Monday, September 30, 2019

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening Review

When I reviewed The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX earlier this year, I came away feeling like even though it was a great game, it was held back by the Game Boy hardware, and it could really use a remake. It felt like a downgrade from A Link to the Past. Its graphics weren't as good as LttP's, the quality of the music wasn't as good as in LttP, and you had to constantly go to the inventory screen to switch items because the GB didn't have 6 buttons, like the SNES controller. Link's Awakening for Switch fixes all those problems and lets the amazing game that was always there shine. It's still that same game, but everything about it has been upgraded or improved in some way. Out of all the recent Zelda remasters and remakes, this is definitely the one that has had the most work put into it.

The story is still the same as in the GB game. Some time after Link's adventures in A Link to the Past, he sets off on a sailboat in search of training. While out at sea, he gets caught in a bad thunderstorm, his sailboat is hit by lightning, and the next thing we see is him washed ashore a tropical island. A girl named Marin finds him and takes him to her home to recover, and when Link finally wakes up, he quickly finds out that this island is actually the dream of a being called the Wind Fish. Aside from a little bit of altered or new dialogue here and there, the story plays out exactly the same way as in the original. The new anime intro and remade in-game cutscenes take the presentation to a whole new level, though.

The biggest improvement in terms of gameplay is definitely the controls. You don’t have to go to the inventory screen every 15 seconds anymore. This remake uses the same button configuration as A Link Between Worlds on 3DS, minus the touchscreen and D-pad camera controls. Your sword is always mapped to B, A is used to talk to people and lift things up, shield blocking is mapped to R, L is used for dashing after you get the Pegasus Boots, and X and Y are reserved for all the other special items you get throughout the game. You always have access to your Pegasus Boots, Power Bracelet, shield, and Sword, and never have to mess around with equipping them. You also don’t have to pull back to lift things anymore, you just press A. ZL and ZR do the same thing as L and R, and the d-pad isn’t used for anything during regular gameplay, so there is still room for improvement, but it’s much better than in the original. I also felt like the Roc’s Feather should have been permanently mapped to a button, too, since you do so much jumping in this game. I must have had the Feather mapped to Y for 90% of the game.

While this remake does play like a top-down 2D Zelda, it doesn't feel exactly like the others. It feels familiar, but new at the same time. Link’s movements feel very different here. Even though you can only use the analog stick to move, Link doesn't have full analog or 360 degree movement, like in A Link Between Worlds. Link only has 2 movement speeds; walk and run, and he can only run in 8 directions. The physics and animations in this remake also make all his movements feel like they have a lot more weight behind them than in LBW, LttP, or the GB games. His jumps don't feel floaty, and enemies are pushed back a bit more realistically, for example.

The combat has gotten a bit of an overhaul, too. The shield actually matters in this game. Since you had to equip it to use it in the GB game, the shield was basically just another item to solve puzzles with. But it's a big part of combat now since you always have access to it. It can be used to block more attacks and you can also parry some enemy attacks with it. Shielded enemies like the Moblins, Darknuts, and Shrouded Stalfos have been reworked so that they require you to parry their attacks in order to get your sword attacks in. The old L-2 Shield, which has been renamed to the Mirror Shield, can also reflect more attacks, like Moblin spears and Wizzrobe magic. Link hasn’t really gotten any new sword attacks, but the animation for his jumping sword slash now looks like the Helm Splitter from some of the 3D games, which I thought was really cool. Overall, I feel like the combat is a lot more fun and interesting with the changes.

The overworld and dungeons have the same layout, but there have been some small changes and a few additions. Some areas have been slightly reworked so that they look better or make more sense with 3D graphics. They’re not big changes, just a few grass patches, holes, or rocks, added or removed here and there. This is not an exact, tile for tile remake of the original game, but it's pretty close. There’s also a few more warp points around the world, and you can choose which one you warp to from the map, instead of cycling through each one to get to the one you want, like in the GB game. A total of 24 seashells and 21 Heart Containers have also been added to the overworld and minigames bringing the new total of seashells up to 50, and the max heart count up to 20 from 14 in the original. This remake also adds 3 bottles, which you can use to keep fairies in. There are no potions or Lon Lon Milk available on Koholint island. The original didn’t have bottles at all. Fairies don’t work exactly like in every other Zelda game, though. They won’t automatically revive and heal you when you die, Crazy Tracy’s secret medicine is still the only item that does that. Another thing I noticed is that Great Fairies don’t disappear forever after they heal you just one time, like in the original.

