and incorporate about one or two too many side quests as the game clocks in at about 6 to 7 hours, which is very long for a brawler. But it still means you get to spend more time in this world with these characters, and a new game plus mode, plus unlockable characters, and a secret boss battle mean you’ll be making thugs kiss the concrete long after the credits roll.
River City Girls is an almost perfect brawler, with a love for the genre that shines through in every corner of River City and the characters that inhabit it. As much as I am excited for it, Streets of Rage 4 is going to have its work cut out for it to go toe to toe with these girls.
This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.