Review – River City Girls 2

Back in 2019, I was bombarded by the boundless praise of River City Girls. Back then, I knew nothing about the franchise, but the hype surrounding me was too much to dismiss. Hell, it’s the very reason I jumped on LimitedrunGames website to pre-order the physical edition – I took a wild leap of faith in an unknown commodity. As minutes became hours, hours became days, and days became months, it finally came. I actually completely forgot it was even coming since it just took forever to arrive. So, imagine my delight when it dropped into my hands seemingly out of nowhere. Needless to say, the accolades were bang on. With a sequel, River City Girls 2, being upon us, I’m cautiously optimistic. See, there’s a curse where number two’s can be in a deeply botched state. I reckon the chance is 50/50, and I plan to ascertain exactly what side we land on.

The Story Unfolds

A comic book aesthetic in a brawler? Yes please. So charming.

When it comes to story extensions, the main question on everyone’s mind is if there’s any need to play the first release. Well, the answer is kind of a mixture. On the one hand, there are undoubtedly referential nods you might miss out on. Nothing sizable, mind you, but since River City Girls 2 is a continuation, not having character introductions could hinder the experience ahead. Again, it won’t be egregiously so, but there’s a certain jeux ne se quoi that’s noticeably absent. With that in mind, I wouldn’t say getting a refresher is necessary, but if you desire cohesion, I will give a friendly nudge toward replaying. Despite my having indulged in the initial entry of the franchise, I forgot the bulk of it due to a goldfish-caliber memory. Even then, I still had a ton of fun. That’s down to a single reason.

See, on the other hand, Misako and Kyoko are a hoot. As I pummeled foes, I couldn’t help but quietly chuckle at a handful of their quips. I’m not referring to outright belly laughs, but to say a smile or two didn’t creep in would be a fallacy. Simply put, their personalities are like shining beacons. The friendship they share reminds me of the bonds I have with my mates. I especially loved Misako’s straightforward replies complimenting Kyoko’s silly and often dumb retorts. They perfectly encapsulate a yin-yang – both have mannerisms that balance each other. I have to give props to how authentic it felt, too. WayForward manages to sublimely nail how actual people react in kinships, which is then responsible for adding that all-important sprinkle of relatability. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, the overall story is shallow, but it oozes charm.

Marion beats up Ken!

Did I mention there’s awesome references? No? Well, there’s awesome references.

Now, I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t highlight the mountain of stereotypes utilized, like a creepy fellow or preppy girl. If that isn’t enough, their personas are exaggerated, with the knob twisted to eleven. There’s no middle ground with balls-to-the-wall humor. If you aren’t receptive, then it could come across as cringe. Whether it’s destined to be chaotic good or dreadfully bad is dependent on the player, but if you’re open to bloody ridiculousness, bliss awaits. Hell, if you aren’t phased by a villain that speaks like a social media influencer, vomiting abbreviations and Generation Z slang, or a witch that might also be a business-savvy hipster, you’re golden. There’s no mistaking that the characters have individual quirks. That, in turn, helps this world not seem one-dimensional. Genuinely, the dialogue is a classic case of either it impresses or will be heavily disappointing.

River City Girls 2’s gameplay loop is a concoction of beat ’em up, known as a brawler in some circles, that harnesses tasty RPG facets. Alright, I’m sure folks collectively recoiled at the mere thought of grinding. The bad news is that, yes, there’s obviously going to be some degree of it, given the genre combo, but not for experience. Cash is king, being key to purchasing various accessories that come boasting a really nifty passive each. Money is also crucial to buying fighting techniques. To earn it, I was tasked with hammering my way through town, drilling school girls, Yakuza, and cyborgs alike – not to mention all the wrestling moves I could execute. The good news is that while there’s also leveling, it’s capped, much like the first. The only difference is it’s slightly more at thirty instead of twenty. Basically, the grinding rests in accumulating dinero.

River City Girls 2 - Healing up at the Sauna

After a hard day of beating people to a pulp, you need to focus on you.

So, I’ll be upfront with y’all; I love River City Girls 2. It’s a pleasurable outing full of kicks and punches. Between that and the banter, this game is a rip-roaring delight that I’ve beaten twice now. In at least one of my sessions, I decided to spice things up, prioritizing use of accessories and utilizing their buffs. Some of these are pretty damn useful, too, from increasing the damage done to a specific gender to adding a whole element to strikes. Because my initial run was on Normal difficulty, I wasn’t too bothered to have to rely on them. The encounters were simple enough. It wasn’t until I shifted to the hard mode that their helpfulness came to light. I appreciate the importance put on accessorizing, but it’s that incessant need to pause to equip that’s annoying. Eventually, I ignored this mechanic altogether, despite it making combat easier.

Granted, the above paragraph doesn’t exactly paint an alluring picture when it concerns replayability. That could be pretty bad since, given the typically short length of this genre, players depend on it to get their money’s worth. Well, never fret, as it’s truthfully an appealing avenue. See, there are several playable characters. It’s modest, standing at six, but what’s great is their different combat styles. If I fancied it, I could parade around as a powerhouse, breaking faces with a stiff jab. Switching over won’t be tied to a new playthrough, either. By visiting a designated safe zone, I can do so anytime, thus injecting variety into the gameplay loop. My only gripe is New Game Plus means that, because of experience sharing, I’ll be overpowered. It trivializes early stages and gives me the bread to unlock an individual’s entire physical repertoire. In other words, it eliminates the biggest incentives.