The UI has also gotten a major upgrade to go along with all of those new collectables. The map screen has little icons for all the dungeons, villages, shops, and telephone huts, it has the names for all the areas on it, and you can put your own markers on it, too. You can also toggle markers that will show you the location of every heart container and seashell you’ve found, so you can easily compare your map to someone else's and see what you’re missing. There’s also a dedicated save and load screen now, so you don’t have to press A, B, Select, and Start at the same time to save anymore, which would be kinda hard to do on a Switch controller.

A few of those new seashells, hearts, and bottles come from the fishing and crane minigames, which have also gotten some pretty big changes. The fishing game is a bit more like in the 3d games now. You don’t have to mash the button to reel the fish in anymore, you just hold the button down. There’s also a new tug of war kind of mechanic to the reeling. If you’re reeling in a big fish and you pull on the line while the fish is trying to swim away, the line could break. Rare catches, like Bloopers and Cheep Cheeps from Super Mario Bros, and 3 lure types have also been added to the fishing game. The heavier the lure, the better it is for catching big fish. The crane game is no longer just a square conveyor belt with items on it. It now has some items on a moving section and some on a stationary section. It also has a lot of new items, including a bunch of figurines of the Mario enemies, which you can use to decorate the villager’s homes, like amiibos.

There’s also a completely new minigame, which replaces the old photo booth, and is probably too big to call a minigame, Dampe’s Shack. This is basically a Zelda Maker prototype. Comparing it to Super Mario Maker might be a bit unfair, but according to Aonuma, Miyamoto told him to do something like Mario Maker for Zelda and this is what they did. It’s a start, but even as a Zelda Maker tutorial, it’s not very good. It’s just too limited to be any fun. In Dampe’s Shack, you can pick from a bunch of rooms, which are taken from the dungeons already in Link’s Awakening, and arrange them together to make a dungeon. And that's about it. You can’t make puzzles, choose which rooms have the chests or what is in the chests, which stairs connect to which, which side of the room has the locked doors, what enemies appear, or what walls can be blown up with a bomb. The game decides all of that stuff for you. The selection of rooms you can use come with locked doors, chests, stairs, bosses, and all that stuff you’d see in a dungeon, but you can’t customize them in any way besides a few effects, like making it rain hearts, or putting Dark Link in them. You can’t even pick a theme for your dungeon. All the rooms in your dungeons look like they came from different dungeons, because they did! These dungeons are only sharable through amiibos, too, so most people are probably never going to play anyone’s dungeons but their own.

And like the other minigames, there are heart containers and seashells which are only obtainable through Dampe’s Shack, so if you want to max out your hearts and get all the items, you have to play Dampe’s Shack. But you don’t just get to make whatever you want and get stuff, you have to do Dampe’s missions for that. Dampe has a bunch of missions that teach you how to use the dungeon maker by giving you dungeon designing challenges. Some have you make a dungeon that uses certain types of rooms, some have you fill the whole board with rooms that connect, some make you use a bunch of stairs, that kind of thing. This gets boring quickly because there’s only so many rooms you can use with these limitations, and you already know all these rooms from the regular dungeons, so you’re just making easy, boring dungeons for yourself so you can unlock something.

As you can clearly see, the game has gotten a huge graphical makeover. This is a bigger jump in graphical quality than any previous Zelda remaster or remake. This is one of the best looking games on Switch period. The lighting and shaders combined with the toy-like art style just look incredible. Link looks like a little action figure. He looks almost identical to my Link's Awakening amiibo in real life, and Hyrule looks like the biggest and coolest playset you could ever buy. Yeah, everything looks like a toy made of plastic, ceramic, wood, or metal, but it looks very realistic. All the effects really make the world come alive, too. You might think that all the little butterflies flying around, smoke, water, sand, and fog effects would clash with the toy-like graphics, but they actually make everything look even more like toys come to life. It looks pretty amazing.

This isn’t just Link’s Awakening with Switch quality graphics, though. There’s a ton of little details added to every place in the game. There’s new palms all over that give the world more of a tropical island feel, ferns and vines on walls and cliff sides, lily pads on water, and edible apples on trees, like in LttP. Every villager’s house is full of tools, flowers, ornaments, furniture, food, and all sorts of stuff that reflects all of the villagers’ personalities. For example, you can tell which one is Tarin and Marin’s house just by looking at it because there’s a big basket full of mushrooms on the counter, pictures of them on top of a table, and a bowl full of eggs on the counter, which must come from the Cucco in their front yard.

