River City Girls Review — Kunio-Kun’s Girl Packs a Stylish Punch
River City Girls is a throwback beat 'em up with RPG elements, eye-catching visuals, and a thumping soundtrack.
WayForward and Arc System Works’ River City Girls is a spin-off from the popular Kunio-Kun series. American fans will recognize franchise entries like River City Ransom, Renegade, and Super Dodge Ball. RCG brings an incredible visual flair to its classic beat ’em up gameplay. The game is a solid entry point for newcomers and should make Kunio-Kun fans everywhere very happy.
In River City Girls, you play as either Misako or Kyoko who are the girlfriends of series protagonists Kunio and Riki. Make no mistake, these girls can fight just as well as their significant others. In fact, RCG casts Kunio and Riki as the “damsels in distress,” and you must team up to save them. You can tackle the game in either single-player or local co-op, though co-op is certainly the way to go if you can. Unfortunately, co-op is local only, and you can’t play with an A.I. partner, making it a bit tougher to get into if you can’t find someone to play with.
That said, the game does a few things to make the experience fun regardless. River City Girls lives somewhere between classic, side-scrolling brawler and RPG. As you bash enemies’ heads in, you’ll collect experience points which let you level up. Each time you gain a new level, you get a stat boost and access to new moves. Your move repertoire starts off fairly basic, but you build it quickly with abilities that are as flashy as they are effective. It won’t take long before you’re dabbing foes into oblivion and frankensteining hostiles like WWE’s Big Bad Poppa Pump.
Each character has her own, unique moveset. They also level independently. In some ways, this is awesome, especially for players playing by themselves. You could easily play through the game twice and have a second run that feels completely different. However, it makes it a little daunting to have someone jump in-and-out because their level doesn’t scale to yours. It’s mostly a slight annoyance but still worth mentioning.
In addition to experience, each enemy you take down will drop cash. You’ll use this to buy even more skills, new accessories that augment your stats, and various food items that heal you. For my taste, the game is a little too stingy with cash. It took a decent amount of grinding to unlock all the moves, and since I couldn’t try them out before buying them, I wasn’t sure what was worth it. Plus, each time you die, you lose some of your cash. I didn’t die a ton, but it was always groan-inducing when I did knowing that I’d have to grind even more.
The combat is mostly good. I wish it was a bit easier to block attacks when playing by yourself, but having two players usually made that problem go away. You can get rushed down by packs of enemies by yourself and feel like there’s nothing you can do to clear space. When you’re on the offensive, River City Girls feels great, especially after you unlock some abilities. The combat does a great job of being as deep as you want it to be. River City Girls is equally playable whether you want to button-mash your way through or dive deep into your character’s moveset.
Of course, where the game truly shines is in the presentation. This is a beautiful reimagining of the River City Ransom style. In action, the game is reminiscent of classic SNES and NEO GEO games. The animation is buttery smooth and the sense of impact is spot on. However, it’s the anime cutscenes that take center stage.
RCG isn’t overstuffed with cutscenes, but when it does take the action away, it’s a joy to watch. The game uses a mix of anime-style cartoons and gorgeous manga-like panels to tell its story. RCG is absolutely dripping with style. In fact, I would almost say the art is worth the price of admission alone.
The game also boasts a bumping soundtrack. Artists like Chipzel, Christian Vee, and NateWantsToBattle combine to deliver a playlist that pushes the game’s style to a new level. You’ll get a mix of excellent retro-electronic beats and full-vocal pop songs that are listenable even outside the game.
Storywise, River City Girls is fine. Both protagonists are just the right amount of sassy, and the characters, in general, are charming. The tale isn’t overly serious, and I laughed out loud multiple times as I fought my way through each of the six stages. And, if you’re a Kunio-Kun fanatic, you’ll surely get much more out of the story. There are tons of callbacks to past games and characters that add to the experience if you’ve played some of the earlier games.
The game isn’t without problems. I’ve mentioned that it doesn’t feel well-tuned to a single-player experience. The fights are certainly doable, but, in my experience, grinding is basically required. RCG also features quite a bit of backtracking. Each area is also immediately repopulated with enemies the second you leave, so you can’t just move through the world uninhibited. You can run past most enemies, but the game will sometimes stop you from doing that by locking the screen, literally.
At times, a chain and padlock will surround the screen and you’ll be forced to fight through a few waves of enemies. This slows down your progress a bit and is usually more annoying than fun. It also means that combat can become repetitive as you play. You’ll quickly find which moves work for you, and since you have to fight so much, those abilities become old hat much sooner than you’d like. Had they cut out a bit of the backtracking, those same moves would feel fresh through the game’s end. As it stands, by the time you reach the last fight, you might be a bit bored with the combat.
There’s also a weird recruiting mechanic that didn’t feel like it added much. Some enemies will beg mercy at the end of a fight, and you can recruit them to your team. You can then toss them out in battle, and they’ll do a special move. It’s entirely possible that I’m just rubbish at timing the move, but it never felt impactful. I often forgot I had any recruits, and when I did remember, it was often in a moment of desperation.
With all of that said, I think a lot of your personal enjoyment with River City Girls comes down to how you feel about beat ’em ups. This is a good one of those, but if it’s not your genre, I’m not sure if it’s worth recommending. On the other hand, Kunio-Kun diehards will probably love this game. It’s an excellent matchup of beautiful aesthetics, great music, and satisfying combat. So go find the Misako to your Kyoko, hit your local dojo, and get ready to save your boyfriends.