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Review Plus: River City Girls.
2020-08-24 05:05:35

Welcome to our first edition of Review Plus!

You will find our review shortly after the introduction. In addition to our review of the game, you will find useful tidbits of information covering River City Girls. Plus, this review will address the beat ’em up genre and the direction it’s moving in.

River City Girls is a 2D beat ’em up developed by WayForward. Known for the Shantae series, WayForward adapted the River City Ransom (NES) title which is known as the Kunio-Kun series in Japan. Featuring animated cutscenes by Studio Trigger, River City Girls features classic 2D pixel artwork along with anime transitions for the opening, boss fights, and endings. In addition, you will find part of the story told through manga-like cutscenes.

Despite its good intentions, I believe River City Girls falls short of its potential. While it features incredibly strong brawler action, a few issues hamper an otherwise decent revival of the 2D beat ’em up genre. However, the classic style gameplay remains both the focal point and the game’s strongest suit.

Story

The game starts off with Misako and Kyoko receiving a mysterious text that their boyfriends have been kidnapped. Contrary to the stories of games, like Double Dragon, the premise of the story reverses the role.

Perhaps the most pressing part of the story comes from the game’s ending. It turns the entire plot on its head in a surprising way and emphasizes the girls’ true role. I give major props to WayForward for this one.

Misako and Kyoko play foil to each other throughout the game. These single-track-minded women just want an excuse to throwdown. Despite their idiocy, you can’t help but feel charmed by their tenacity.

Unfortunately, I did not find much of the story and dialogue to be amazing. Aside from a little bit of witty banter, I found it to be cringeworthy. While much of the boss dialogue feels like wasted banter, one particular character, Godai, seriously bothered me.

Your resident creeper-stalker feeds you information while trying to get into your good graces. Even without Godai, much of the dialogue in cutscenes felt like forced humor. I honestly wanted to skip most of it but didn’t want to leave out any possible useful information.

For better or for worse, River City Girls maintains a cast of wacky characters.

Visuals

One of the high points of River City Girls comes from the artwork. The character designs and backdrops feature well-drawn details. I’m especially particular about the shop designs. Several shops have their own art of the girls shopping while a different shopkeeper takes their order.

River City Girls features 2D sprite artwork somewhat reminiscent of the 16-bit era. However, I’ve seen this style before used in multiple indie games which it honestly feels more like than a mainstream title. While WayForward tends to use a more cartoonish art style for their flagship series, Shantae, this reminds me more of games like Katana Zero.

Katana Zero (2019)

What I strongly dislike, however, is how small the text is on the menu. The menu is displayed on the character’s smartphone. However, I had to come up to my 52″ HDTV just to check inputs or side-quests that I could not read from my usual sitting position.

Unfortunately, I also ran into multiple frame-drops throughout the game. They didn’t prevail literally the entire game but were noticeable when they did. Even after a year’s release, I’m surprised WayForward still has not patched them out.

Audio

You’ll feel a solid amount of satisfaction breaking your fists on enemies and crashing weapons over their heads. However, I found some sound effects lacking. I don’t get why an enemy slamming a hammer on concrete produces no sound. On the other hand, bashing enemies feels satisfying as you might expect and keeps you wanting more.

Despite middling feelings on the sound effects, most of my enjoyment came from the music. Much of it was catchy and, along with a number of sound effects, featured 8-bit cues you would hear in the NES River City Ransom. Several of the vocal sounds featured some catchy beats you would enjoy while fighting.

Gameplay

This game presents its beat ’em up gameplay in a manner that says the genre never even left. It feels so seamless to beat down enemies with combos, throws, stomps, and weapon attacks. Despite this, however, the game will not count your combos.

One of my favorite parts of gameplay was the ability to recruit enemies to join you. If they surrendered, you could grab them and enlist them as summons. Similarly to Marvel vs. Capcom, they would hop in, use their signature attack, pose, and hop out. You would not be able to use them for a set time.

My problem came from the inconsistency of combos, however. This isn’t Tekken, but you will maximize your damage by juggling your enemies. Unfortunately, your timing must change based on enemy types. This threw me off multiple times.

Gameplay Issues

Another problem I had came from how invincibility frames work. Congratulations to the developer for not giving the characters invincibility frames while using throw moves. It makes them useless when you’re getting pounded in the back of the head. From my experience with other games in the genre, this is a big no-no.

Also, I had a moderate issue with the equips. The Frilled Bra and Frilly Bottom might be the only useful accessories I used. Everything else gives around a 5% increase or a 5% chance to activate. These passives were so useless that you could easily get through the game without using them. I wouldn’t bother buying them and would save your money for the Dojo or healing items instead.

