River City Girls Zero Review – Ballroom Blitz
Title: River City Girls Zero
Release Date: February 14, 2022
Reviewed On: Switch
River City Girls has undoubtedly stolen our hearts after developer Wayforward rebooted for the legendary Kunio-kun franchise. However, much of the game was based on the original source material, including its characters, which can be traced back to the 1994 Super Famicom release of Shin Nekketsu Kōha: Kunio-Tachi no Banka. As the developer prepares the launch of River City Girls 2, fans can experience this long-lost Japanese release in its newly localized and repackaged guise of River City Girls Zero.
As the name suggests, this is a prequel that serves as an origin story of sorts for River City Girls protagonists Kyoko and Misako, joined by series mainstays Kunio and Riki as players can control all four characters. Although best enjoyed as a two-player couch co-op, playing in single-player mode allows you to take full control of all available characters, where you can switch between them with a press of a button.
It needs to be emphasized how this release is essentially a restoration effort, and developer WayForward has done a great job to port and Remaster this obscure title, all while giving it a decent script too. Of course, it goes without saying that the core game itself doesn’t have their input and design, as you are playing an older Japanese release as is. Still, some genuine care and attention has gone into its presentation, as the new release comes with its own animated intro, updated key artwork, and some cool extras, too, such as a gallery that lets you view the game’s original Super Famicom packaging.
The game itself is an average at best beat ’em up. Over in just a couple of hours, just as most video games were during the ’90s, it’s hardly up there with the likes of Streets of Rage or Final Fight. Even by Kunio-kun standards, this isn’t one of the more notable releases. The combat is as basic as it gets, and the pace of the action feels cumbersome and sluggish too. It certainly lacks the fast-paced chaos the series is known for.
At best, River City Girls Zero demonstrates the source material and design blueprints for the 2019 version from WayForward, and so in a way, it’s kind of cool to see the genesis of those ideas. While the core combat is dull, the game still presents some cool ideas in its level design and set-pieces and even tries different gameplay segments like a motorcycle brawl.
River City Girls Zero is all about the storyline, so expect to spend a lot of time sitting through text. Here we have some juvenile thugs engaged in high school gang warfare, and while these kids couldn’t care less about their grades, they still put their lives on the line to protect their home turf. The writing has moments of amusement and often takes itself too seriously, and in a way, feels like Gangs of New York set to the backdrop of the Japanese high school system.
Although WayForward has done a fine job to bolster the presentation of this release, the actual game itself doesn’t do much to impress from a visual standpoint, especially as a 1994 Super Famicom title. By 1994, 16-bit consoles were pushing some impressive 2D graphics as gaming was ready to transition into 3D, and this game was far from it. However, at least there’s some cool chiptune music.
River City Girls Zero is a fine and largely inexpensive preservation of a long-lost title from the massive Kunio-kun chronology, even if the actual title itself is far from being a lost classic that you need to play. At best, the game serves as an interesting origin story. So unless you’re a diehard completionist, then you’re probably better off just waiting for the eventual launch of River City Girls 2.
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