Thanks to Wayforward for the review code
Title: River City Girls ZERO
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 02/14/2022
In this belt scrolling action game from the SFC era, you take control of Kunio and Riki, who must set out on a quest to clear themselves of a hit-and-run accusation, along with their girlfriends, Misako and Kyoko. This is a freshly localized version of a SFC brawler from 1994, which was pretty much set as a sequel to the Japanese Arcade version of Renegade, with a lot of the same characters from that first game sporting some big roles here.
This is where things get a bit interesting: This English version primarily retools the JP original into a prequel for River City Girls, which took a ton of inspiration from this game. The story is generally the same, but rewritten to use the same terminologies as the RCG series and to try and link certain events in RCG0 to RCG1. Yet there’s also a translation that’s more of less consistent with the original Kunio canon, so there’s a little bit of a mess going on, though whichever way you play RCG0, you’ll still be getting a pretty enjoyable mystery story.
The last game to use this emulator wrapper was way back in the earlier part of 2021, with the GBC port of Shantae. While that wrapper was pretty basic and had some irritating gripes, (no control configurations or much in terms of options/bonuses besides an art gallery) RCG0 significantly boosts the quality of the Carbon Engine up tenfold, adding in even more extra features for the presentation. There’s a gallery here, just like last time, but unlike Shantae which was just an assortment of official artwork, here we have the full original SFC manual and 3D models of the boxart and cartridge to rotate around!
Unfortunately all of this is untranslated, but the fact that there are 3D replica models of these things that look really damn good was enough to catch me completely off guard, and I really hope this is a trend that’ll be seen in future retro ports. I sure know I’d have loved to see that for GBC Shantae! Next there’s the title screen and extra UI, which sports a remade version of the original SFC artwork, while the in-game display options allow for several screen sizes, filter, and border options. (even though the borders pretty much scream LRG’s name right in your face rather than the name of the actual game, for better or worse)
Along with these are the extra additions of several arranged music tracks for the title screen/ending, each with vocals, along with manga-style cutscenes before and after the main game done in the style of RCG1. The main title track is definitely super catchy, but that doesn’t mean the game at the center of this is a slouch in those departments either.
Once all the introductions are done and you’re into the core game, you’ll find that RCG0 is a very good looking game for the time, especially compared to the other SFC Technos games we did get such as Combatribes and Super Double Dragon. The sprites are not the weird, done-to death chibis that would be recycled from the NES entries until the end of time, but rather 16-bit representations of the characters that feel like a natural evolution from the big sprites of Rengeade, still containing the expressions the series is known for while also fitting the more mature story here. The background music is pretty typical SNES flair, with a lot of the sort of instruments you’ve come to exprect from the platform, and while a few tracks stuck in my head, I didn’t exactly find the OST nearly as memorable here as the NES Kunio entries.
The biggest point of contention here though, and the main motivator for returning players to pick this release up comes from the addition of freshly translated languages, alongside the JP original text. You have English, French, Italian, and several other options to choose from, but unfortunately, the little bit of French I do remember still was enough to indicate to me that the French translation wasn’t so great, so if it’s like prior Wayforward translations, don’t expect anything outside of English to be the most polished.
Remember how I said earlier that there were two versions of the English translation available here, each corresponding to the different canons they try to link toward? Well, they’re both labeled as “New” and “Literal” respectively, the latter of which being a pretty poor wording choice considering it’s a localized version of the Kunio script, and thankfully not an 1:1 literal conversion of the JP text, which would have led to some pretty terrible results, if another modern Kunio game was anything to go by.
Considering the toxicity towards people who work super hard in the localization industry that has gone on due to people getting way too worked up over things, I definitely feel that labeling literal as a Kunio style would have been a better way of handling this, and luckily it seems WF is gonna get right on that and do just that. At the end of the day, both translations are fine in what they set out to do: The New RCG style still keeps to the original story and world, but rewrites things to be more akin to the RCG style, still getting the same message across, while the old Kunio style is the exact same beats as in the original Japanese, terminologies and all. If you’ve played the translated Kunio games from the Kunio Collection, that is more in line with what to expect here.
RCG0 is a bit of an oddball, since while most Kunio brawlers have gone to copy the style of River City Ransom, this game ends up ditching a lot of aspects from that entry, and decides to mix elements from that game and the original Renegade. Just like Renegade, the game is a stage to stage belt scroller, with the main objective being to defeat all the enemies on screen as you progress through each stage, progressing the narrative along the way. There is no interconnected world to go through, no shop systems, and the progression feels a bit like a Double Dragon game more than a Kunio game.
Really, the set pieces aren’t even technically stages, for they just keep taking you to the next place in the story pretty seamlessly. The initial duo of Kunio and Riki start out as a team, which you can have a second player join in locally for co-op or just switch between them on the fly with the – button, but eventually the two girls Misako and Kyoko join in as a third and fourth player respectively, though you’re still limited to only two players max, and with the girls having to leave mid-way through the main story, this ordeal is a Kunio-focused adventure through and through. Still, all four characters were pretty fun to play, and have their own unique moves to pull off, from the classic elbow smash, the back-kick from Renegade, and even some moves that would show up again in the RCG movesets, so I was pleasantly surprised by how the character switching led to the game not being nearly as repetitive as I thought it would be, considering how belt scrollers typically are.
With all that said, the game does have some irritations now and then, albeit minor. Some portions of the game shift things up, such as a motorcycle segment where you have to rush to another part of the town while evading enemies, and if you so much as a touch a wall here, you’re instantly given a game over. Luckily continues are infinite and the password system is insanely generous, (so much so to the point I was able to jump all over the game by just guessing numbers with it) so you can still manage to have a fun time with Zero, even if you’re newer to belt scrollers like these.
Heck, you can even take advantage of the save and quit option in the menu to create a save state of sorts, and exploit that by just quitting without saving if something goes wrong, so really there’s not much you have to lose here. In fact, despite each language getting their own set of save files, it’s stupidly easy to just resume right where you left off on any of them by using that basic four digit password system I mentioned earlier, and just resuming from the last screen you were currently on, so you can really just play this game however you like, which I really found myself appreciating.
The emulation in general is also super rock solid, with none of the same weird saving issues I noticed with Shantae cropping up here, and outside of an odd softlock after a rooftop boss fight when using a certain character, and a random crash in the gallery, the game itself was pretty issue-free.
In conclusion, despite my previously known gripes with LRG’s quality in general lately, I am confident in saying that River City Girls Zero and the Carbon Engine used to power this game is an immensely promising sign of future things to come: spectacular emulation quality, plenty of options to mess with, an improved gallery, and two great english translations on offer lead to River City Girls Zero being an outstanding package for both RCG and Kunio fans alike, and I can even recommend this game as a fun solo brawler due to the intriguing story alone, which is not something I can typically praise in a belt scroller. With another SFC Kunio brawler on the platform, I honestly wouldn’t even mind to see the Carbon Engine take a crack at that one, too, and I am pumped to see what this bad boy can do for preserving classic games.
Really the only things I wish were tweaked with Zero here come from minor aspects, such as a proper save state system, button remapping, (though the OG SNES layout is used here, so I really didn’t mind the default settings given to us) and maybe some extra bonuses like more advertisements in the gallery, but overall you have pretty much one of the best packages for a retro reissue I have seen in quite a while, leading to RCG0 joining the super high quality benchmark of retro translations that Gleylancer seems to have kicked off last year.
I give River City Girls ZERO an 8 out of 10.