Beat ‘em up games have spanned for as long as video games have existed: Streets of Rage, Battletoads, and Double Dragon cabinets have sprinkled their way through arcades and onto home consoles like the NES. While they flooded the market, some companies tried to look at this genre differently, like Technos Japan- now run by Arc System Works. Their Kunio-kun series had the elements of a standard RPG in a Beat ‘em up shell. By buying food or relaxing in a sauna, your individual stats would increase, giving your character a chance to beat up more people with weapons.
River City Girls is developed by Arc System Works and WayForward Technologies. It is a pixel stylized Beat ‘em up in the same universe as classics like the Kunio-Kun series, especially River City Ransom, and Double Dragon. Its style is loud, its gameplay is simple- to a fault-, and it carries a good soundtrack to boot. This continuation and revitalization of Arc System Work’s oldest titled series makes a welcome comeback for new and old gamers alike.
The story is a unique spin on how normal Brawlers work; you play as Kyoko or Misako, two girls beating up the people of Crosstown in search and rescue of their boyfriends Riki and Kunio respectively. They broke out of detention for them, made questionable deals with back alley vendors, and learning the dangerous martial arts taught to them by the Double Dragon dudes- Jimmy and Billy. On their journey, they’ll fight rivals, classmates, fashionistas, zombies, anyone and everyone to save their boyfriends. They’ll do anything to get them back.
Gameplay is either single or co-op play as you take reign of either River City Girl and two button mash either light or heavy attack to defeat your enemies. You also get a special bar to perform special moves that you can buy from the Dojo, run by the Double Dragon boys Jimmy and Billy. Apart from walking, running and wall jumping allows you to get height for flying kicks. One notable part that the game has is, if you beat up enemies to a point that they beg for their life, you can choose to gain an ally and call them in a pinch or beat them up for more money.
Another major element is shopping. By earning money, you can go to certain shops and buy consumables or items to bolster your fighter. Similar with its starting title, the only way you can get your HP and increase your stats is to eat food or relax at the sauna on top of buying moves, but you can buy and equip items. It leans in more with its RPG elements by doing so.
Although, two glaring issues left me scratching my head: The lack of online co-op and technical issues. While it’s fitting with the theme of working with (or semi-fighting) someone with a second controller, we live in a world of online co-op now. People are looking to play online with their friends in different places; to have an online co-op would help. But, to keep the frame rates, it’s only fitting to keep it at local to maintain the feeling of playing a beat ‘em up with a friend. Next, River City Girls’s button layout. When you have one button be your interactive button, it can lead to you “interacting” with a button prompt to go onto the next screen when you were trying to go to the next screen. On top of that, button layouts will not have a separate button program for interacting, so you are stuck with a one button does all situation.
Visually, Wayforward and Arc System Works have made a beautiful looking game. Even with some technical errors, you can tell that the direction and music work well. Few assets are reused in shops and the music was made with collaboration with Youtube musician NateWantsToBattle, voice actress and singer Cristina Vee, and musician Chipzel.
When it boils itself down to its bare bones, River City Girls is a standard beat em up dripping in arcade goodness, prompting new gamers to do their research or scratch their heads at what the heck were they thinking of holding back this old property and bringing it back now. It’s fun and fresh, while keeping true to its old roots.
River City Girls was released on September 5th, 2019. It is rated E +10 and available on PC and Switch for $29.99