Thanks to Wayforward for the review code
Title: River City Girls
Release Date: 09/05/2019
In this action belt scroller, you take control of Misako and Kyoko as they set out to rescue Kunio and Riki after they get kidnapped, prompting the two to go on a bunch of misadventures together.
Believe it or not, the Kunio-Kun series has typically stuck to one presentation style for the many decades the franchise has been around, even as it made the jump to newer systems. Sporting 8-bit character design with a focus on huge heads, not even recent games like Tokyo Rumble and Melee shifted from this format, still sticking to the traditional art style. That being said, there were a few games in the past that deviated from this, such as the original Kunio Kun Arcade game and the Super Famicom entries, though even those games keep the character designs consistent which continues the samey look.
River City Girls basically takes elements of the SFC look and enhances it for a 32-Bit feel that looks absolutely stunning and different from the rest of the franchise, easily making this the best looking Kunio Game to date, especially in terms of animations. The sprites may seem deceptively simple at first glance, but in motion they’re some of the smoothest and best animations that I’ve ever seen from a game of this type, continuing Wayforward’s tradition of great sprite art. The characters are expressive, the backgrounds have a bunch of cool minor details and the music is pretty outstanding, barring a few out of place vocal tracks here and there. For a series that wouldn’t really change all that much, the presentation shakeup here feels very natural and clearly had a lot of love poured into it. There’s even full-blown animated cutscenes that take place before boss fights, along with the occasional story cutscene that’s just a collection of gorgeous manga panels.
Shoutouts also go to the voice actors, who do a really excellent job with their characters’ performances that work especially well with this game’s dialogue, leading to plenty of funny and well-written moments in this game. To make things even better, this game also avoids a usual cardinal sin of belt scrollers with voice acting by not having anyone repeat dialogue endlessly, meaning that combat is still easy on the ears while not resorting to muting everyone outright.
River City Girls is a belt scroller action game where the main objective is to defeat waves of enemies as you progress through parts of River City to search for clues and leads on Kunio and Riki. Starting out, the game may seem deceptively simple at first as you have some basic attacks with the Square button and a few strong attacks with the Triangle Button, but before long you’ll level up and begin to learn one of many, many moves to add to the arsenal, which can lead to some essentials such as a powerful uppercut, the Double Dragon II Knee Kick, a rolling punch, and a cursed dabbing technique that basically works like a powerful jab. Needless to say, combat becomes varied and a lot of fun, which is a great thing since there are plenty of enemies to take on for experience and money.
Alongside your traditional and learned moves, you also have the ability to block with the R buttons and parry if you time the block perfectly, though this is pretty tricky to pull off. Likewise, grabs and various forms of them can be performed when an enemy’s confused, which can even lead to an occasional moment where an enemy will beg for mercy. Hitting the L1 button when you grab them will allow you to briefly summon them as an assist a select number of times, and a few of these assists can really help in a pinch. (while others don’t really do much of anything)
Not only will you learn new moves as you level up, but you can also buy a bunch of the more advanced moves I just mentioned from an in-game dojo, which expands the movelist even more and becomes pretty essential if you want to do well against the bosses, which are quite tough and require memorization of their patterns to master, though that isn’t a bad thing at all since memorization adds to a lot of the fun factor in these fights, even during the times my friend and I lost, we’d just think of something else to try before we’d eventually win. Combine that with the game’s very generous checkpoint system and you have a very fun game that can be beaten with enough trial and error. (Though each death causes you to lose money, so don’t think you can die constantly without a penalty)
The best part of River City Girls is easily the co-op experience the game has on offer. While it is indeed local-only, having a friend over makes this game go from great to outstanding, all thanks to the many ways your teammate can work in sync to take on a tough wave of enemies and make things a little easier. Your teammate is the other playable character that you didn’t choose for that play session, which also includes all their levels up and abilities. However, this also means that if you neglect the other playable character and only favor one, then your partner may be at a disadvantage due to being at a lower level and not having many moves at their disposal.This is a bit rough especially if you play late into the game, but the game thankfully won’t OHKO your partner constantly over it and leveling up the other player is relatively quick, if a bit irritating.
Still, with two powered up characters fighting side by side, this leads to some incredibly tense and chaotic moments, even more so if you decide to toggle on hard mode and friendly fire. Typically Co-Op experiences compliment or assist the main game with little thought put into them, but River City Girls is a rare exception where I feel it’s pretty much the ultimate way to have max enjoyment, while also not being a slouch in the single player department either.
Last but not least, the huge chunk of optional things to do. While you can continue through the main story like normal if you just want to get to the ending, there’s a lot of benefits from taking time to explore side areas and going on sidequests. While some sections of a part of town will be locked at first, they’ll be unlocked after clearing the area boss, leading to some extra rooms with more challenging enemies and secrets to uncover, including a group of breakable hidden statues, rare items and even a secret boss if you do things right. These are a fantastic way to gain EXP since clearing a sidequest will give you some by default along with the defeated enemies, though going to one right after beating an area boss might lead to an sudden difficulty spike, so be cautious, especially since dying will cause you to lose a good amount of your money. (unless you revive your co-op partner by stomping on them before they die)
In conclusion, River City Girls is easily one of my new favorite games in the Kunio franchise, right behind Super Dodge Ball. Made great thanks to an outstanding variety of battle moves, good level design, clever pattern-based boss battles and an outstanding co-op experience, this is one of the best belt scrollers in recent memory, and considering how many of them fall into the same trap of being a repetitive bore nowadays, it’s very refreshing to see a new one that nails all the right notes that make a belt scroller addicting to begin with.
The $30 pricetag definitely seems like a scary barrier to entry, but I feel it’s absolutely worth it for the sheer amount of content to unlock if you want to get 100%, along with the sheer enjoyment factor of the game in co-op. The only real bummer comes from how the difficulty can seem to be a bit inconsistent if you have a second player join late in the game, but even then the game’s still immensely fun and well worth checking out.
I give River City Girls a 9 out of 10.