River City Girls is an old school beat ’em up about two high school girls who want nothing more than to find their kidnapped boyfriends. Upon receiving a text message about this heinous crime, the bubbly Kyoko and the hot-headed Misako break out of detention and take down anyone who gets in their way, including the yakuza.
River City Girls plays much like you would expect for a retro-inspired beat ’em up. Movement can be slow at first, you get get quicker as you continue to improve your stats. The gameplay is both simple and engaging, allowing you to pull off awesome moves with little complexity. This helps with both experienced and newcomers to the beat ’em up genre, allowing everyone to enjoy the game whilst not banging their heads against a wall. That’s not to say that the game doesn’t get challenging, it definitely does!
Much like all beat ’em ups, River City Girls is best played in co-op with a friend. Not only do you have the added advantage of two players whooping ass and taking names, but it’s arguably the way that these games were designed back in the arcade era.
As you continue to fight, you’ll level up, increasing your stats and the amount of items you can hold. This helps to keep the gameplay from becoming stale and repetitive. You can also buy new moves at the Dojo, and it’s surprising how much depth there is there.
Like all great beat ’em up games, you can use objects around you as weapons in order to deal more damage. While I was a little disappointed with the lack of objects available, there was nothing more satisfying than picking up your enemies and using them as a weapon to beat the living crap out of their friends. Another way to use your enemies against each other is by when they have stars flashing around their heads, allowing you to grab ahold of them, do some damage and throw them across the room. And lastly, some enemies will submit and beg for mercy; when this happens, you can either deny them of mercy and continue to fight them until they go down, or you can team up, allowing you to call on them in battle. Once again, all of these options in a beat ’em up keeps the game from growing stale, allowing for some tense moments that simply makes you feel awesome.
For the completionists, there are 25 Yakuza Boss Statues to find and smash. They can be quite difficult to spot, which works well for players who like to put in that extra effort and search every nook and cranny of the game. It’s a nice side piece that offers a neat little reward in the end, but it’s nothing groundbreaking.
One poor choice was using the same button for both your quick attacks and to interact with objects/leave a room (the Y button). Many times I found myself mistakenly leaving a room in the middle of a heated battle, erasing all the progress I had made there as the enemies simply respawn.
Despite the game running generally smooth most of the time, there were occasional frame rate hiccups during more taxing moments. It seemed to run very smoothly during regular combat, which is the important thing, but times such as jumping from a great height with the background quickly shifting seemed to not sit well for half a second.
Sprite-based beat ’em ups have the tendency to struggle with depth perception, and River City Girls is unfortunately no exception. It can often be tricky to judge; whether you’re throwing an object at an enemy and miss (despite swearing that you were perfectly in-line with them), or occasional platforming moments that just feel awkward – it certainly isn’t this game’s strong point.
If you’ve played WayForward’s other games on Nintendo Switch, you’ll know that they are fond of HD Rumble. In River City Girls, it’s implemented subtly in order to provide fluent tactile feedback when landing blows on your opponents. For a beat ’em up in 2019, it just wouldn’t feel the same without it.
River City Girls has six areas that you must venture through, each with its own map and challenges to guide your way through. Each area is well paced, with each one lasting for similar lengths of time that ultimately provides great pace for the plot.
The rooms differ well from each other, with their own unique layouts and design. You’ll rarely find two rooms that make you feel as though you’ve been there before, providing great variety and continuity.
Fast-travelling can be a little troublesome at times as you can only do it at the bus stop during certain sections of an area. However this works well with the game’s plot, so we can’t be too upset about this.
The plot of River City Girls challenges the Damsel in Distress trope and flips its on its head with the two female characters on a mission to rescue their kidnapped boyfriends. While there certainly are some characters who mock the idea of two female protagonists on a quest to save male characters, Kyoko and Misako back up their rightful place by their relatable personalities and relentless fighting styles.
Travelling from one room to the next could have gotten old real quick but luckily, the game is filled with so much charm and wacky humour that it’ll be nothing but a treat. Whether you’re smacking dudes around to the sounds of a sex ed video playing in the background about puberty or laughing at character designs of NPCs, River City Girls certainly has a great sense of humour.
The dialogue is well-written with a lot of charm and humour. Top that off with high-quality voice acting and spot on comedic timing and you’ll often find yourself with a smile spread right across your face.
Graphics / Art Direction
River City Girls is well aware of its 90s anime inspirations and doesn’t shy away from them. Whether it’s the anime cutscenes, manga comic sequences or the hiragana characters occasionally found in the backgrounds, the game definitely knows its target audience.
There is a great blend of old school retro arcade aesthetics with crisp and clean modern anime graphics. Having high quality cut scenes transition to 16 bit nostalgic pixelness brings to life how you always envisioned 90s arcade games in your head as you continued to insert coin after coin.
Music / Sound Design
The soundtrack is fantastic! It switches between a mix of instrumental and lyrical tracks that always sets the perfect tone. As mentioned before, the voice acting is very well done and while I’m definitely on Team Sub for anime-esque content, I can’t remember cringing even once (and that’s a big thing for me).
Final Score: 83%
WayForward’s Retro City Girls is an excellent 21st century love letter to the days of arcade beat ’em ups. With its hilarious, trope-challenging, plot, high quality graphical work and sound design, it feels like a product that spared no expense in order to make a solid experience. And while the gameplay certainly has its occasional missteps, you’ll get through it confident that you’re money has been well spent.
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- Belinda Cubitt