The game does have some very noticeable framerate drops, but it’s not like the game slows down like a Game Boy game or something. It just looks bad for a few seconds after going outdoors and when moving from one area to another. The drops seem to be a side effect of how the game loads the overworld. The game isn’t split into 1 screen sections, like the GB game, and there are no screen transitions anymore. The dungeons all have a smooth framerate, at least. The framerate drops never go away or improve, and I never stopped noticing them, but they didn't ruin the game for me.

I love the sound design in this game. It’s not just that the game has a great soundtrack. It has great sound effects, too. You can hear birds chirping and bugs flying around in Mabe Village, Link’s sword makes different noises depending on what you hit with it, his keys jingle when he’s opening a locked door, heart containers sound like they're encased in steel when they hit the ground, there’s different footstep sounds for every surface, Kirby sounds like a basketball when you hit him, and Link has a bunch of new voice clips. He sounds like a kid in an anime. I think I even hear a bit of a Japanese accent in his voice. All the villagers get the cute little Zelda game voices, too. It's incredibly well done.

The actual soundtrack blows every other Zelda game's out of the water. It’s Link’s Awakening OST Unplugged. It’s not orchestrated, but it is played with real instruments. Remember those guys that played acoustic Zelda music at the milk bar in LBW? Imagine seeing those guys in concert with a band, and you get to sit on stage with them. I played the game with headphones on, and it sounded like a band was following me around Hyrule. All the different instruments sounded like they were being played around me and I was sitting in the middle. Best Zelda soundtrack ever.

This is an amazing remake. I don't think the game is better than Ocarina of Time 3D, but this is the best Zelda remake by far. It just had so much work put into it. It's better than the original in just about every way. It's a shame that the framerate isn't smooth on the overworld, and that you can't move with the D-pad, but I think I can safely say that this is the best version of Link's Awakening.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Astral Chain Review

When Astral Chain was first announced earlier this year, I was pretty hyped for it. And with good reason. Platinum is well known for their kick-ass action games and over the top character designs, and Astral Chain is the directorial debut of Takahisa Taura, designer of two of my favorite Platinum games, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Nier: Automata. It was also supervised by Hideki Kamiya, creator of Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. Those are big names that should make all action game fans stop and take notice. With that kind of pedigree, you might think this is some kind of Sci-Fi anime Bayonetta, but it’s actually more like a mix of different elements from Platinum games going back to when they were working under Capcom as Clover.

Astral Chain takes place in the year 2078. The world has been overtaken Chimeras and all remaining humans live on an island named Ark, which vaguely looks like a backwards Japan. Chimeras are monsters that constantly invade Earth from the Astral Plane through red wormholes called Gates. The Astral Plane is basically Yomi, the Twilight Realm, or the World of Darkness. It’s an ugly place with dreary skies, nothing but rocks everywhere, and mindless shadow people roaming around. You play as one of the 2 Howard twins, who are both police officers in a special task force called Neuron. Neuron has technology which allows them to control Chimeras with special robotic armor. They call these armored Chimeras, Legions. As the game progresses, you discover that maybe this monster enslaving business isn't all kitty cats and rainbows.

I thought the story was pretty bad. Don’t expect a Nier: Automata quality story here. Yoko Taro had nothing to do with this game because he works for SquareEnix. I thought the characters were really weak and forgettable, for the most part. The only one that stood out was Lappy, a woman in a cartoon dog costume who serves as comic relief. Your twin, Akira Howard, is definitely not an interesting character, he’s pretty immature and annoying, and the player character is barely a character at all. If they ever explained why these gates from the Astral Plane started opening up around Earth in the first place, I totally missed it, and they never explain exactly what the Astral Plane and Chimeras are, either. It’s like they came up with all this dark backstory for this world, but then didn’t want to tell it. It’s also very predictable.

I think Astral Chain does fall into the stylish action game genre, but it’s very different from games like Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising. The combat is closer to Nier: Automata with a little Okami than it is to Bayonetta. There is depth to the combat, but it is very button mashy. There are no complex combos or strict timing requirements for your moves, you just mash the ZR button until you see a little blue flash telling you to press ZL to make your Legion do a move. This is called a Sync Attack. You don't even have to stop mashing ZR to do these. It's not a QTE. There is a dodge move (B), and you can slow down time to do a Chain Counter if you dodge at the right time and press the ZL button, sort of like in Bayonetta, but the timing for this move is much more forgiving than Bayonetta’s Witch Time. The default controls are definitely weird, but they make sense for how the game plays. There are control configurations that move the attack buttons to the face buttons, but they just didn't work for me considering how you have to use the right stick to move the camera and your Legion.

