River City Girls tells the story of two friends, Kyoko and Misako, who are street-tough high-schoolers tasked with fighting their way through six areas of River City in order to save their respective boyfriends Kunio and Riki. Older gamers might remember Kunio and Riki from past River City games which have been around since the NES era and has spawned spin-offs and a sequel across a wide variety of consoles. With River City Girls, the River City franchise makes its debut on a Microsoft console for the first time.
River City Girls is a 16bit beat’em up à la Streets of Rage, Final Fight where players roam around levels beating up enemies to earn money and XP. The latter differentiates it from other beat’em ups as most games of the genre do not feature levelling up features. Earning XP allows players to level up one of two characters or both (if playing co-op) increasing the character’s various traits such as strength, health, etc… Levelling up will also allow players to purchase new attacks at the Dojo (operated by Double Dragon’s Billy & Jimmy Lee!); the higher level required for a new move, the more expensive it is; thus requiring a bit a of grinding to get as much money as possible. Be careful however as dying will prove costly; deaths will cost about 25% of your wallet.
The control scheme is quite simple and intuitive; there’s a weak and strong attack button (X and Y respectively), along with a jump button (A), special attack button (B) and a (very useful) block button (RB). At first mixing weak and strong attacks will allow players to pull off combos to get around. Buying more attacks will allow players to create longer, stronger and more interesting combos. All attack buttons, weak, strong and special, can be used with the directional pad to concoct new combos.
If playing solo, players can choose between Kyoko and Misako. Both character have their own unique attacks allowing some diversity between the two of them. And once you’re done with the story, you can unlock additional playable characters.
Another very fun feature is that you can recruit an enemy. After getting beat up and before dying, some enemies will get on their knees and beg for forgiveness. Once you grab them, pressing LB (instead of beating them up or throwing them) will allow you to recruit the NPC and call upon them when in trouble. Be warned that they’ll simply come in, do their most devastating attack and leave. In order to use them again, you’ll need to wait for the meter to fill up.
With your hard earned money, you can buy quite a bit of helpful items. You can buy equipment such as bras, eyelashes, lipstick; among others, which will give your character added bonuses such as 5% extra damage against female enemies, Invincibility when getting back up, get up faster after being knocked down, etc… These equipment will allow you to get an extra edge against the wide variety of enemies and more importantly bosses. Speaking of which, all bosses have three different phases. The more damage you do, the tougher they get and they add new and stronger attacks to their arsenal.
To make sure you survive long enough before being knocked out (and lose money), players can also purchase food items which can be used on the spot or saved for tougher spots. While most food can be a bit expensive, thus requiring a bit more money grinding, it will become vital to have a lunch box worth of health items especially when tackling later bosses.
To avoid the monotony of the standard linearity of the typical beat’em up, WayForward added a few side quests to keep things interesting during the game’s story mode. Across each area, you’ll come across Godai, a quirky, borderline creepy teenager who will give you a different sidequest in each area such as get him a burger or destroys fancy cars located in various areas. As with standard RPGs, Godai rewards you with XP, money and goodies. Additionally, there’s 25 Sabu Statues spread across the game’s six areas. Destroy them all, along with completing all of Godai’s requests, and a special challenge awaits you in free roam mode (available after beating the game). You can also go back and forth between unlocked areas either to grind for money/XP or buy different items from the various stores. Thankfully, WayForward has implemented a bus stop so players can fast travel between various areas quickly.
Not only is the gameplay solid, but the game’s presentation is top-notch. On the visual side of things, the game is beautifully drawn and very colorful making for an interesting visual treat. Aside from a few minor glitches; at one point my character was transparent walking in front of a vehicle, the game is visual delight. The game’s soundtrack is really solid. It features upbeat and addictive music which will have you revisit certain areas while grinding just to listen a specific track. The soundtrack features a mix of instrumental and vocal songs; some of the vocal songs have the potential of being in a Top 10 of commercial hits. Megan McDuffee and Chipzel concocted one of the best gaming soundtrack I’ve heard in the last 10 years. Instrumental tracks also have a hint of 80’s synthwave flavor bringing a sample of nostalgia to the game.
River City Girls is definitely one of the best gaming experiences of 2019. The game is perfectly balanced, addictively fun and with an enticing soundtrack, old school and new gamers alike are sure to enjoy this title from a classic genre. Levelling up ensures that the combat stays fresh thanks to new moves, the colorful presentation keeps things entertaining and the soundtrack keeps you bopping. Few rare minor glitches asides and some frustrating boss battles, I highly recommend River City Girls; either solo or with a friend, you’ll get your bang for your buck.
- Addictive gameplay
- Deep combat system/upgrade
- Mesmerising soundtrack
- Some grinding required
- Hibari boss fight