Brash, colorful, and featuring numerous ways to pummel everyone who gets in your way, River City Girls is a River City Ransom/Kunio-kun game through and through. Developer WayForward’s love for the recently revived beat-’em-up series drips from every curb stomp and razor-sharp pixel, as two high school students—Kyoko and Misako—crack skulls as they try to rescue their kidnapped boyfriends, Kunio and Riki, the stars of past RCR and KK games. River City Girls blesses the series with exciting combat and the ability to purchase new moves, accessories, and power ups, but a few glaring negatives keep the brawler from being a genre great.
River City Girl’s plot is a simple one. Kunio and Riki are kidnapped and the protagonists, Kyoko and Misako, take to River City’s mean streets to rescue them and discover who’s behind the crime. This sets the stage for you to fight through six distinct districts, including River City High, a zombie-filled junkyard, and the opulent uptown area.
Each district is broken down into several smaller, interlocking zones. Some zones you can simply sprint through if you’re not in the mood to battle mooks, while others literally lock the screen and won’t let you progress until you beat the snot out of everyone. The one thing that the districts have in common? Mobs of goons looking to stomp holes in the heroes.
Hot-Blooded Tough Gals
Thankfully, Kyoko and Misako are more than capable of handling their business. They sport relatively simple, distinct move sets that expand as you earn money and visit dojos where you can purchase new abilities from either Billy Lee or Jimmy Lee. Yes, the Double Dragon duo, as well as some of their enemies, make appearances in River City Girls, further cementing the concept of a shared brawling universe.
Though you may start with basic light, heavy, throw, and jump attacks, you’ll quickly amass additional combat tools. Some of those include special moves like Misako’s Stone Fist, a technique that sees the fighter deliver three high-impact blows when you tap the special move button. These special attacks drain your stamina meter (not your health!), so can’t spam them to victory. You’ll also find equippable accessories like False Eyelashes and Frill Bra, items that refill your stamina meter by walking around and grant brief invulnerability after knock downs, respectively. In case you’re wondering, equipping the accessories doesn’t make the items appear on Kyoko and Misako’s sprites.
The attacks feel good, too. Thanks to the protagonists’ smear animations and enemies’ recoil animations, each blow carries weight. Misako’s roundhouse punch, for example, is great for clearing crowds, as it blasts punks quite a distance. Her backfist, on the other hand, is terrific for swatting foes who try to creep up from behind.
On occasion, a nearly defeated enemy will beg for mercy. Should you spare the hoodlum, the character becomes a Recruit that you summon into battle for a few seconds at a time. Initially, it may seem that Recruits don’t have much impact on the battle, but as you learn the combat system, they can be integrated into your combos, much like Strikers in King of Fighters ’99, 2000, and 2001.
You can also spend your money in shops to buy food, refreshments, and toys that boost your health or stamina by varying amounts. If you play on the Normal difficulty setting, you probably won’t need much of this assistance outside of boss fights. On the other hand, you may need to keep a supply of health-and-stamina boosters in your back pocket when playing Hard mode.
Thankfully, you need not rely on purchased items throughout the journey. Numerous weapons lay scattered in the streets that you can pick up and use, such as baseball bats, whips, wrenches, and yo-yos. They shatter after repeated use unless you purchase the skill that lets you use them as much as you want.
Though, River City Girls’ tight control scheme enables you to bust out many hard-hitting moves, the game drops the ball in two areas. One ball drop takes the form of parrying, a defensive counter executed by pressing the block button just as an enemy’s strike connects. It’s a concept borrowed from fighting games, such as Street Fighter and Tekken, but I’m not so certain it works in a beat ’em up. That’s because in fighting games, you have just one attacker to deal with, instead of two or three (or more!) in a brawler. You simply can’t parry everyone. In addition, River City Ransom’s parry window is so small that it’s difficult to execute; you’re more likely to eat a fist than reflect an incoming blow and land a counterattack. In fact, I’ve had more success mashing block to parry than when I tried to skillfully execute a counter.
The other issue? The same button used for light attacks and using weapons is also used to enter/exit zones. This leads to situations where you’re battling hoodlums near a transition spot and accidently exit your current stage due to pressing the light attack/weapon button. This is immensely infuriating, and what’s worse is that WayForward gives you no way to remap your controller buttons. I sincerely hope that the team patches a button remapping option into the game in the near future.
River City’s Sights and Sounds
Without question, River City Girls is one of the best games in the genre when it comes to presentation. Leveraging large, well-animated sprites, manga-style flashbacks, and a cartoon-like art style, the brawler is visually like no other in the River City/Kunio-kun series. Boss fights are particularly impressive, as the big bads emote in classic over-the-top cartoon fashion and use flashy, dazzling attacks.
Complementing the visuals is an impressive soundtrack from Chipzel, Christina Vee, and NateWantsToBattle that dances between traditional chiptunes and synthpop. Like Double Dragon Neon, some of River City Girls’ in-game tracks, such as “Bully,” “Watch Your Back,” and “The Hunt,” feature vocals that perfectly complement the on-screen action. It’s as though your characters are pummeling their way through River City’s mean streets with a boom box in hand. The songs are so good that you may find yourself singing the lyrics when not playing the game.
River City Girls is a sprite-based, 16-bit style brawler, so it doesn’t require much horsepower. According to the game’s Steam page, River City Girls requires a computer that contains at least an Intel Core 2 Duo E7500 CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 750 GPU, 4GB of RAM, 6GB of storage, and the Windows 7 operating system. My gaming PC, which easily surpasses those specs, smoothly ran the game at a locked 60 frames per second. On Steam, River City Girls supports Steam Cloud and 29 Steam Achievements.
Though River City Girls is designed as a two-player romp, the game sadly lacks online play. As a result, if you want to beat up high school kids with a friend, you must do so in local cooperative play. There’s an option to turn friendly fire on if you’re feeling particularly shady.
River City Girls doesn’t have single-player co-op in which the CPU takes control of one of the girls and helps you fight. This is unfortunate, as the WayForward-developed Double Dragon Neon lets you do just that.
The Rumble Fish
The River City Ransom/Kunio-kun games have seen a resurgence in recent years after publisher Arc System Works acquired the rights from Technos Japan. Though River City Girls departs from the other games in the series due to a wildly different audio and video design, the game keeps the key elements that make a River City/Kunio-kun game—teen rumbles, with RPG elements. Despite some niggles, Rivery City Girls is a more-than-worthy series entry that has the chops to become a sub-series of its own.
If you liked this review and would like to see more, please join the PCMag Steam Curator page. There you’ll find reviews every Steam game we’ve reviewed, as well as in-depth previews of upcoming titles.