I love the Nekketsu/Kunio-Kun/Downtown/River City series. It is forever my jam. However, I have noted that my gender is largely under-represented in the series. That’s fine. Kunio-Kun is the main character after all. But all of his buddies are male and rarely do you get the chance to play as one of his female school chums. The only past example I can name off the top of my head is Shin Nekketsu Kouha: Kunio-tachi no Banka that let you play as Kyouko and Misako.
Apparently, someone at Wayforward was a fan of that game, because they’ve put together River City Girls, a game that solely stars Kyouko and Misako. I’ll have to admit that I was a bit skeptical at first because I’m old and hate change. I’m used to Kunio being in the lead role and they’re not using the chunky-fisted art style I love so much. But what the heck, it’s not like I can skip on it for long.
River City Girls opens with Kunio and his BFF Riki getting kidnapped or something. It’s about as predictable as you can get, even if it is an affront to suggest Kunio could get beaten up and captured. In any case, the story isn’t important. It’s actually somewhat terrible, being extraordinarily formulaic.
What really matters is the fighting. So the real question is: “how much like River City Ransom is this?” And the answer is, “Sort of!”
Here’s the thing: River City Ransom, hallowed be its name, was a pretty loose game. It was intensely easy to grind for a bit and max out your stats before you hit the halfway point. That’s because you just needed money and could upgrade everything by strategically buying food. It was as much about careful shopping as it was about beating people up in the streets. It was awesome.
River City Girls addresses this using one essential rule: food can only upgrade your stats once. So there’s no more gobbling down pound cake to upgrade your punch. Instead, sampling one of each item in a shop is the most efficient way to upgrade your stats.
It may sound like a minor change to the mechanic that simply exists to make sure you don’t just grind the same baddies until you can scarf enough to get past the next hurdle. However, the game doesn’t keep track of what each player has eaten in a two-player game. So, while eating everything is still the most efficient way of improving your stats, the game doesn’t do much to help you remember what you’ve eaten.
DON’T MESS WITH US
The other half of the gameplay coin is combat, and I unfortunately have to say this is the part where it appears weakest next to River City Ransom. Sure, River City Ransom’s combat is mostly about brute force and lacks nuance, but you could absolutely torture your enemies. In River City Girls, when you knock an enemy down, you might as well move to the next one, because the only thing you can do to that downed enemy is stomp on them while they take a decade to get back off the ground.
It slows the combat down significantly and makes everything feel a lot less brutal. One of the fantastic things about the Kunio-Kun games is how absolutely vicious they seem, and while that’s here to an extent, it feels more like the brutality has been replaced by colour.
I’M NOT SO TYPICAL
It may seem like underwhelming combat would be a killing blow to the game, but it makes up for it in a few ways.
As much as I’m a fan of the ubiquitous Nekketsu artstyle, it’s hard to deny that the new direction taken in River City Girls adds a lot of character into the mix. It’s gorgeously bright pixel art that completely abandons the chunky characters with beefy arms motif of previous games. Backgrounds are typically detailed and well done, even if some of them are a little cluttered.
The characters especially have more personality to their designs than is typical in the Kunio-Kun series. It might be the fact that they all look the same in the standard series that I can’t remember many of the secondary characters aside from Riki and Kunio, but now that I’ve played River City Girls, I can finally recognize characters such as Godai and can tell my Mami apart from my Hasabe.
An excellent soundtrack rounds out the aesthetic package. It’s rather unusual, consisting of a lot of ‘80s-sounding synth tracks that oddly resemble cyberpunk. Mixed in is a few tracks that actually contain lyrics done by an in-game character, creating a majestic aural soundscape. It doesn’t seem to lean too heavily on remixes of old tracks, but they’re definitely there.
THE AESTHETIC PACKAGE
Gameplay is broken into zones, which feels slightly inorganic. Each one has a boss who, after beating, gives you information about what boss to beat up next. You then travel to the new zone, go on a quest to find what is basically a key to the boss door, then you beat up that area’s boss. Rinse repeat.
It’s a pretty unexciting formula, but at least the bosses are entertaining and extremely diverse. Surprisingly, I can probably recall each of the battles off the top of my head, which demonstrates that they’re memorable. They have a lot more thought put into them than the ones in River City Ransom did.
A DAY AT THE SAUNA
Overall, I’m kind of lukewarm on River City Girls. There are parts of it I adore, but it all gets wrapped up in an underwhelming package. It’s less organic than River City Ransom ever was, but it’s also tighter and less lopsided. I’m just having trouble accepting the less than stellar combat.
Still, I enjoyed my time with Kyouko and Misako. As a fan of the series, I’m not disappointed to have it included. I just feel it had a chance to bring the series forward, and instead it just kind of does its own thing in the corner. It’s definitely worth checking out, it just isn’t going to replace River City Ransom as the game I make everyone play with me.
This review was conducted on a Nintendo Switch using a digital copy of the game purchased off the eShop. It was paid for by the author.