There are 3 weapons your character can use; Blaster, Baton, and Gladius. You can quickly switch between them by pressing up and down on the d-pad, and you upgrade all of them at the same time, so you can switch between them whenever you want and not be using an underpowered weapon or something, like with the Legions. The Blaster is a laser gun that allows you to quickly attack from far away, but has the weakest attacks of the 3. The Baton is a melee weapon with a short range. It doesn’t do a lot of damage, but it lets you attack quickly and gives you a little more mobility since your attacks don’t have long animations. The Gladius is a big Buster Sword, like Cloud’s. It does a lot of damage, but it’s very slow and has long attack animations. I mostly stuck to the Blaster and Baton since they’re quick and easy to use.

The main element of Astral Chain’s combat is your Legions, though. Your character is pretty weak without its Legions. If you’ve ever played the Hunter class in World of Warcraft, you probably have a good idea of how this all works. After summoning a Legion with ZL, it follows you around on a leash. You can sic it on an enemy by pressing ZL if you want, but it will also just attack on its own if you start attacking an enemy. You don't have to press anything to make it attack, it just auto attacks as long as it's close enough to an enemy and you're in combat. If you hold down ZL, you can move your Legion around with the right stick and wrap your leash, the Astral Chain™, around an enemy and bind them for a few seconds, leaving them unable to move or attack. You can also do this with your floating Legions to get them across gaps and then have them pull you over, sort of like a grappling hook in Zelda. Your character can’t jump, so this is the only real way to do any platforming in the game. Each Legion also has a special move it can do with the L button that can be used for fighting, but is really more for utility.

I already went over what Sync Attacks are, but I have to mention them again because they are the most powerful moves in the game and what most of the combat revolves around. You can do Sync Attacks to finish combos, after dodging to do a counter attack, and to finish off enemies. They all have really cool animations and each Legion has different ones, so you’ll probably find one that compliments your weapon and use that most of the time, even though you can quickly switch between Legions by pressing the Y button if you want to mix things up during combat.

Maybe switching between Legions during combat is not such a great idea, though. At least not on your first playthrough. Each Legion has its own talent tree, abilities, and skills, so switching to a new Legion could mean you’re switching to a Legion with a lot less attack power, defense, skills, and abilities. Filling out the Legions’ talent trees uses limited resources called Premium Material Codes, which are also used to upgrade your character’s weapons, and are not shared between Legions, so it’s not like you can bring a Legion up to speed right after you get it. And when I say limited, I mean there’s only so many in the game and they are gone forever after 1 use. You can’t farm them. I didn’t even get enough Material Codes to fill more than 1 Legion’s talent tree during my first run. Legion abilities (extra bonuses, like healing over time) come from equippable items, which are also not shared between Legions, so you can’t deck out all your Legions with all the best abilities at the same time, either. Near the end of the game, I filled out the dog’s talent tree and gave it all the best items and exclusively used it for all of the fights. I used the remaining Material Codes to upgrade my character’s weapons. I wish I had noticed that Premium Material Codes were limited earlier because I spent a bunch of them on buying talents for Legions I didn’t end up using in battles.

There are 5 Legions in the game; Sword, Arrow, Arm, Beast, and Axe. Sword has quick sword attacks, it can float over gaps and pull you across them, and it can do the Raiden slash move from Metal Gear Rising with the L button. You can use this move to cut ropes, break open locks on doors, and hit multiple targets at once. Arrow can shoot arrows and volleys of arrows over enemies. It can also fly, so it can easily attack flying enemies and fly over gaps, and it lets you aim and shoot arrows with its special L move. You can hit enemies with this move or use it to hit switches in the environment to solve puzzles. Arm is a big stone elemental with huge arms and no legs. It can float over any hazards on the floor, like poison, and you can get inside it, like a mech suit, and use it to move your character over stuff on the floor. It can also move large blocks and lift things and throw them. Beast is a big robotic dog looking wolf. It basically fights like Amaterasu from Okami. That’s why I used it the most. It even plays Okami sound effects when he does some moves. Beast can dig items out of the ground, track scents, and you can ride on it with it’s L special. It’s not a smooth ride, but it’s faster than running. Axe is a big Fire Emblem Dark Knight looking Legion with a huge slow axe. Its main ability is creating shields. It can make a shield for your character, and it can make a huge bubble shield around you which you can use to walk through poison gas and fire with its L special. It can also use its axe to break barriers.

