Once upon a time River City titles were few and far between. Thankfully those days are over and we receive a rather healthy supply of them such as the most recent and brilliant River City Saga: Three Kingdoms. Kunio and Riki had their turn earlier this year, but now the girls are back again in the sequel to one of my favorite beat-em-ups of all time, River City Girls 2!
Video Games Causing Violence?!
River City Girls 2 follows on from the events of River City Girls. Kyoko and Misako have saved the day, found the boys, and are ready to go back to life as the premier Banchos in River City High. Unfortunately, the events of the previous game have caused much embarrassment to the crime lord Sabo and his son Ken who are none too happy about their Yakuza empire being bested by the girls.
Led by Ken, Sabo’s crime syndicate soon takes over River City High. Their first act of dominance is to exclude Kunio, Riki, Misako, and Kyoko, which sends them into a two-month spiral of fast food, video games, and “Exp Loss”. The team perform the impossible and clear their backlog (River City Girls Zero included), so they decide to travel across town to purchase a new game.
Naturally, Ken and Sabo still aren’t content with just expulsion. They’ve taken over the whole of River City, resulting in plenty of would-be assailants ready to take on the River City gang. Eventually, the goal of getting a new video game is well and truly in the rearview mirror as the Girls once again decide to take the fight to the Yakuza to restore their own brand of chaos throughout the city.
Beware, Here Lies a Bantersaurus Rex
The story is a mix of comedy and fanservice, as you would expect if you’ve played this series before. The characters are goofy and larger than life, the boys are their usual cool and composed selves which contrasts quite well with the daft Kyoko and overly-confident and often wrong Misako. The newcomers sadly come in a little too late into the narrative to gel well with the original four. That said, the ability to pair any members of your team while you play allows you to witness some quite fun back and forth between any of the cast throughout.
The only issue I found with the above was it seemed the game was designed with certain pairings at times. For example, when I was playing through a section as the new character Marian, Kyoko kept talking as if she was talking to anyone but Marian, explaining why she needed help and what the objective was while Marian replied with rather awkward dialogue which didn’t connect well.
Small issue aside, the story here is fantastic. It feels like WayForward decided to lean on the unique identity crafted in the original River City Girls, rather than the other titles in the River City series. River City Girls is a much more bombastic and “Saturday Morning Cartoon” style. This goes a long, long way in separating it not only from its Beat ‘Em Up peers, but also the rest of the River City franchise which tends to either get bogged down in standard tales or safe retellings of classic tales with the cast of the games.
The Hunt Is On
So with the story being bigger and better than ever, you must be wondering, what about the gameplay? While retaining much of what made the original an utter joy to play, subtle changes have been made to provide an even more enjoyable experience for beat-em-up fans veteran and casual alike.
Now I’m not going to blow smoke up where the sun doesn’t shine. It’s still a beat-em-up at heart and as such repetition is bound to set in at points. The very concept of the genre suffers from that issue and has done so since the dawn of time. River City has always tried to combat this by adding free-roaming and light RPG elements which have both returned for this outing.
The combat has never felt better in the series than it feels here. While initially quite limited, after you’ve started leveling up your chosen character and taken a few trips to the Dojo to learn some new techniques, you can pull off some combos that would make any Blazblue fighting game blush with embarrassment. Weapons still feel a little blah, but very few games in the genre manage to add these in any meaningful or fun way. That said, I will admit I did find myself chuckling while throwing a boomerang across the street and catching it over and over again while the oncoming horde fell prey to it.
Aside from your own basic weak and heavy attacks, you also have a unique special move. For example, Kyoko performs a “hurricane kick” which just smacks of a certain first lady of Street Fighter. Due to the nature of leveling up and purchasing moves, this means you’ll be finding new ways to include Kyoko’s iconic “Dab” into combos long into the game.
Another carryover from the original River City Girls is the assist partners you can pick up. Any basic foe in the game can be recruited to join you. With a button press, they’ll jump onto the screen and perform an attack, much like the assist system in the Marvel Vs Capcom/Blazblue Cross Tag Battle games. While it’s quite fun to collect every enemy and see what they do, the system of recruiting them is irritating. While fighting any enemy, just before you beat them they will plead with you. You then need to grab them and press either shoulder button to recruit them to that slot. The issue is that there aren’t any health bars or visual clues that they will hit this state, so more often than not you’ll find yourself accidentally finishing off an enemy you haven’t yet collected due to being mid-combo.
River City Girls 2 ups the player count by two since the original. You’ll also be able to freely switch between characters on your first playthrough which wasn’t possible in the first one that locked Kunio and Riki behind completing the game for the first time. This time Marian, the damsel in distress from Double Dragon, and Provie from criminally underrated and sadly PC-exclusive River City Ransom: Underground join the fray and have their own reasons for being in the story. More importantly, they also have their own move sets.
While this adds a much larger roster of moves to perform and practice in the dojo, which will no doubt appease the more “Fighting Game” focused players. The issue is that not all characters level up much unless they’re used. For example, I “mained” Kyoko for most of my playthrough until I unlocked Marian within the main story. When I switched over to her, she was a whole 10 levels behind Kyoko. This meant that I had to spend a significant time grinding to make her useable for the section of the story I was up to. On the positive side, it does give you the time to learn each character’s nuances but can be a bit of a drain in longer sessions.
Big River City Lights
River City is much larger than it was in the previous outing. It not only expands the areas in the city but also provides several new areas and spooky woods that I can only presume were a cheeky nod to the one in Double Dragon. Due to the free roam aspect of the game, you’ll spend a good chunk of time finding the best routes to areas, hidden shops, and where the hideouts are located so you can switch playable characters.
