Review – River City Girls

River City Ransom is one of the most famous beat ’em up franchises of all time, being a precursor to the genre alongside its close brother, Double Dragon. It has always had a much bigger following in Japan, where it is known as Kunio-Kun, but that doesn’t mean the series is unknown around here. The last time I played a River City Ransom game was in 2017, with the release of the somewhat underwhelming River City: Knights of Justice. I forgive Arc Systems for that little dud of a game, however, because their newest title, River City Girls, is amazing.

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This is an impeccably well-animated brawler.

Developed by WayForward, River City Girls can best be described as the funnier, gender-swapped version of the original games. Instead of playing as Kunio and his mates in order to rescue their girlfriends, you actually play as the girls this time around, with the objective of saving your lads after they were kidnapped. This isn’t a complete gender-swapped remake, however, as this game features a lot of unique features, as well as a lot of personality, to make it stand out from the rest of its Kunio-Kun peers, as well as most modern beat ’em ups in general.

One of the best things about River City Girls‘ gameplay is that it isn’t a typical linear beat ’em up. In fact, the game is sort of open-ended, as you can backtrack to previous areas and unlock new sections as you please. You can freely explore the map as long as you have beaten certain bosses on your way. It’s not exploration-heavy, but it rewards you with a few items in case you decide to do so.

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I giggled.

The combat system is confusing at first, but becomes a lot entertaining the more you play the game. There are a few RPG elements in River City Girls, meaning that every time you level up, you learn a few new moves and combos for your arsenal. At first, you don’t have many moves at your disposal, making the game feel a bit slow and quite dull at times. It won’t take long for you to learn aerial attacks, counters, faster moves, and so on. You’ll even be able to pick up fallen enemies and use them as weapons, as well as recruit a handful of them as your allies.

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Like, OMG Becky.

The best thing about River City Girls is its presentation. Still images don’t do it justice. This game is exceptionally well-animated, both during gameplay and during its anime-ish cutscenes. The sound department is where River City Girls shines the most, though. I was expecting for the game to feature, at best, a handful of chiptune songs and nothing else. Was I wrong or what? Although it does feature retro-inspired tunes every now and then, the game also features a handful of proper pop songs, with singers and all, as well as fantastic voice acting. Everybody delivers one hell of a performance. I laughed more times than I could count, this is one funny little game.

If there’s one thing I didn’t like about River City Girls, however, is that is basically punishes you for not playing with a friend, as there is no proper single-player balancing. Enemies will more often that not gang up on you and beat you mercilessly, easily outnumbering you and taking way too much damage. Given the fact that you can’t summon allies when you’re being hit, you’ll need to resort to hit-and-run tactics if you’re alone and low on health. I get it, River City Girls was designed with couch co-op in mind, but if you’re going to let people play the game by themselves, either provide them with an AI ally or balance things out. This issue aside, the game is great.

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Using a high school bully as a literal weapon. We’ve finally found a use for this kind of people.

I have to say, I was looking forward to River City Girls, as WayForward almost never develops a bad game, but I definitely wasn’t expecting for it to be as good as it ended up being. It’s an incredibly well-crafted brawler that oozes charm and humor. If it wasn’t for its lack of single-player balancing, making the overall solo experience a bit too frustrating, this would have become one of the best beat ’em ups in years. This is the closest to a brand new Scott Pilgrim vs. the World game you’ll ever find and it’s a lot better than that already great game.

 

Graphics: 9.0

Not only is the pixel art incredibly well-drawn and impeccably well-animated, but the game also features great anime cutscenes.

Gameplay: 8.0

The game starts off with a boring and uninspiring amount of moves you can perform, but once you level up a bit, you’ll acquire new abilities, making the whole combat system a lot more fluid and varied.

Sound: 9.0

A great mixture of chiptune-influenced tracks, actual pop tunes with vocals, and a lot of well-performed voice acting. I wasn’t expecting a lot from it, yet the sound department ended up being the best thing about River City Girls.

Fun Factor: 8.0

If it wasn’t for its lack of single-player balancing, River City Girls would have been even better. It’s extremely charming, funny, and it features an entertaining combat system once you level up a bit.

Final Verdict: 8.5

River City Girls is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch.

Reviewed on Xbox One.

A copy of River City Girls was provided by the publisher.

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