Title: River City Girls
Release Date: September 5, 2019
Reviewed On: PS4
The River City series is one that has been a fairly large part of my life. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed its many entries and iterations on various handhelds and other retro platforms, but I could feel the novelty wearing off. Thankfully, WayForward is here to breathe new life into the beat ’em up franchise with River City Girls. Like other offerings from this developer, there is timeless fun to be found in this quirky adventure.
River City Girls stars Kyoko and Misako, two students who have just learned that their boyfriends, Kunio and Riki, have been kidnapped. Within seconds, the two head off to free them. This won’t be an easy task as River City isn’t known for being the safest place to live and street fighting is an normal, everyday occurrence. Right off the bat, there are various students and even teachers trying to stop the girls from leaving school. And in classic brawler fashion, the two will be fighting through every screen of the game.
Players are able to freely move around the city. However, some areas are locked until you reach certain points in the story. This does make the game feel linear given that as it won’t let you explore outside of what the plot dictates. With that said, there are plenty to shops to discover that will give you health and additional boosts in battle. This is a returning staple in the series, and each store provides something new to eat or wear. These shopping trips are a welcomed and beneficial distraction which help break-up the linearity.
The girls themselves are fantastic. Various conversations between the two and other fun interactions make their friendship believable. Their personalities are vastly different, but the way that they riff off one another during story scenes is always enjoyable. Throughout the game, you’ll learn more about them and their relationship, rounding them out even more. You’ll also get some backstory on other citizens of River City to flesh out the game’s world. To add to this, new environments and districts are introduced, which makes this metropolis feel large. Thankfully, there is a fast travel system that connects all these areas because as you will be back-tracking throughout your adventure.
The gameplay is typical for a brawler with a few twists added to make combat more engaging. Kyuko and Misako both play and handle differently in battle. Each has different combos and strengths. It was nice to have this choice and I found things that I enjoyed about each character. There is even more choice while leveling up. Defeating enemies leads to experience and money which can be used to get either a new skill or move. The latter will need to be purchased from a dojo, but they do things like extend combos and add variety to attacks.
Surprisingly, fighting never feels repetitive or stale over the course of the game. I felt that I was constantly aiming for new things to purchase while trying not to die. The consequence for death is the loss of some of your hard-earned cash so that’s even more motivation to improve your skills. There’s also a decent layer of challenge on every screen as enemies rarely let up while beating you down.
There are aspects that level out the playing field. Weapons are fun to use and add a nice wrinkle to brawling. Doubling up in co-op mode is a good way to take on baddies but still keep things challenging: even though you can revive each other, the hitbox is quite small and often the other person would die before I could properly get to them.
Wayforward implemented some light puzzle solving and platforming sections in smaller areas of the games. Unfortunately, these moments weren’t too enjoyable and were the weakest part of the game. At one point, I was tasked with going into a room and using furniture to sneak around a sleeping enemy. It would’ve been more fun just to beat him up like usual. Luckily these uninteresting portions were relatively uncommon throughout the faster-paced (and punchier) campaign.
There were some other more noticeable issues with the game. The developers made the unfortunate decision to map a bunch of actions to one key. Since I was playing on a PS4, when I pushed down the Square button, I could either pick up items, go to a new screen, enter a building, or perform a light attack. As you’d expect, this can interrupt regular gameplay as sometimes during fights, you’ll accidentally go to a new screen or grab an item that you don’t want. This is by no means a deal-breaker but is a rather frustrating design choice that I hope is patched out in future updates.
Speaking of annoying aspects of the game, in co-op mode enemy combos can’t be broken. So if your partner is getting beat up, you can’t rush in to stop the enemy from completing their full 3-4 hits. It’s not even possible to block during these moments, which makes for some unearned deaths. To make things even more unfair, enemies can break your combos. On top of this, there are other cheap moments, like baddies instantly getting up and landing a hard punch. This is possible to get around by being patient but it does break up the flow of battle.
While grunt enemies can be pests to deal with, one of the best parts of the game are the boss battles. Each battle requires you to use all your skills gained up to that point in order to take down the final foe. While they are challenging, they’re not impossible to beat. It was a nice balance. Another nice touch was that the boss’ HP was shown at the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately, this was not the case for regular enemies as it would’ve been helpful to know which combos did the most damage.
Graphically, River City Girls is beautiful. The streets are alive and each environment offers so much to take in. The animations of the girl’s attack are wonderful. The cutscenes between boss battles are a treat. And, finally, the comic book style story scenes are brilliant. This game is truly a marvel to look at, and unsurprisingly, WayForward didn’t cut any corners in the presentation department.
While music in the game has some standout tracks, there were a few songs that were a chore to listen to. The piece that plays while exploring the town was way too long and got old fast. However, the audio for each of the characters was extremely well done. I applaud the voice actors for doing such a great job of bringing these various roles to life.
River City Girls is the brawler that the series needed to spark new interest in the franchise. WayForward took this classic IP and made something truly unique, yet still recognizable to long-time fans. The story is charming and easy to follow and the gameplay remains consistently fun throughout.
Sure, there are some moments of irritation found in the button layout and enemy design choices, but nothing really takes away from the enjoyable experience that this game provides. I had a blast running through the streets of River City as Kyoko and Misako and I hope this isn’t the last adventure that I get to go on with them.
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