Astral Chain isn’t only about combat, though. There’s also a big crime scene investigation element to the game. You are a cop after all. The game is split up into missions, or Files as the game calls them, and you usually start missions with a big investigation. In them, you usually walk around a city and ask people about a person or crime, do quests that reveal more about the case, and use your detective vision, IRIS, to see and inspect points of interest. You can also use your Legion to hack into security cameras, among other things. It’s not Phoenix Wright, but I liked the investigation parts of the game. They’re kind of slow at times, but there’s combat mixed in, and the quests have you doing things you don’t get to do while running around fighting Chimeras, like chasing down criminals, eavesdropping on people, and even playing a few minigames. Once you’re done with the investigation part, it’s usually time to go through a gate into the Astral Plane.

The Astral Plane is where you usually chase Chimeras down to. You do a lot of fighting in these sections, but many also have a bunch of Zelda style puzzles and obstacles. They’re almost like BotW shrines at times. A poor man's BotW shrine. In the Astral Plane, you use your Legions to step on switches, move blocks around, chain jump from platform to platform, shoot switches, and break walls. The problem is that the puzzles aren’t very fun or creative. I've seen all of this done before and done better in Zelda, and moving your Legion around to move blocks and use moves like the chain jump is slow and also not very fun. It doesn’t help that the Astral Plane is the ugliest and lamest looking place in the game, either. I really started dreading going into the Astral plane because I knew there were probably terrible puzzles and platforming waiting for me on the other side. Thankfully, a lot of the later missions in the game have very limited Astral Plane sections and focus more on investigations and fighting Chimeras outside the Astral Plane, which is what the game does best.

I can’t end this review without talking about the game’s camera. This is the worst camera I’ve seen in a 3D game since the GameCube days. I don’t know how Platinum messed it up so bad when it’s fine in their other games. The biggest issue is that it just can’t handle the hectic combat. It allows the player to go outside the frame, it presses up against walls and loses the player, it doesn’t follow enemies you're locked onto, and it’s generally a pain to deal with and babysit. There are options you can toggle to follow enemies you’re locked onto, try to keep the player in frame, or not move around so much, but they seem to work against each other or not work very well at all. The follow target option moves the camera around wildly following enemies and loses the character anyway, for example. It’s a mess. It actually made me a bit nauseous at one point, and I don’t get motion sickness. You get used to it, but it sucks.

Technically, this game looks like a really good looking last gen game. It reminds me a lot of Nier: Automata’s graphics. There’s a lot of boring cement and rusted metal textures repeated everywhere, it kind of looks the same in a lot of missions, and it always looks the same in the Astral Plane. The characters have a cool celshaded look to them, there are some nice shiny wet ground effects, and the battle effects and animations are really good, but the game is really being carried by its art style. The Chimera and Legion designs look amazing, and your player character looks cool, even though it’s a player created character that can be customized with all sorts of hairstyles, skin colors, and costumes. I tried to make mine look like Android 18 from Dragon Ball at first, and then switched to something more like Major Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell later on, and I thought they both looked pretty cool. The anime and super sentai inspired UI and presentation really brings everything together nicely, too. The framerate is 30, and it does dip in cities with a lot of NPCs, but I was never bothered by it during combat.

The soundtrack is one of the best things about the game. It’s a mix of chill electronic music, dramatic orchestral music, and heavy metal. The investigations have the calm music, battles have more metal, and cutscenes use more orchestral music. As the game progresses, it starts remixing the calm electronic music in the metal style and mixing the metal and orchestral for bosses, and it’s all really well done. I didn’t think the voice acting was as good, though. Most characters were okay, but not great. The lip syncing for the English dub is also way off. You can use the Japanese voice acting, but I tried it, and reading subtitles doesn’t really work in a game that has a ton of dialogue during fights.