Fortunately, to help you get around the city you have a handy GPS app on your phone. It shows your current location, the location of any story missions you have to tackle, any shops or hideouts, and even where you can start one of River City Girls 2’s many side quests. These are well worth doing, as they offer valuable experience points, money, and other good stuff to unlock such as songs or accessories.
The side quests are the usual collection of fetch quests, beat X amount of people, or go to certain locations, though there are a few that go a little further. An early one of these lets you play a condensed version of dodgeball, which fans of the series know is a staple of Kunio-Kun. There are many more mini-games, with some varying from the standard beat-em-up formula, such as a Dance Game mini-game and a section where you have to defend some bank safes from the Yakuza. This does wonders to stave off the feeling of repetition and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The light RPG mechanics mentioned before involve gaining XP from missions and beating down the citizens of the city. You can also improve stats by eating from shops and altering your abilities with certain accessories from the various clothes shops, though I do have to wonder why I’d gain strength from eating a game cartridge. I suppose that’s hardly the strangest scenario painted in this bizarre adventure though.
Like any Beat-Em-Up worth its salt, River City Girls 2 features local multiplayer. Up to 4 players can join in the fun. But much like River City Saga: Three Kingdoms, it also includes online multiplayer, which is something that was sorely missing from the previous title. While I only tried it briefly, I am happy to report that the online held up well enough with minimal lag. Unlike local multiplayer, it is sadly only up to 2 players though. I was lucky enough to play this pre-release, so I am looking forward to diving into it further post-release with the bigger player pool. That said, so far it was on par with the Three Kingdom’s online mode, and is a much-welcome addition.
Failing In P.E?
So while River City Girls 2 does everything the original did just bigger and better, I found two aspects of the game somewhat dragged it down. While they weren’t too egregious, they did tend to happen too much for me. These issues lie within the performance of the title. Please do note that I’m playing the Nintendo Switch version of this game for review and they may not happen across all platforms.
Firstly, the amount of loading the game does really stacks up. Every time you move to a new section of the area, you’ll be hit with a loading screen. This is a real pace killer. I found the loading time would jump around from a brief 15 seconds to around 30, depending on if there was something new in the area, such as a story mission section or the like.
Secondly, the framerate felt inconsistent throughout. This presented as a rather sluggish playthrough at times, especially in busier areas such as downtown. When a lot of enemies were on screen, I could almost feel my Switch struggling to cope with everything at once, it made the game feel like it was dropping into the 20FPS region. Again, this could be a Nintendo Switch issue and at this point in its lifecycle that wouldn’t surprise me, but I would love a patch to either bring the game to a locked 30FPS or somehow get it to a smooth 60FPS.
Excelling in Art
On the presentation side of town, River City Girls 2 continues the trend of reusing some assets from the original while improving them and putting even more into the package. It starts particularly well, with the new intro brilliantly animated once again. This shouldn’t fail to raise a smile in any fan of the series.
If you’ve played the original, the in-game visuals are around the same level. Here we can see a lot more going on in the background though and improved animations of the characters, both playable and foe. There does feel like there is a lack of unique NPC characters in the background as compared to the first, but this is a none issue with how well the settings have been drawn, which gives River City the most life it has ever seen.
The cutscenes within the game are mostly static “comic book” style panel shots that are expertly drawn and just fit the whole theme of the game. Not only do they often lean into anime tropes, but they aren’t afraid to be goofy, and cartoonesque at the drop of a hat.
Now one of the most iconic aspects of the original title was the absolutely phenomenal soundtrack. This is something that has been a staple of the series as far back as the original River City Ransom and got better with WayForward’s fantastic Double Dragon Neon OST. So River City Girls 2 has once again decided to one-up everything it has done before and has once again put out some addictive tunes with the insanely talented Megan McDuffee. From the first time that new theme song hits, all the way through to the returning songs, there isn’t a bad song here. This soundtrack cannot hit my playlist quicker. I had no issues grinding money and EXP in the Mall while “Better Than You” played on repeat sounding better and better with each listen.
The voice acting is perfect here and lends to the characters of River City. Not only are Kyoko and Misako once again a perfect mix of sassy and daft, but even the minor characters with voice lines are done brilliantly. Ken has some stand-out sections and I couldn’t help but laugh when the girls were waxing lyrical with Abobo’s brother and not so subtly calling him AbooBoo. The back and forth between the main cast as you progress the story is a real standout and makes it tough to decide who you want to come along. Fortunately, you can switch your characters around in the options menu, but I was quite vanilla at points and just stuck with my favorite River City female duo.
The overall presentation of the package shows how far the series has come in painting its own identity, not only in the long-running River City franchise but also as a stand-alone title. Everything about it just instantly smacks of River City Girls, rather than just painting it out as a spin-off. It’s frankly eclipsing the main product at this point, much like the Persona series is doing with Shin Megami Tensei. It’s for good reason when so much care and attention is put into every fabric of this title’s being.
From the second I launched the game to my current second playthrough of the title, I cannot get enough of this game. I had a feeling this would be a special sequel with how unexpected the original was, but I wasn’t ready for just how good this title would be. I’ve often mentioned the fact to anyone who would listen to how much I love River City Girls from its unique style to its addictive and smooth combat. With this follow-up, WayForward has decided to completely dethrone the first title. This is frankly the perfect sequel. It adds enough while still retaining what I adored about the original.
Funky performance and loading issues aside, I can’t find any faults with the girl’s latest outing and anyone who may have been burned by the release that was River City Girls Zero should ignore that and join the girls and their cast for what is frankly my personal game of the year, a contender for best in the genre, and just an outright bombastic and fun adventure. Pack your bag River City Girls, you’re getting evicted by the River City Girls (too).
RIVER CITY GIRLS 2 IS A MUST BUY
Many thanks go to WayForward for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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