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.