Released on: September 5 2019
Available Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC
Price: $37.79 CAD ($29.99 US)
Published by: Arc System Works Developed by: Wayforward and Arc System Works
When it comes to beat-em-ups, I tend to be picky. What was once a genre I enjoyed as a kid; I tend to find repetitive in my adulthood. One particular beat-em-up I remember loving was Scott Pilgrim VS. The World on XBOX 360. I heard that its gameplay takes inspiration from the River City games. I got curious when I heard that there was going to be a revival of the River City series called River City Girls. I found the trailer to be phenomenal. The song was catchy, the animation was beautiful, and the in-game graphics looked delightfully retro. I recently decided to pick up River City Girls since I had been keeping my eye out for sale. So is this the beat-em-up of my dreams?
We open with two high-school girls, Misako and Kyoko, in detention. Suddenly, Kyoko gets a text saying that both Kunio and Riki (the two main characters of River City Ransom), Misako and Kyoko’s boyfriends, got kidnapped. Our protagonists bust out of detention by force and set out to rescue their boyfriends. I found the story cute, as it gives a nice twist to the typical “damsel in distress” dynamic. The characters that the player(s) meet along the way are fascinating, ranging from cool looking bosses, cameos from Youtubers, and even characters from other games! These cameos made me want to explore the world as much as possible.
River City Girls’ presentation is amiable. The cutscenes depict the characters in an appealing anime aesthetic. These cutscenes sometimes have manga-style cinematics to help flesh out the protagonists’ relationship with the boss. The in-game graphics opt for a delightful pixelated art style. Playing River City Girls does take me back to the days of old-school beat-em-ups, but has a distinctly modern twist that prevents it from feeling archaic. Misako and Kyoko’s moves are hilarious. My favorite is Kyoko, who takes a selfie when parrying.
One aspect of River City Girls that could never leave my mind was the music. I have had the intro theme stuck in my head ever since I saw the River City Girls’ trailer. To my pleasant surprise, there are more songs in the game that have the same feel as the intro. The background music uses a brilliant mix between synth and chiptune that is equally as catchy. River City Girls has one of those soundtracks that make an astonishing Spotify playlist.
River City Girls’ hook is its engaging gameplay. Misako and Kyoko start with a limited arsenal of moves, only being able to jump, dash, block, parry, and use a weak or strong attack. As they make their way through the army of adversaries that await them, Misako and Kyoko will level up and learn new moves. The player(s) can interconnect these new moves into their basic combo to optimize the amount of damage they deal to enemies. Foes also drop money when they are defeated, money that the player can use to buy power-ups, and new moves at the dojo. When the player(s) block, they can only negate attacks from the front. Back attacks will break a player’s guard and leave them vulnerable. If the player times their block correctly, they will perform a parry. Parries freeze an opponent in place for a second, leaving them wide open for the player(s) to perform a wicked combo. When the player(s) purchases food items for the first time, they will gain a permanent boost to their stats. With food, moves, and equipment all being things that the player(s) can purchase, money becomes a crucial part of beating River City Girls. If the player(s) run out of health, they will lose a chunk of their hard-earned cash. When playing cooperatively, one player can revive their fallen ally by giving them CPR. Giving CPR leaves the savior open for attacks, meaning strategy needs to be employed when attempting to save a friend. What I like most about River City Girl’s gameplay is trying to find the optimal combo for each situation. I was able to find a high damage combo by integrating a special move into my starting combo. Bosses also require unique strategies to best, as they often have a move that breaks the player(s)’ combo, or absorb the attack like it was nothing. River City Girls seems simple at first, but there is depth to be found in this beat-em-up.
What I found exceptional about River City Girls was the fact that all the stages form one cohesive world. When the path to other sections unlocks, the player walks into another stage right away. River City feels like a city, with bus stops acting as warp points, clearly defined city section lines, and all of the objects the player(s) can interact with help build River City Girls’ world. There is also a myriad of easter eggs for astute players to find. If the player(s) listen carefully to some of the voices, they might recognize some favorite Youtubers. The attention to detail employed is immaculate.
A word of warning to unsuspecting players: River City Girls is tougher than it looks. With the limited amount of moves available at the start and with how much damage the player takes with every hit, they might find themselves dying a lot at first. The difficulty does peter off the more the player(s) level up and gets more moves… until they get to the bosses. I also find the difficulty curve to be a little inconsistent when it comes to the bosses. The final boss I was able to beat on my first try, but the fourth stage boss, I needed at least ten attempts, even with health items in reserve.
My other nitpick with River City Girls is its post-game. There is a secret boss that the player can fight if they destroy all of the statue heads located across the world. While it did pique my interest at first, I found this to be a chore. Completionists might welcome the scavenger hunt, but as for me, I am perfectly content with what I played.
Despite being a little wacky with its difficulty curve and having little reason to go back to after beating the game, River City Girls is well worth at least one playthrough. Charming visuals, engaging gameplay, fascinating world, fantastic music, and a myriad of easter eggs, River City Girls is a must-play for those who enjoy beat-em-ups.