River City Girls 2 - Map of the starting area

There’s a lot of places to be, apparently.

A considerable worry I usually see thrown around with any beat ’em up title is the tendency to devolve into mindless button-mashing. To be blunt, there’s no way I can sugarcoat just how valid that fear is. It’s precisely what will occur, at least until you acquire fresh maneuvers. Even then, if you boil the combat system down, the core ideology stays that good old repetitive smashing – and it won’t be the ideal type. Fortunately, it’s a cakewalk to avoid any unwanted confrontation. I could easily dodge any incoming fists by hightailing it out of the current area, thus triggering a transition to the next one. If I’m being frank, I only resorted to that in the game’s final stretch once I had my fill of violence. I oddly found initiating different moves engaging. It forced my brain to keep up with finger movements, stimulating my concentration as a byproduct.

Apart from grinding, another feature that comes with an RPG paint job is a healthy dosage of side-quests. River City Girls 2 won’t be drowning in them, but there’s a fair bit to distract from the main storyline. I thought they were appropriate, too, given the game’s theme, but the execution was lukewarm. The goals asked of you vary, having you either kick the holy hell out of bullies at times or take selfies to post to social media while, again, kicking ass on your way to all the locations. Given how enormous the overworld is, the repetition of objectives is accompanied by tedium. Thankfully, there’s a fast travel system, mitigating any tedious feelings. It succeeds, as well, severely cutting down on manual backtracking. Bus stop positioning is quite generous, meaning I was receptive to taking on a task or two.

River City Girls 2 - Misako isn’t a fan of emo boys

Damn Misako, going straight for the left tit with that insult.

The graphical fidelity in River City Girls 2 retains the nostalgic aesthetic that helped make the first a bloody joy. I was hopelessly smitten by it. Having grown up when gaming, in general, didn’t have the impressive visuals of today, I felt like a kid zooming down these streets and stumbling on familiar cameos. It also reminded me of my journeys to the arcade as a lad. Wayforward continues to deliver a solid vintage cosmetic look with incredible degrees of detail. The animations grasp tightly to the caveated Nutella sleekness with zero stutters to mention. I do want to be nitpicky for a second and address the transitional loading between screens. Yes, it’s absurdly brief, but for those to exist on a beefcake console like the PS5 is strange. I can’t help but conclude that because it’s also on the Nintendo Switch, it’s a relic of being on weaker machinery.

Here’s where the waters begin to be bothered since musically, there are tracks to adore and others to, well, feel indifferent towards. It pains me to say this, but the chiptune portion of the score falls under genericism. In contrast, the vocalized half is utterly brilliant. Hell, I was singing along and swaying, much to my dog’s dismay. Don’t get it wrong; every song perfectly compliments the general vibe of River City Girls 2. There was always a sense of a cheery, whimsical tinge. Sure, that means I never had my adrenaline pumping but realistically, having heavy metal would break the immersion of the world. It wouldn’t match the appearance. That just means the audio has been carefully crafted to have a marriage to the imagery, but it falls short of being memorable. There’s still a facet that somewhat shoulders the blunder, though – the dub.

River City Girls 2 - Picking the fighter I desire.

Smash Bros who? Dude, EVERYONE is here, too!

The filthy casual in me strikes again, declaring that the English voices are serviceable. Sure, they aren’t impeccable, with many hiccups immediately being noticeable. For example, a few performances lack inflection when reciting their lines. Instead of adding expressive flair or cadence where it would have aided in elevating the scene, a few characters seemingly refuse to. It’s not all grim, though, because others are very well done. For instance, the valley girl acts as I expected, nailing her speech patterns to a tee. The same could be said about Misako and Kyoko. Their back-and-forth verbal spars felt natural and lively. Without a doubt, they easily set the bar. What’s remarkable is that dialogue sometimes differs in subsequent runs. Nothing outrageous, of course, but it’s fun seeing how others would read parts not meant for them.

River City Girls 2 is one of those titles that’ll solidify itself as a comfort playthrough. Despite the problems I’ve noted, the core foundation is stronger than ever. It retains that fun loop the brawler genre has, with great RPG elements to throw an intriguing wrench into proceedings. With its short duration from start to finish, this is a romp that positions itself to be one that you can knock out in a weekend. It’s super chill, and something else that really caught me off guard was how accessible it was for my seven-year-old niece. She giggled at Misako making silly faces and had a worrying look of giddiness as she took out girls and boys alike. The masks of luchadores were a huge hit, too. I can easily declare this game as a hidden gem – one I hope isn’t buried. Value-wise, I’d say $30 is the sweet spot.


Graphics: 8.5

It’s a blast from the past and detailed as ever. I love the pixel look and how everything pops.  

Gameplay: 8.5

Kick, kick, punch. It’s a straightforward ideology that can become repetitive. Something about a good old fashioned beat’em up is one I can’t ignore.

Sound: 8.0

The tracks with vocals are sublime. The chip-tune half left something to be desired. I quite enjoyed the dub, to no one’s surprise, but do think some further work was needed to truly bang it out. 

Fun Factor: 9.0

Why is it so much fun to punch school girls in the face?

Final Verdict: 8.5

River City Girls 2 is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox Series S/X, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Reviewed on PS5.

A copy of River City Girls 2 was provided by the publisher.