Sunday, March 20, 2022

River City Girls Zero Review

Developer: WayForward, Limited Run Games, Almanic (Original)
Publisher: Limited Run Games, Technos (Original)
Platform: Switch
Price: $15

River City Girls Zero is a port of the 1994 Super Famicom game that inspired River City Girls, Shin Nekketsu Koha: Kunio-tachi no Banka. This was the last Kunio beat 'em up released by Technos and it was never released outside Japan. Until now! Even though there were a bunch of Kunio games in between Renegade and this game, its title and gameplay give me the impression that it’s supposed to be Renegade 2. River City Girls Zero gives Shin Nekketsu Koha the special retro collection style treatment with a new animated intro, Manga cutscenes, music from Megan McDuffee and Demondice, saves, and a gallery with pictures of the original Super Famicom box and manual.
Of course, the main attraction is the translation. RCGZ is playable in multiple languages, including Japanese, Spanish, Italian, German, French, and English. It also has a sort of modern River City Girls style English Translation, which is what I mostly played with. There were a few lines that made Misako and Kyoko sound like they do in RCG, but it mostly just seems like a PG version of the "Literal" translation, which has cussing and makes Kunio and Rikki look like completely unlikable teenagers. The modern translation is not funny and clever, like River City Girls, at all. Save files are translation version specific, so you can’t switch on the fly, but there is a password system, so you can start a new game with a different translation and use a password to get back to where you were in another save file. The original game did not have save files, by the way. The save files are more like save states in the emulator.
The new Manga cutscenes are black and white Manga pages with a little animation and voice acting, just like the ones in RCG. They show Kyoko and Misako getting a hold of the SFC game and playing it on a vaguely Super Famicom looking device. They don't know anything about what happens in the game, so I guess that means RCG exists in its own separate universe. There are only 2 cutscenes, one for the intro and one for the ending, so it's not like you're going back and forth between the game and Manga. I wish they did cut back to them every now and then, though. I would love to get their take on what's going on in the game more often. The actual game is nowhere near as funny and entertaining as they are. It's actually kind of serious and dramatic. It's a completely different tone from RCG.
The story of RCGZ follows Kunio and Rikki as they try to clear their name after being framed for killing someone in a hit and run motorcycle accident by the Samwa gang. They go to jail, break out, and go right to their schools to find Misako and Kyoko. It's totally unrealistic 80s action movie stuff, but it's not done in a tongue in cheek kind of way. It comes off more like an edgy teen novel, especially with the "Literal" translation.
The actual game in River City Girls Zero is a very different kind of BEU from River City Girls, River City Ransom, and Double Dragon. This isn't an arcade style BEU or a BEU/RPG hybrid. This is a strictly linear and very story-driven BEU with lots of talking before, after, and during almost every level. It splits levels up into tiny 2 or 3 screen arenas, like Renegade and Combatribes, you get unlimited continues, and Kunio and Rikki only get new moves once you're done with the intro levels. Instead of an arcade-like lives system, you have to switch between your 4 characters before they die. Each one has their own life bar, but if you let anyone die, you get a game over and have to restart from the last checkpoint. That’s not too bad; though, because it's usually no more than a couple of rooms back. It's different, but I think this structure works if you're trying to make a story-driven Renegade sequel for a console. It's just that the story isn't good enough to warrant the main event treatment.
Each of the 4 playable characters has different moves, but generally speaking, the combat in RCGZ feels like the evolution of Renegade and Double Dragon. The hurricane kicks, throws, elbows, back kicks, and ground stomps are all here. Nearly every move and combo in this game can be traced back to either Renegade, Double Dragon I and II, or Street Fighter II. This was 1994, so Street Fighter II was super popular. A few of Misako and Kyoko’s moves were clearly inspired by Cammy and Chun-Li’s moves.
The main new things RCGZ adds to the combat are the block and the jumping grab, which can be used to climb onto stuff, and to hang from things, like light fixtures, and kick people in the face. The block is more than a defensive maneuver. You can cancel the block into 4 special moves by pressing jump, punch, kick, or back attack while in the blocking animation. The hanging move is mostly useless, but the special moves coming out of a block are the strongest and most useful moves in the game. I had to figure all this out on my own, by the way. The game never tells you how to do anything besides the most basic moves.
I think RCGZ technically plays better than the Renegade and Double Dragon arcade games it's drawing from, but I don't think it reached its full potential. RCGZ has a lot of moves, but it lacks polish. It's missing all the little things that make everything gel together. There's running, but there are no running attacks, you can't throw enemies onto other enemies, you do the ground stomp even when there are no downed enemies around you, and Kyoko and Misako are missing grabs, throws, and the ground and pound. There are also no weapons or destructible environments in the game, and you never fight more than 2 enemies at once. The game is missing that action movie fight scene feel that makes BEUs, like Combatribes, Final Fight, and Streets of Rage, not only fun to play, but fun to watch as well. I also feel like the reach and hit stun feel off. Enemies recover too quickly and start hitting you while you're in the middle of a combo and it feels like you have to get too close to enemies to hit them. The Renegade and Double Dragon 1 and 2 arcade games feel even worse when I go back to them now, so maybe they were just going for something like those games, but it just doesn’t feel as good as stuff like Final Fight and Streets of Rage.
I kind of hate the motorcycle levels. There are 4 of these in the game and they basically play like Hang-On with Road Rash's kicking. You drive down a highway and try not to hit the walls while trying to kick enemies off their bikes. It's not a horrible minigame, but it's way too unforgiving. You can't switch characters, there are no checkpoints, hitting a wall means instant death, and you have to do the whole thing over if you die. I spent more time playing each of these bike levels than I spent on any other part of the game.
Like most retro game releases these days, this game has a few display options to choose from. You can choose between 3x, 2x, and its native resolution of 240p, which is really tiny. The game is always scaled to 720p, so there is no 4x (960p) option. This is fine by me since 3x at 720p covers more of the screen than 4x at 1080p. Interestingly enough, all those options are displayed in the 8:7 aspect ratio (AKA Pixel Perfect). There’s no 4:3 option, but there is a stretched wide screen option, which looks ridiculous. There’s also a scanlines option, which looks fine, and a couple of Limited Run Games themed borders, which are both pretty ugly. The actual game looks pretty nice for a SNES game, and it has almost no slowdown, but that's probably because you never fight more than two enemies at once.
River City Girls Zero is a fun enough game for $15, but it’s a better Kunio history lesson than it is a game. If you're a fan of River City Girls, Kunio lore, or just the old Technos beat 'em ups, you'll probably find something interesting here. If you're just looking for a fun beat 'em up to play; though, there are better games to choose from out there. I love the special treatment WayForward and LRG have given the game with the translation, saves, animated intro, gallery, music, and Manga cutscenes, but the actual game here is an average BEU at best. It's interesting seeing the game that inspired RCG, and all the familiar faces and places, but I don't feel like this story affects what's going on in WayForward's Kunioverse either.