One thing that really bugged me about the VO was the player character's lack of it. Your character never speaks while you're playing them, but your twin, Akira, always does regardless of their sex. I know they're not technically the same character, but they do use the same voice actors! I'm usually not bothered by silent protagonists, like Link and the Dragon Quest Hero, but it really bothers me in Astral Chain because of how poorly it's handled. Characters like Link and DQ Hero are usually not put in situations where they should speak, or they have party members that can do all the talking for them, but Astral Chain doesn't do either of those things. Your character is constantly thrown in conversations and put in situations where they should respond, but all they ever say is "Hmm", "Ugh", or scream. It borders on comedy by the end of the game, and I don't think that's what they were going for.

Astral Chain is no Nier: Automata or Bayonetta. It’s good, but not great. It has fantastic combat, fun investigations, a great soundtrack, badass character designs, an interesting world, and Lappy is funny, but everything else is bad to passable at best. The combat camera sucks, the graphics are not very impressive, the upgrading system is confusing and unnecessarily complex, and the Astral Plane is ugly and its puzzles come off like cheap Zelda dungeon knockoffs. Still, I think Astral Chain has a lot of potential as a series, so I hope Platinum gets to make a sequel with a bigger budget someday.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

River City Girls Review

If you’re a fan of the NES, you might be familiar with games like River City Ransom, Renegade, Crash ‘N the Boy Street Challenge, and Super Dodgeball. But did you know that all those games are part of the same series? How about the fact that Double Dragon is a spin-off of that series? In Japan, this series is known as the Kunio-kun series, and it has a bunch of games on everything from the NES and Game Boy to the PC-Engine and NeoGeo. Most of which were never released outside Japan. One of those games is Shin Nekketsu Koha: Kunio-tachi no Banka (The New Nekketsu Tough Guy: The Elegy of Kunio and Co.) for the Super Famicom. River City Girls is a sequel to that game. River City Girls wasn’t made by Technos; though, or Arc System Works, who owns the IP now. River City Girls was made by WayForward. You might know them from games like Shantae, Contra 4, The Mummy Demastered, and Double Dragon Neon. River City Girls is now available for XBO, PS4, NS, and Steam PC for $29.99.

The story of River City Girls is pretty simple; instead of the guys saving the girls, Misako and Kyoko must save Kunio and Riki. One day, Kyoko and Misako are sitting in detention (because they're no saints) and Kyoko gets a text from a blocked caller telling her that Kunio and Riki have been kidnapped. They even attached photo in the text. So they break out of detention, beat up everyone on their way out of the school, and hit the town looking for their boyfriends. Nobody seems to know anything about a kidnapping, but they'll let you know what they think anyway, so you always have somewhere to go and something to do.

There's a lot of story in River City Girls. This is a beat 'em up, but it's not exactly Final Fight or Streets of Rage. It's more like a beat 'em up RPG. It's a lot like River City Ransom. You're constantly running into people who will tell you what you need to do, have a quest for you, or maybe just want to fight. You open up new areas as you progress through the game, and there are chapters to the story, but the game is not split up into levels. The game takes place in a big city, and you're free to go wherever you want, as long as you've unlocked the way there. There's even a bus system you can use to quickly travel between neighborhoods. The basic gameplay loop has you run all over town doing quests, sometimes getting locked in an area until you beat everyone in it, to unlock the path to the boss. Then you unlock the path to the next town after beating the boss. You can roam the streets and beat everyone up for money or run from objective to objective only fighting when you have to. It's up to you.

There's also a bunch of stores in each part of town. These stores sell food, accessories, and moves. Food replenishes health and gives you a stat boost the first time you consume it, so you want to buy and eat everything at least once. You can carry a few things with you, too, so you don't have to go to a store to heal back up every time. Accessories give you little bonuses, like extra damage to certain types of enemies, faster ways to refill your health or special meter, or the chance for enemies to drop more money. You can also get accessories from beating bosses and completing quests. Dojos sell new fighting moves. There's XP and leveling in the game, and you gain some moves the first few times you level up, but you have to buy most moves from the dojos. Besides the XP and leveling, this is basically how River City Ransom worked, too.

The actual beat 'em up gameplay of River City Girls feels like something in between River City Ransom and more complex beat 'em ups, like Double Dragon Advance and Battle Circuit. There's also a lot of Kunio-tachi no Banka to it, like the similar control scheme and stomping on downed enemies, but I haven't played a lot of that game, and I know most haven't played it, either. RCG has running, wall jumping, vertical dodging, like in Streets of Rage 3, juggles, wall bounces, blocking, parrying, weapons, Marvel VS Capcom-like assists, and throws. Pretty much everything a beat 'em up can have besides Street Fighter-like inputs. You can also do different moves from many of these different states and with different combinations of buttons and directional inputs. It's pretty complex. Sometimes it feels like the timing is too strict for some moves, like parries and air throws, but that's just part of what sets this game apart from the average beat 'em up. It's a strange mix of animation priority and complexity that I'm sure will turn some off and make others fall in love with the game.

