WayForward returns to PC yet again, this time with a beat ’em up from the Kunio-kun series. River City Girls is a spinoff that focuses on Misako and Kyoko and their journey to rescue their boyfriends, Kunio and Riki, who have been kidnapped. It’s a game full of WayForward’s signature cheesy writing, but has some surprisingly good combat to complement it.
Excellent graphics and music. One thing that WayForward seems to consistently do well in their games is art and music, and River City Girls is no exception. Not only does the game make excellent use of pixel graphics as a whole, but it does this on top of having great character designs, well-done cutscenes, and some really detailed world design. In fact, I was very surprised with that last one. It seemed like the game rarely ever reused art assets across levels, making each area unique in its own way. The various shops scattered throughout all have their own unique character design, for example. It’s little details like this that really set the game apart from the crowd.
And of course, there’s also the music on top of that. The game employs a wide variety of genres across its 50-track soundtrack, including a bunch of synthy electronic tracks (similar to what the Shantae games use), some chiptune tracks for boss fights (which were composed by Chipzel of Super Hexagon and Dicey Dungeons fame), and some really good vocal tracks to round it all out. In fact, my favorite track was one of these vocal tracks, named “The Hunt”. The music is great to listen to both in-game and out and really goes well with the art style, making for a pretty impressive game on the audiovisual front.
Satisfying and impactful combat. Given that River City Girls is a beat ’em up game, having good combat is an absolute must. Fortunately, this is something that it really excels at, providing combat that is not only satisfying to play around with, but actually has some weight behind it. It accomplishes this through a variety of visual, audio, and physical (controller) feedback, something that other beat ’em up games oftentimes fail to do so. It’s one of those games where, when you land a hit, you will not only see that represented on screen, but actually feel it. This makes the combat immensely satisfying, so much so that I would oftentimes yell out “BAM” when landing a big attack.
Decent variety of moves. To go along with the combat’s weight, River City Girls also provides a wide assortment of moves to use. These moves range from simple jabs, to backhands, to uppercuts, and even some cool dropkicks. They’re easy to pull off too, usually being input by a simple direction + button press. Given this, it’s actually quite easy to string together simple combos. The game already gives you some combos to work with through just a couple buttons, but there’s a lot of room to come up with your own.
The friend I played the game with, for example, managed to string together one of these auto combos (by cutting it off one move early) with a dab finish, launching enemies back with the power of a dab. It was quite fun to experiment with these moves and we managed to come up with some pretty dumb combos that were actually effective.
Great boss fights. On top of having the usual side-scrolling beat ’em up gameplay signature to the genre, River City Girls also has some really cool boss fights. There are quite a few of these scattered throughout the game, some being more traditional in their design, but some offering up entirely new gameplay mechanics. For example, one boss completely removes the depth element to the game, limiting movement to just left and right. Another boss mixes in guitar hero mechanics, forcing players to dodge oncoming notes in time with the music. Some are more difficult than others, but all of them were pretty fun to play through.
Cheesy, yet fun dialogue. And of course it wouldn’t be a WayForward game without their signature goofy storyline and writing. Throughout the game you’ll encounter a variety of stupid jokes, exaggerated character designs, and story elements that are honestly just ridiculous. However, this is all done in good fun and actually adds to the experience. I can’t count how many times my friend and I laughed at some dumb one-liner or story development that just comes out of nowhere. It also helps that the characters’ personalities perfectly match this kind of story, which is then furthered by their excellent voice acting. It’s a very quirky game and it definitely shows here.
Frequent combat downtime. Unfortunately, for all that the combat does well, it does suffer from one glaring flaw: that being the downtime. By that, I mean that oftentimes when fighting an enemy, a good chunk of time is spent just waiting for that enemy to get up again. The combat falls into this cycle of: combo enemy, stomp on their downed body a couple times, combo again, and repeat. There really isn’t much else to do while your enemy is downed outside of stomping on them, which doesn’t even do that much damage. This makes the otherwise fast-paced combat slow down a bit, especially considering that half the moves in the game knock down enemies. It could definitely have benefited from some additional options while enemies are downed.
Controls can be iffy. Although the movement and combat are pretty fluid overall, the controls can be a bit iffy at times. For example, punching, picking up objects on the ground, and accessing new areas are all bound to one button, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to make a mistake like accidentally picking up an enemy mid-fight when I instead meant to punch an enemy right on top of them.
Reviving players is also a problem. To do so, you have to physically kick the given player’s body until their spirit descends back into it, but again, it wasn’t uncommon for my friend or I to accidentally attack surrounding enemies instead. Part of this is due to the game’s hitboxes (which make it hard to tell if you’re on the same level depth-wise as an enemy or player), but a lot of these issues could simply be solved by making use of more buttons on the controller.
Lackluster accessory system. Throughout the game, you’ll come across a number of items that can be equipped to one of two accessory slots on your player. They can be acquired by defeating bosses or purchasing them via a number of shops spread throughout the game. These items have a wide range of effects, but mostly take the form of simple buffs. This sounds great in theory, but in actual gameplay, these items were pretty much useless.
That is because most of these so-called “buffs” were usually just 5% buffs to base stats, nowhere near enough to have a reasonable effect on gameplay. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing one go above 10% even towards the end of the game. It’s really hard to care for such a mechanic when the benefits are so negligible, especially when these accessories cost as much as new moves.
Props sometimes obscure the screen. This one is a rather minor complaint, but I found that, in some areas, it would sometimes be difficult to actually see what I was doing. This was because the screen would be partially obscured by some object in the foreground, whether that be a prop within the level or an actual part of the map. You can simply work around it by leading enemies away from the affected area, but there are some rooms and such where this isn’t an easy option.
For a beat ’em up, River City Girls is a solid game. The combat is impactful, the boss fights are great, the story and dialogue are fun, and the graphics and music are top-notch. It does suffer from some combat downtime, a lackluster accessory mechanic, and some iffy controls, but not enough to bring down the experience. It’s a solid beat ’em up all things considered and serves as a pretty good example for that genre, so I would recommend it to both fans of the genre and newcomers alike.
You can buy River City Girls on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.