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Eliwood8

River City Girls Review

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615881746_RiverCityGirlsboxart.thumb.jpg.a02ea8c3628ee5c5e214a85c112d0fa4.jpgIt would probably surprise most Western gamers to learn just how expansive and long-lived the Kunio-Kun series is—it certainly surprised me. Over thirty years of history and dozens upon dozens of games—though, granted, most being Japan-only releases—makes it a legacy series in the world of video games, despite limited acclaim outside of Japan. A new game developed by one of the biggest names in indie game development might help spread the word, though. River City Girls from developer WayForward takes the classic side-scrolling beat 'em up gameplay of the River City Ransom games and gives it a fresh facelift, perfect for a new generation of gamers, though the antiquated gameplay makes the experience a bit of a slog at times.
 
The original River City Ransom follows two high school guys on a quest to rescue one of their girlfriends, so naturally River City Girls flips the script with two female protagonists fighting to rescue their boyfriends. It's a simple, straightforward plot buoyed by the larger-than-life personalities of all of the characters and the absurdity of punching, kicking, and otherwise beating up endless waves of thugs and gang members all over town. The developers are well aware of the humor of the situation and slip plenty of tongue-in-cheek jokes, and even if not all of them land perfectly, there's still a lot of charm in the writing.
 
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The gameplay is straight up classic brawler action: you have quick or heavy attacks at your disposal, plus a small variety of other attacks—grappling dazed enemies, picking up items to bash with or throw, special attacks that drain your special meter, etc. You'll also earn experience points and level up throughout the game, adding more attacks to your repertoire and allowing you to buy new attacks from dojos scattered across the city. The game follows a pretty constant, basic formula: enter a new area, fight or dodge a few minor enemies, then eventually hit a locked screen where you have to defeat all enemies before progressing. Beat 'em ups tend to be highly repetitive, and that's not too different for River City Girls either. Your enjoyment of the game hinges entirely on how much satisfaction you glean from beating down the same handful of enemy types over and over again.
 
It feels clear that the developers sought to preserve the classic brawler formula as closely as possible, even if it comes off as a bit dry for a modern game. It seems like a missed opportunity not to add some more variety to the experience or even jazz up the combat with more interesting combo varieties. And it certainly doesn't help that there are only so many different types of enemies that you'll see over and over who seem to level up with you, so you never really get noticeably better at beating them up, you just have a few more combo options. Most significantly, River City Girls is beholden to the somewhat slow, slightly awkward controls of classic beat 'em ups, meaning you have to be on the same plane as an enemy to actually hit them, and adjusting up or down the screen can feel finnicky, or at least not fast and snappy. Obnoxiously it often feels like enemies don't have to be lined up as perfectly as you in order to hit you with a stunning combo. Ultimately this is a game for brawler fans, one that doesn't so much modernize the gameplay experience as preserve it, warts and all.
 
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If the game does click with you though there's a decent amount of content to enjoy. Finishing the game once can take as little as seven or eight hours, but there are also side quests to pursue, co-op mode, and additional features that are unlocked after beating the game once. The gameplay never fundamentally changes but completionists will enjoy maxing out all of these slight variations. You can also purchase and equip up to two pieces of gear which grant small buffs, such as regenerating health or increased attack power against certain enemy types. Again, these don't wildly change the experience but they add some welcome customization. The purchasing process can be rather annoying though because you can't see what effect items will have until after you buy them, which sometimes makes it feel like you've wasted your hard-earned money.
 
It should be no surprise for a WayForward game, but River City Girls looks great. The in-game graphics feature smooth pixel artwork and slick animation for all of the various attacks you'll be dishing out, while the fully animated cutscenes look beautiful. There are also stylish black-and-white manga-style cutscenes that feel right at home in the game's universe. The synth-pop soundtrack is also excellent and adds some valuable pep and energy to beating down opponents over and over. There's also some solid voice acting, though at times I did wish I could simply speed up the text to move things along a little more quickly.
 
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River City Girls faithfully recreates the RCR experience, but perhaps could have done more to improve upon it instead. Even with WayForward's stylish visual design and catchy soundtrack, the simple repetitive nature of the beat 'em up genre can be draining, especially when little aspects like the controls feel like they haven't changed in decades. Still, River City Girls offers a fun co-op adventure tailor-made for the fans that long for the days of NES or arcade brawlers.

 
Rating: 7 out of 10 Punches

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