I really got into the combat. It was pretty rough going in the beginning, but once I started leveling up and getting more moves, it really started clicking. It's kind of like a Devil May Cry game in that way. I see how the game's difficulty might make some people check out early, though. The game is pretty demanding, and there is no Easy setting. If you don't quickly learn how to block and position yourself to avoid damage, you will die a lot. The bosses are all hard skill checks, too. The very first boss requires you to learn her attack patterns and avoid her attacks with dodging, running, and wall jumping. You can't stock up on food to fight her, either. You just have to learn how to do the fight.

The most annoying thing about the game is that the controls feel like they're trying to do too much with 1 button. Your light attack button is also the same button you use to pick things up and to interact with things in the environment. You might be trying to punch someone in the face and all of a sudden pick up a weapon or an enemy you knocked down, exit the area, interact with a bus stop, or start talking to an NPC. The weird thing is that the game uses ZL and ZR for the same thing as L and R, assists and block, so it's not like they ran out of buttons or something. It's pretty annoying, but it doesn't ruin the game. You just have to keep this in mind at all times.

I didn’t get to play this in multiplayer, but it does have local 2 player co-op. No online, though. A second player can join in at any time during play. You can also switch friendly fire on or off in the settings. The main benefit of co-op, besides more butt kicking power, is the ability to revive a KOed player by stomping their ghost back into their body, just like you stomp on knocked down enemies. If you don't get a Game Over, you won't lose any money. If you can’t stomp their ghost back in before it reaches the top of the screen, you’ll have to wait until you go into another area to join back in. The weird thing about having someone join in the middle of a game is that since this game has RPG elements, like gear and XP, anyone who joins will be at a lower level and have less gear and money, unless you’ve leveled that character before. Only reward money and half of the XP you gain on one character is passed on to the characters you’re not playing as. All accessories and moves you've bought are character specific, too, so you should probably take a trip to the dojo as soon as you join a game with a fresh character.

The graphics in RCG are pretty awesome. The character sprites look super cute and stylish, and the backgrounds are varied and incredibly detailed. Every neighborhood has its own unique theme, yet they all have a bunch of areas that look completely different. Both Misako and Kyoko have totally unique animations, even though they have some similar moves, and the animations for their moves reference everything from past Kunio and Double Dragon games to Street Fighter and Pro Wrestling moves. This is one of the best looking and best animated pixel art games I've ever seen. The framerate was really smooth throughout the whole game, too. I played the PC version for this review, and didn’t have any performance issues.

The whole presentation of the game is oozing with style. It's almost Splatoon and Jet Set Radio levels of stylish. The game has an awesome 2D animated intro, FLCL-like motion manga cutscenes throughout the game, and anime style intros for all the bosses. The game's UI is a cellphone, and each character's phone looks unique and fits their personality. Many store clerks are characters from past Technos games, like Marian, Jimmy, and Billy from Double Dragon, and Bullova from Combatribes. Everything in the game just fits together perfectly and looks amazing.

I love the soundtrack in this game, too. It’s a mix of River City Ransom remixes, trip hop, punk rock, techno, 80s synth, and poppy dance music with vocals by Mega McDuffee. The intro song is sung by the voice of Shantae, Christina Vee. The songs with vocals really remind me of the soundtrack from The World Ends With You, another very stylish game. The voice acting for Misako, Kyoko, and other characters, like Godai and Abobo, is really well done, and the dialogue is hilarious throughout the whole game. A game that’s actually funny when it’s trying to be funny is pretty rare, but this game slays me with the great dialogue and delivery. Props to whoever did the bad Schwarzenegger impersonation for the DDII Terminator knockoffs, too.

Even with the little annoying things about the controls, this is a great game. If you’re a fan of River City Ransom, get this game! If you’re not familiar with the series but like beat 'em ups, get this too! Just don’t go into this thinking it’s a little 2 hour arcade romp. It has a lot of depth and it's much longer than a Ninja Turtles arcade game. I spent 9 or 10 hours on my first run, and then I played it all the way through again on New Game+ with 2 other characters. There’s a lot of game here.