A Brawler is a lot of fun. Usually simple, relatively mindless fun. An adrenaline rush and source of blistered thumbs.
But once in a while, one comes out that shakes things up. The last great Brawler I covered was Fight’N’Rage, and it was about as perfect as the gameplay of an old school Brawler could get. The super deluxe package of freshly baked delights from yesteryear
And I’ve somehow lucked my way into another great one, a much happier and sillier one. The hardcore beauty that is River City Girls.
Ever play River City Ransom? This is the latest entry in that long-running series. Curiously, this is set in Japan but developed in the USA by Wayforward. And the presentation of this game is one of the best I’ve ever seen.
In the fine tradition of River City’s classic Beat’em’up/Brawler action, you must have your two High School Sweeties find their boyfriends the only way anything gets done in River City, by beating people into unconsciousness until the situation is resolved.
Misako and Kyoko have very well established personalities, and the game goes to great lengths to show them off at every opportunity. Each girl handles somewhat differently as well, with Misako being the more straightforward of the two, and Kyoko having a more fanciful movenlist better suited to creating Combos.
Combat is simple but very enjoyable. You power up pretty quickly in this game, so don’t fear the Hard difficulty option if you are already accustomed to action games. The writing is well done, with a handful of complaints I have heard about some moments seeming juvenile.
New moves will naturally be learned through leveling up, but the more exceptional ones such as the Nutcracker must be purchased from a Dojo. Pro-tip, save your money till you can learn the Nutcracker, it’s Misako’s very favorite ballet.
Handily, new moves are cataloged in your pause menu, which is stylized after the girls’ smartphones. A cute little detail! Anyway, the moves list isn’t quite clear at times. Particularly when a move is situationally dependent. For instance, the Powerbomb doesn’t say you must catch an enemy in midair, or that it’s far easier to set up with some way to launch an enemy first. It’s forgivable considering none are too crazy to perform, but it’s just a strange oversight when everything else was concocted with painstaking attention to detail.
There are accessories that can be equipped to better customize your character, but only two at a time and most aren’t especially useful. I found them usually underpowered.
Trouble progressing can be greatly mitigated by bringing a friend, level grinding, and bringing healing items with you into tough areas. Your time spent practicing through grinding enemies will be rewarded with your own increasing skill level, in Level Ups raising your stats, and the acquiring of money from your countless defeated foes. All of this will help you with just a bit of patience.
For better or worse, you’ll be fighting a lot. Get used to it as you’ll have to cover a lot of hostile ground in getting through this game. I noticed some anti grinding measures if you linger in one area too long just whacking folks left and right, you’ll stop getting XP and will get very little money from them. The constant combat can be negative depending on your perspective, definitely depending on your mood at times.
Much like the recent Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, using most restorative items for the first time will give a permanent Stat boost. And there are a lot of those available in this game. At most of the many stores available in fact. And they can be taken to go or used in the store.
Note that you will never know what a Consumable or Accessory does until you purchase or use it for the first time.
So what you carry with you and by extension how you manage your finances can play a big role in your progress through River City. Also, while you can’t stash weapons in your pockets, carrying one around will empower you to do very nasty and beautifully horrible things. I took far too much JOY in smashing enemies with a trash can.
The writing feels like a really well-written cartoon. The character designs are expressive, the tone is slapstick and delightful. The music is exceptional, and the voices of our two hyperviolent heroines could not be more fitting. All of this is a trademark of WayForward, and much of the tone in this reminds me of their last two entries in the always fabulous Shantae series. My point is that nobody can endow videogame characters with such snark and charm more than Wayforward. I’m in love with the slapstick humor of this game.
I was lucky enough to play River City Girls (Abbreviated to RCG in my notes) with my dear brother. We had a blast, and I absolutely knew he’d enjoy it when I saw how much character and life was given to the heroines Misako and Kyoko. Embarrassingly, this second pass through the game revealed that I had repeatedly confused Misako’s name to be Mitsuko. Even while digging through every detail of RCG, I mistook the name of the very character I had spent countless hours playing the role of in Solo Play. It says a lot about me that I can make a mistake like that despite generally being a very detail-oriented person.
My brother immediately asked me about what else Wayforward had made, and I abruptly got him to buy the fantastic Shantae: Half-Genie Hero after showing it to him. Again, nobody stuffs characters with a personality like Wayforward.
The art style of RCG made me smile constantly. I adore the very detailed sprite art of in-game characters and assets, but my favorite aspect has to be the Anime & /Cartoon inspired art accompanying every last shop and conversation.
This is a simple game and you’ll know pretty early if it’s your type of game or not. Regardless, look up the OST. There are a number of lovely songs with vocals that play in various areas. I’m partial to “Bully” and “The Hunt” myself. You can purchase the music on Bandcamp.com!
An aside, nearly all the Vocal songs are in-universe by the same fictional artist, based on the game’s composer, named Noize!
My Complaints and Suggestions
It is guaranteed you will accidentally leave a room when you meant to punch somebody since the Primary Attack button is also the default Interact button. Personally I’d think Interact should be mapped to the less commonly used A button or at least a prolonged press should be used to trigger interactions such as a Room transition.
I have also noted that sometimes a dropped weapon will be unretrievable despite the button prompt appearing, and there were several rare crashes upon engaging a particular Spider themed boss, but no significant losses thanks to the very robust Autosave system. I think these minor bugs will surely be fixed very soon.
The two most likely and damaging issues one could have with River City Girls might be the occasional sense of monotony from the constant barrage of enemies, and that the Accessories are generally underpowered and thus easily forgotten even when they might be useful. A less significant negative would be how Vending machines similarly feel underpowered due to their infrequency of occurrence, and I’ve not yet observed them ever refreshing once used. Rendering Accessories like the Ribbon Bra near totally worthless.
Notably, a Bus Route functions as a kind of fast travel system to help cut down travel time, so it’s not like Wayforward isn’t actively addressing concerns over monotony creeping in.
I’m actually surprised the player can’t call a cab using their Phone in the pause menu. And so long as I’m making suggestions, the ability to Level Up Accessories would go a long way toward making a person care what they have equipped in general.
And a Checklist of what Consumables have and haven’t been used by a player would help completionists and other neurotics like myself.
While not a complicated game or story, River City Girls stays very engaging throughout and I genuinely have enjoyed practically all of the writing. This could easily be adapted into an animated feature or cartoon, though an episodic game series modeled after a cartoon format would be magnificent too. My brother is intent on playing through this game with me now that I’m visiting my family, and I can say with certainty that RCG is great alone, but much more so when shared with a friend. (We actually finished the game together, it doesn’t disappoint!)
I put up a lot of disclaimers because tastes really do decide most of if a game is good or bad to a person, and all my reviews are simply my personal opinions.
With that being said, River City Girls has great gameplay, some fantastic music, and is a great time alone or with a friend. And besides, This game allowed me to use a Cheerleader as a club to beat the Hell out of the rest of her Squad. And isn’t that the kind of Magic we all play Video Games to experience?
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Robert Kelly Ball
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