Place Obvious “Flipping the Script” Title Here
If you’ve been visiting Hey Poor Player for a while, you’ve probably realized that we’re huge fans of the Kunio-kun games. What’s not to love about a hot-headed rule-breaker who just can’t seem to stop punching everyone in their face? Whether he’s protecting his friend from a gang of bullies, launching a rubber ball at the rival high school dodgeball team, or rescuing his girlfriend from dangerous thugs, Kunio always seems to take care of business, and always manages to look cool as hell while doing it. So when we heard that the next game in the series, titled River City Girls, didn’t feature Kunio as a player character, we were kinda worried. When we learned that Kunio was actually the one who was going to need rescuing, we were confused. Then when we heard that it was Kunio’s girlfriend that would be saving him, we shrugged and said aloud, “What the hell is going on around here?!”.
Kicking Ass and Taking Names
River City Girls features female characters Kyoko and Misako, who must rescue their boyfriends, Kunio and Riki, who have been kidnapped. Unfortunately for the girls, they have no idea who snatched up their heartthrobs, so they must stomp around their home town of Nekketsu to do some investigative work. And by investigative work, we mean beating up everyone and getting answers along the way.
The gameplay is similar to past River City Games, meaning players (single or co-op) control their character by walking them around the screen and punching and kicking anyone that gets in their way. Once the screen is clear of enemies, it’s time to move onto the next screen to uncover an uncharted part of the map, or move back to the previous location to beat up the same thugs. Grinding is a large part of the gameplay since the girls gain experience that will increase their strength, agility, and a host of other stats. As the girls level up, they will also automatically learn new fighting techniques or have access to purchasing new techniques at the local dojo.
You Fight Like a Girl
At the start of the game, the girls are incredibly weak. Don’t worry about dying because it’s going to happen often. The aforementioned gained experience will help with dealing out more damage and withstanding a barrage of punches yourself, but just plain experience won’t get Misako or Kyoko to their full potential. Visiting various shops will grant the girls access to accessories the girls wear to activate perks. These perks award them with a multitude of benefits, such as longer-lasting weapons, gaining a second of invulnerability when being knocked down, and dealing 5% more damage when fighting male characters. As if the perks weren’t enough, food shop items can be used to increase the girls’ health, but can also permanently add a point to a main stat, whether it be strength or luck. So it’s beneficial to try every type of food that Nekketsu shops have to offer.
Again, like previous River City Games, defeated enemies will drop cash and coins that can be picked up and used at various shops. So other than grinding for experience, you’ll also be spending a lot of time grinding for money. Unfortunately dying in River City Girls means that you’ll lose a large chunk of cash once your health bar is empty, but it’s not all bad since you will be able to continue right where you left off. Playing with a friend will make things a bit easier since players can revive each other without a penalty. As long as one player is always alive, you won’t lose your hard earned money. It’s honestly best to kill off your buddy and revive them if their health is low before venturing to the next screen. This sounds odd. But trust me, if you’re playing co-op, you’ll be taking advantage of this tip.
Tell Us a Story
Most of River City Girls‘ story is told by comic book panel cutscenes. This is usually a turnoff to this reviewer, as I think static images in a video game are a bit lazy, but River City Girls manages to impress with humorous voice acting and art panels that subtly animate with the story. The quick-witted dialogue is charming throughout the campaign and continually delivers laugh-out-loud moments at a solid pace.
When the story isn’t being delivered via comic book panels, the player(s) are treated to beautiful anime cutscenes. These cutscenes usually precede a boss fight and surprisingly feature classic Kunio-kun series characters that never really seemed to get a backstory; to us US gamers at least. I don’t want to give anything away, but don’t be surprised to come across some iconic characters from not just River City games, but other classic Technos titles as well. River City Girls may be flipping the script on the Kunio-kun series, but the nostalgia is still as strong as ever.
Speaking of nostalgia, River City Girls’ graphics are classic 16-bit style and feature colorful sprite work and buttery smooth animations. Nekketsu has never looked so gorgeous! Other than looking nice, Nekketsu also sounds awesome! Classic tunes, as well as new music, accompany each area of the map. Synth-pop fans will find much to love as some music even features lyrics, which may sound odd for a beat-em-up, but it in reality the music fits the gameplay quite well. River City Girls’ soundtrack deserves a spot in your phone’s music library.
In past titles, players may have had some trouble navigating their way around Nekketsu. In River City Girls the map is quite larger than previous games in the series, but thanks to the girls’ phones, it’s a lot easier to navigate. At any time Kyoko or Misako can whip out their cell phones (cracked screens and all because these girls are badasses) to access the map, where icons will alert them where they must travel to uncover the next part of the story. Also included on the map are bus terminals (to go to previously explored areas of Nekketsu), shops, secondary quests, and other points of interests. The phone also acts as the main menu of sorts where the girls can change accessories, eat food for health, and change game options.
You’ve Got Red On You
Ultimately, River City Girls is a fantastic title that does the series right, but it does have its blemishes. The most noticeable difference between this and other titles in the series is that you can’t beat an enemy with a weapon when they’re down. Sure, you can stomp them, but the damage dealt is minimal. This change to the formula makes fighting bad guys/gals seem to take forever during the early stages of the game. Kyoko and Misako can recruit fallen enemies to aid them in combat, but calling these allies in for help can be a waste since they only assist for a split second and often don’t connect on their attacks. Also, on occasion, there are just too many enemies on screen at a time. This is fine if you and a buddy are dishing out the damage, but this can be a problem when playing solo. Thankfully, this is something that can be alleviated by grinding for experience.
After playing through River City Girls, I can honestly say that it ranks up there alongside Super Dodgeball as one of the best games in the franchise. Everything about it is damn near perfect. I’d never thought I’d say this, but I’m kinda glad that Kunio and Riki aren’t in this one. Kyoko and Misako as just as cool, if not cooler. Sometimes even the strongest dudes need saving too, and these badass girls are just the two to do it.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Steam, Xbox One; Publisher: Arc System Works; Developer: WayForward; Release Date: September 5th, 2019; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PlayStation 4 review copy of River City Girls given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.