Welcome to Save State, where we occasionally venture through River City. In the last couple weeks River City Girls 2 released in North America, so I took a moment to run through River City Girls again before tackling the brand new entry to the series. Beat ‘em ups are a genre that I can always jump into without a second thought, and with my history of loving a lot of Wayforward’s previous games from Contra 4 to Shantae, River City Girls was absolutely going to be the series on which I spend a chunk of my December. So, sit back, enjoy a cup of hot cocoa, and let me tell you all about why River City Girls is one of the finest beat ‘em ups around!
River City Girls is a spin-off of the Kunio-kun, which would likely be known from River City Ransom fame here in the West. In River City Girls, Misako and Kyoko get a text message that makes them assume their boyfriends were kidnapped, so they go on a rampage throughout the city, get up to some varying hijinks, and escalate things to the extent they destroy a yakuza syndicate as collateral damage. River City Girls 2 takes place immediately after the first game, going so far as to repeat the final manga-style motion graphics scenes from it. The girls then get kicked out of school, quite literally through a window, and then spend their time post school expulsion by playing video games. Until, of course, they discover that the yakuza took over their local mall so they can no longer buy video games.
If you can’t tell, the story of River City Girls 1 and 2 is there mostly to be funny. The real reason you buy these titles is for the beat ‘em up gameplay, and there’s a lot these two games get right. Movement through the world handles just like any other beat ‘em up, from Streets of Rage to TMNT: Turtles in Time. What separates the River City games from others is that you generally are able to move throughout the world as you wish, rather than simply playing levels and always being pushed forward. This opens up opportunities to complete side quests, talk to characters, or backtrack to buy items from stores.
The combat in River City Girls starts off pretty slow and simple – which can be problematic, but thankfully you outgrow these issues very quickly. By buying and eating consumable items, usually food, you can gain quick stat increases to your agility, strength, and health, but leveling up will also confer these benefits, too. Of course, eating all that fast food takes its toll on your wallet when you also will want to buy new moves from the dojo, so early on you’ll need to pick and choose what new combat options you get with the stat increases you gain from food. You can also store food items for later to recover health- which can be helpful if you’re just not understanding a boss’s battle mechanic.
To fight off hordes of yakuza, cheerleaders, and cheerleading yakuza, you’ll initially play as Misako or Kyoko with a combination of light and heavy attacks, some throws you can perform while targets are stunned, and a couple of aerial attacks. As you level up and acquire more moves, you’ll naturally shift from doing 5-6 hit combos to 20+ hit ones with relative ease, as you unlock special attacks, aerial grabs, and just additional options in general. Each character is different in what they bring to the table, as some have a better multi-hit ground game, some are better at popping enemies into the air, and others might make it substantially easier to bounce enemies off of walls that are entire rooms apart.
It’s very recommended that someone new to the series plays the first River City Girls game before trying 2– the first one is a ton of fun, and the second improves upon the combat a lot in a number of small ways by allowing you to juggle already defeated enemies, giving you an additional launching attack, and more attacks to utilize while in the air. After clearing the first River City Girls game, the boyfriends Kunio and Riki become available for play, and in the second one there’s two more characters in Provie and Marian (from Double Dragon!) that players can use to knock out wrestlers in luchador masks.
With your character of choice, you’ll venture across the titular River City bashing heads, buying food, and breaking the fourth wall. The map in the first River City Girls game is pretty sizable, with a decent number of side quests to do, but the second one really ups the ante in terms of map size and quantity of side activities to do. While making your way through the main story plot, you’ll come across lost cats to collect, secret rooms, the most photogenic selfie spots around town, and loads more. You can even hire various colorful characters to bring in as assists, too, with some of the more secret ones being extremely powerful.