Unlike other beat ’em ups, this also features an RPG system where you equip gear, level up, and can use items to heal. For anyone who remembers Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, this is where these elements came from. The Scott Pilgrim game paid massive homage to River City Ransom and used many of the mechanics as well.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game (2010)

Let me also mention this game is full of load times transitioning between each screen. If it was another large area, I could understand that. But I feel they put no effort into good transitioning for a 2D game released in 2019. This will likely annoy you especially if you’re making trips back to shops to pick up items or new moves.

Co-op

This game is best experienced with a friend. However, not everyone is big into beat ’em ups. If you’re flying solo, you might have a harder time with it than others. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for others to play with, this game does not feature online co-op.

However, for a 2019 brawler, this feels woefully outdated. Multiple games of its genre, released in the last decade, feature online co-op. Even the recently released Streets of Rage 4 features online co-op. I do not understand why WayForward opted not to release a feature such a basic option in a multiplayer game released today.

Extras

This game encourages a level of exploration. Unlike the stage-by-stage games prevalent within the genre, the River City titles have you moving through destinations in multiple directions. You can also find statues of Sabu and destroy them. Completing the quest of destruction unlocks the true hidden final boss fight.

Additionally, you can unlock New Game Plus. Doing so not only lets you carry over your gear from the first playthrough but you can also unlock two characters. Riki and Kunio, the main characters of River City Ransom, become available.

However, this will otherwise not change much regarding the game itself. The only other incentive is a cat side-quest that unlocks infinite SP. Keep in mind, however, that Riki and Kunio are only a glorified palette swap. Nothing about the story changes as the sequences are still voiced by the girls.

The Future of the Genre

River City Girls was the first game in which I recall to pave the way forward for brawlers in the current generation. Previously, WayForward released Double Dragon Neon for PS3 and Xbox 360. Plus, Double Dragon IV came out to a lukewarm response. WayForward’s advertisement at least shined a light on a bright and colorful attempt to bring attention to the new game.

One year after its release, we now have Streets of Rage 4. Sega’s shining star beat ’em up series came back after a 25-year hiatus. Furthermore, even Raw Thrills released an arcade-exclusive TMNT title that pays homage to Konami’s titles of the past.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2018)

2D beat ’em ups feel largely obscured by their 3D evolution. Modern games include Platinum Games’ Astral Chain or Sega’s Yakuza series. It’s hard to find the interest generated in beat ’em ups in an era without the 90s interest of arcade games. However, the demand for the genre remains real and strong enough for developers to take notice. The genre is not dead and, with this momentum, might become a mainstay for the decade once more.

Also, the creator of Scott Pilgrim noted that Ubisoft, developers of the game, reached out to him.

Final Thoughts

Overall, River City Girls excels in combat despite several flaws hampering both gameplay and story alike. I found it hard to put down as I was pummeling enemies, bosses, and even cars. It even served a heavy enough challenge for me to retry bosses several times over.

However, its addition of annoying dialogue, incredibly short length for a game released in 2019, and a few bothersome issues to gameplay made me want to end the game once I was over halfway through.

While it was cool back in Double Dragon to have enemies that looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 80s. No, it is not funny today to have these same enemies that make “Ahnold” noises with Terminator references.

WayForward’s cheap humor stems from the Shantae series which is hit-or-miss. They could do without forcing comedy and that alone would boost the grade. If you want a better, cute beat ’em up based on anime aesthetics, you could always go with Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds.

Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds (2013)

However, if you’re after a beat ’em up and you don’t mind the cheesy dialogue and voice acting, then go right for it. Even then, it features undeniable charm from the character designs. It’s at least 8 hours of fun enemy-bashing and button-mashing.

To summarize, I recommend it for enthusiasts of the genre or those seeking to play some couch co-op action with a friend or a loved one. You’ll enjoy the music, the cutscenes, and the retro homages. It’s easy to pick up and play. However, I don’t think it qualifies as being a game for everyone.

In this era, there are scarcely any releases you will find in the genre besides re-releases of classics. If you passed up River City Girls, you wouldn’t miss much more than some solid aesthetics for an otherwise alright game in the genre. Depending on the systems you own, you could download classics like Double Dragon II, Streets of Rage 2, or even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time. If you want a modern release still available on current systems, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds would surely endear you.

However, if you like beat ’em up action, then these issues might not stop you from trying a decent brawler. I recommend it to enthusiasts of the genre but I wouldn’t expect it to be anything impressive outside of the aesthetics and your standard brawler fanfare. Despite this, it should still entertain you for a few hours. While it’s not a bad game, it could truly be better.

Score: 6.5/10

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