Thank you so much to WayForward for providing a review code
The beat em up genre is very used to a definitive formula. Not many changes usually take place within the genre. River CIty Girls changes up the formula by taking away some of the linearity and adding some RPG elements. Is this a golden opportunity that was taken, or a spark of creativity gone awry? Let’s find out.
River City Girls sees you playing as our dual protagonists Misako and Kyoko. The girls, boyfriends Kunio and Riki have been kidnapped and it’s up to the girls to save them. To find their loves they’ll have to traverse a city that doesn’t abide by the same laws that we do. This place is an all out battleground and everyone you come across will try to pick a fight with you. It’s up to you to beat the snot out of people and gather clues to find your boyfriends.
I wouldn’t say that the story’s a work of art, or anything, but it’s a decent story. Misako and Kyoko are both quite charming and are very funny as well. The story stays pretty lighthearted, but there’s tons of little comedic scenes thrown in there to add to the entertainment value. It’s not going to win anyone over, but this story gets a pass from me.
River City Girls is a 2D/2.5D beat em up with RPG elements. This action packed adventure takes place in different locations ranging from a high school, a shopping mall and even a Yakuza headquarters.
Each area sees you following a new clue to where Kunio and Riki may have been taken. Once you arrive in an area you can check your map to see where your next objective is. To access your map you can use your cell phone which acts as your status menu. Here you can check your map, look at your stats, check out your move list, access your inventory and much more.
Most of the quests you’ll have to undertake end up being fairly repetitive. There’s a lot of going to point A grabbing an item and returning to point B. Most times you’re going to have to take down enemies in order to complete your objective.
The combat is of course the main focus of River City Girls gameplay. Every screen will have enemies that are looking to pick a fight with you. Unlike many beat em ups the rate that enemies spawn at isn’t fixed. After defeating a wave of enemies, if you stay in an area long enough more will come into the area. The only time this differs are during specific scripted events. Usually after completing an objective, or when entering a new area your screen will lock down. When the screen locks the game turns into a traditional Beat em up where your area to move around in is much smaller as the area will not scroll. These combat sequences provided some added tension to the gameplay. WayForward did a great job blending the traditional style with the newer style of beat em up gameplay.
At the end of every area you will encounter a boss a battle. These boss battles usually involve a cutscene and sometimes even a mini comic strip. Boss battles have much more health than an average enemy and follow an attack pattern. They also have 3 different phases as their health gets lower. Each phase adds, new moves and makes the fight a bit more difficult.
How River City Girls really manages to differentiate itself from others in the genre is the implementation of RPG elements. Misako and Kyoko each have their own individual levels and they can level up from defeating enemies. Leveling up will increase your stats such as your strength and agility. There are also equippable and consumable items that can be bought. All over the city there are little shops where you can spend your hard earned cash on these items. Consumable items are used to recover health and equippable items give stat buffs and extra bonuses.
The most interesting inclusion in River City Girls is the vast moveset you have access to. By leveling up or purchasing them at the dojo you can unlock an array of flashy new moves. It’s amazing to see how much diversity WayForward was able to add to each characters movesets. You’re given the ability to mix and match moves to create your own combos. Also one of Kyoko’s moves is a “Dab” so that gives the game bonus points.
If you need an edge in battle you can also pick up items in your surrounding area. Anything from trash cans, benches, or even a Lightsaber can be found on the ground and used to pummel your opponents. Once again, there’s tons of different options you can find and I encourage trying out every one of them.
The last unique mechanic that River City Girls introduces is the ability to recruit delinquents. Sometimes after beating up an enemy, they will drop to the ground and a symbol will appear above their head. During this time you can move into the enemy to grab a hold of them and press the L bumper to recruit them. Recruiting a character lets you call them out and use them for a support attack. There’s a cooldown that comes with every support attack, however, before they can be used again. Your recruited partner will stick with you until you get a game over, or until they receive too many hits and lose their 3 health bars.
Of course a beat em up like this wouldn’t be complete without talking about the local co-op options. River City Girls gives you the option to pair up with a friend and join forces to take on enemies. Playing with a friend is very enjoyable and for many will be essential to their experience. However, I think it’s important to note that River City Girls manages to be fun no matter whether you’re on your own or with a friend. The unique additions to the gameplay along with the difficulty being just right makes for smooth gameplay with or without a friend.
After all that it must sound like River City Girl’s is the perfect beat em up experience and while it’s a solid one, it does come with some issues. One of the main issues I had with the game was actually one of my favorite parts about it. I loved having a wide array of moves to try out and create combos with, but I had no idea which moves were better than others. You have a stamina bar that depletes after using some moves, which I assumed meant those were the stronger ones. I never really, however, which one’s were stronger as it felt like enemies always felt like they were being defeated after the same amount of time.
On the topic of feeling the same, I also never really noticed a difference in my stats when I leveled up or when I equipped items. When you don’t even know how much damage your moves do, a 5% increase to an attack really means nothing. I want to reiterate, I’m very happy with the level of diversity here, thanks to the RPG elements, but they could have been better implemented. They feel more like cosmetic differences than fundamental additions to the gameplay.
River City Girls offers a significant amount of additional content. If you take the time to finish the game you’ll unlock the Kunio and Riki to use in the story mode, should you want to play again. Since characters level individually you may be compelled to do multiple runs of the story mode. You’re also given the option between normal and hard difficulty should you want more or less of a challenge. New game + is also available to further add to the challenge.
For those who like to explore, there are 25 stone busts to find hidden around each of the areas. Should you find them and bust them (pun intended) you’ll receive a reward. I won’t spoil what the reward is so you’ll have to see for yourself.
I really gotta hand it to WayForward as they have created one of the best looking pixel art designs I have ever seen. The character designs are full of life with a splendid mixture of bright colors. Each new area is distinguished from the others and has a significant amount of detail within its environments. The voice acting is very well done and makes the game feel even livelier than it already is. There are a few animated comic book style sequences that occur and these also look absolutely amazing. Speaking of amazing, the soundtrack is very well done and has a nice blend of different soundtracks (including from one of my favorite artist NateWantstoBattle)
I can happily report River City Girls runs smoothly on Nintendo Switch. I rarely every noticed any significant frame rate drops, during my time with the game.
River City Girls is one of the best experiences I’ve had with a beat em up and if it has more time to iron out a few kinks, I think it could be one of the best the genre has to offer. The gameplay excels at being entertaining no matter whether you’re playing alone, or with a friend. There’s a significant amount of different moves to test out, along with a simply stunning visual design. It’s a shame that the RPG mechanics couldn’t have been better implemented. Having a feeling of meaningful progression and knowing the difference in damage output between different moves would have been really nice. If you’re a fan of beat em up’s you’re most likely going to enjoy your time with River City Girls. These two girls definitely pack a punch.
Fantastic Beat Em Up Gameplay
Fun Whether You’re Playing Alone or With a Friend
Variety of Different Moves to Try Out
Tons of Environmental Items You Can Turn Into Weapons
Beautiful Pixel Art Visual Design
Solid Voice Acting
Unique & Distinct Soundtrack
No Indication of Each Moves Damage Output
Difficult to Tell if Stat Increases Have an Affect