While the general exploration and enemy encounters is fun, what both River City Girls titles have in spades are boss fights. In both games, you’ll have encounters where you will likely get punished for just wanting to mash buttons, as the boss fights are more about weathering the boss’s attacks and then landing your own at the right times. Some boss fights might make you dodge a giant sewing needle while fighting off summoned minions, but dodging in just such a way that the sewing needle hits the boss and knocks them down. Another boss fight will take an intermission from your pummeling and challenge you to play a game of “the floor is lava” while they chuck oil barrels at you. Many of these bosses have a great design philosophy behind them, and if a boss has a battle mechanic that you just don’t like or aren’t understanding, snacking on food items mid-combat is a legitimate strategy.
The soundtracks in River City Girls 1 and 2 are better than they have any right to be. Both titles have great themes for all the different areas of River City, with excellent vocal tracks sprinkled in as well. Across the two games you’ll encounter a number of catchy tracks by Megan McDuffie, Chipzel, Dale North, and others. On top of this, the voice cast selected for the games have a bunch of great roles behind them as well- if you’ve watched or played Re:Zero, Takagi-san, Sword Art Online: Alicization, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean, or Nier Automata, then you’ve likely heard the voice actors of the heroines of these games. The backup cast is equally stellar, with credits across mainstream and niche franchises, from Fire Emblem and Persona 5 to Relayer.
It’s impressive that this much effort was put into the presentation of River City Girls when a lot of its purpose is to elicit laughter from the player. The motion graphics faux manga panels for storytelling, excellent character portraits, and outright gorgeous pseudo-32bit visuals really make River City Girls a joy to play whether you’re unleashing a 30+ hit combo on a group of thugs or doing some brisk backtracking to unlock something new. The great visuals marry together with the catchy soundtrack to make an incredibly enjoyable beat ‘em up experience (including a cameo and track by Mega Ran in the second game, which was completely unexpected).
The writing has a lot of tongue-in-cheek moments in both games, and the deadpan responses of Misako combined with the bubbly dialogue of Kyoko make for some great moments. It’s worth noting, however, that in River City Girls 2 you unlock Provie and Marian an hour or two into the game, but all spoken dialogue by the protagonists were written as if the person speaking is a teenager. Which, it makes sense, considering all four of the characters unlocked at the start are teenagers. Marian, on the other hand, is an adult, which means it’s somewhat weird to hear her refer to herself as a teen. Still, at least the dialogue is all voiced in spite of a few idiosyncrasies.
River City Girls 1 features two player local cooperative play, while the second has four player local coop and two player online play. The coop play is entirely drop-in, drop-out, and works seamlessly, so you can be sure that you’ll have fun with your friends without much hassle. If you feel like solo play of River City Girls isn’t chaotic enough, add your friends and then turn on friendly fire. It’s always fun to annihilate your buddies by repeatedly grabbing enemies and performing giant swings and Hulk Hogan’s elbow drop.
The Switch versions of both River City Girls titles suffer from some pretty long load times. The first game still ran pretty great on the “little handheld that could,” with there only being the occasional hiccup. The second game, however, is locked to 30fps which makes it feel quite a bit more sluggish than the first River City Girls (especially if you boot up 2 after just having finished the first one, as I did). Well, technically, every version of the game except the PC one is 30fps right now, which is a very strange way for Wayforward to launch the game. The developers have stated that they’re looking into pushing a 60fps patch for other platforms, but as of this exact moment of writing, you’ll only get that experience on the Steam copy of River City Girls 2. Just bear that in mind should you look into these titles yourselves.
That said, I think I’ve gushed about a great beat ‘em up series enough for one article. Let us know if you have a favorite beat ‘em up in the comments, as I haven’t been this enthralled by one since Streets of Rage 4. With that, we’ll bring this entry of Save State to a close- remember to leave out milk and cookies for your garbage collectors after Christmas- preferably wrapped up in a noticeable place some distance from the trash. Santa’s the one who might bring you things you enjoy, but it never hurts to be kind to the people who haul away all that waste packaging. Happy holidays!