River City Girls

Year: 2019
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: Arc System Works, WayForward
Genre: Action
Review Date: 11/17/19
Rating: ***

"You've got quite a mouth on you. That's probably why Kunio likes you."

Kyoko and Misako are sitting in detention when they get a text message and a photo saying that their boyfriends, Kunio and Riki, have been kidnapped. They immediately bust out of school and terrorize the town looking for them. Their rescue mission takes them through six different areas of River City, each gated by a challenging boss battle.

It's a 2D side-scrolling brawler in the vein of "Double Dragon," with gorgeous pixel art and delightful character designs. The writing is extremely good and the perverse humor is reminiscent of WayForward's "Shantae" games. Kyoko's and Misako's sassy banter is a constant source of amusement, and Kayli Mills does an exceptional job of delivering Misako's sarcastic and abrasive wit. The other voice actors tend to fall a little short and sound more cartoony than necessary. Kyoko and Misako make a fun pair, although it's unclear why they're friends. Kyoko looks up to Misako and thinks she's super cool, but Misako doesn't seem to like anyone and finds Kyoko to be a bit annoying. The music is excellent and also reminiscent of "Shantae," although the songs that have lyrics tend to quickly wear out their welcome.

The gameplay is pretty good for the most part. The girls have weak attacks, strong attacks, special attacks, and throws, and they can also use and/or throw melee weapons. Skills increase with experience, and money earned from defeated opponents can be spent on health items, performance enhancers, or new moves. The controls are appropriately tight and responsive, although blocking and parrying is exceedingly difficult. The biggest issue is that it's way too easy to leave an area if you're fighting close to an exit, which causes a lot of frustration and resets the encounter. An in-game map helps you locate objectives via the girls' cell phones, although it's not as helpful as it could be, and trying to revisit specific landmarks is a constant hassle (like which stores have the best and least expensive health items). It's a difficult game and the boss battles are very challenging. Ironically, the first battle is the hardest, since your health is limited and you can't purchase or carry any health items yet. Later bosses are easier in comparison, but can still take an hour or two to defeat. Animations and story dialog can be skipped, but the process is tedious and takes too long, especially when you die a lot. Defeating the final boss unlocks Kunio and Riki as playable characters and opens up a "New Game Plus" option that has a higher difficulty and additional objectives.

The game is a spin-off of the "Kunio-Kun" (aka "River City Ransom") series, although it disregards the established continuity. Are Kunio and Riki really their boyfriends and have they really been kidnapped? Fans of the series were confused and disappointed by the ending, even though it's obvious how things are going to play out early in the game. There's a secret boss that can be unlocked in order to get "the good ending," which just provides more exposition and explanation to the confused protagonists. Regardless, one nagging question remains: Who sent the original text that sent Kyoko and Misako on their rampage? I went into the game with no prior knowledge or experience and took it at face value, hoping that it would satisfy a "Streets Of Rage" craving while patiently awaiting the release of "Streets Of Rage 4." It doesn't quite scratch that particular itch, but having two kick-ass female protagonists in an old-school beat 'em up game is a huge win in my book, and I never grew tired of playing it (except when I was stuck in a seemingly impossible boss battle).

As I mentioned before, the writing is superb, and while there are dozens of great lines, they fly by so quickly that it was hard to remember them all. Some of my favorites are:

Mami: "Where do you buy your clothes?"
Kyoko: "I shop discount."
Misako: "I found my shirt at a bus stop."


"My hair smells like a used diaper!"

"I got expelled for stealing basketball hoops."

"Don't act like you're smarter than me! I been in high school for SEVEN YEARS! Ain't nobody smarter at school stuff than Misuzu."