I was excited to hear that the people behind the Shantae series were going to make a game within the River City Ransom universe.  The very first trailer for it had me incredibly hyped, so I definitely wanted to get it for review for you guys.  After spending some time with the game and beating it a few times with a friend through Shareplay (the game only has local co-op, no netplay whatsoever), I have a good grasp on the game!

 Story 

The story for River City Girls is quite simple; Kyoko and Misako’s boyfriends, Riki and Kunio, have been beaten up and kidnapped.  Wanting to be reunited with them, the girls have taken it upon themselves to track down whoever is responsible and save their boyfriends.

The story for River City Girls is pretty straight forward overall, the basic concept of saving someone in trouble.  However, we do not get many games where girls are avidly trying to rescue their counterparts since usually it is guys who are going after their girlfriends.  A premise is usually all that is needed for a beat-em-up game to excel, but River City Girls has tried to go an extra step further by adding story elements into it via RPG dialogue-esque cutscenes, bits of animation during boss introductions, and animated manga comic segments for explanations and backstories.

From the very beginning we are given a manga-opening sequence and are given clear direction where the story should be going.  We meet up with characters later that have some idea on how to help Kyoko and Misako, but it becomes a game of “this person says this, so we should go do this”.  There are never really times were you discover anything that someone has not said (such as finding clues), in order to progress the story along.  River City Girls, is made out to be comical but does not pack enough actual humor into it to account for a lack of a thrilling story direction.

 The ending to River City Girls makes the game feel like it was entirely pointless; while I know it is meant to be comical, it feels empty and unrewarding.  I wish that they had handled the story better to give bigger build-up and a better payoff, but it is what it is.  I feel many people will not care for the lackluster ending and it really took away from the entire experience.

 Mechanics 

All of the game’s mechanics are pretty straightforward and to the point.  The revival ability is HILARIOUS, the fact you have to forcibly put their soul back into their body is definitely one of the better ways to do.  Also I have no problem with being able to enhance yourself via accessories.

The bad side of mechanics however, seem to outweigh the good of it.  Shops having “???” for their description until you buy and try something makes ZERO sense.  You would never buy something without having a description of it, even worse is the fact you cannot even see a summary of its abilities until after you use it (even if you bought it).  

One of the main mechanic problems of the game are the doors to go into the next area.  In order to traverse to the next location you have to push (Square), but if you are busy mashing it to take down enemies you may accidentally exit into the next place.  I think they should make this one of the shoulder buttons instead, map it to one that will ONLY be pushed when you are actually trying to get into the next area to avoid these types of problems.

  • Combat — You have light attacks (Square), heavy attacks (Triangle), special attacks (Circle), and the ability to jump (Cross).  You have the ability to grab dizzied enemies by walking into them, pummel on them with Square, and then toss them. You can also block (R1) and even parry by timing your block perfectly and leaving you at an advantage to strike.  You also have the ability to stomp downed enemies.  Additional moves are unlocked and also become available for purchase at Dojos once your level increases.  
  • Dojo — A place where new moves can be acquired as a person levels up and acquires new abilities.  Prices vary and features additional combo moves, special attacks, and launchers.
  • Revival — You are able to resurrect your downed teammate by standing over their dead body and literally stomp their soul back into their bodies with Triangle.
  • Money — Money is gained from defeating enemies, completing bonus objectives, and finishing off certain areas.  They are used to purchase Health/Enhancement items, Accessories, and additional moves at Dojos.  Money is halved when you die (without being resurrected).
  •  Accessories — These are purchased in shops or are gained from defeating bosses.  They provide different stat bonuses or abilities that enhance your combat prowess or rewards (example: 5% damage against male enemies).
  • Shops — Places where you are able to purchase new Accessories or Food Items.  They vary in effect and price, and most of their abilities are unknown until they are actually purchased and then used.
 Gameplay 

Here we are, the meat and potatoes of the River City Girls game.  I will say that the gameplay, as a beat-em’-up, is actually pretty good, but not the greatest.  Being able to combo people with a variety of moves and abilities is certainly something I want to see from more games of this nature.  However, I do feel a few things were poorly executed in some areas, but the effect they made is quite noticeable.

River City Girls suffers from having pretty much one optimal combo path or route to do damage or to repeatedly stun characters so you can grab them, pummel, throw, and get a knockdown attack.  I played Kyoko, and she certainly seems to be able to do a lot more than the rest of the cast (such as a grounded combo, into a launcher, an aerial attack into an air special move).  Something like this for everyone would have been great, but it seems as though the most will be a few hits into a move, which is actually fine for a beat-em-up but their appearance would suggest more.

One thing I do not like is how I cannot grab an opponent without them being stunned.  Grabbing someone and slinging them into a group of enemies is useful, also you may simply want to finish an enemy without worrying about them blocking and counter attacking.  Most other beat em’ up style games allow you to grab someone automatically by just walking into them.

Also, team-up moves or fancy moves in general from wall bounces or launchers are hard to time and pull off.  Being on the same line as someone to set up a dual attack attack is so-so; I would have preferred a better juggling system to allow for some pretty dynamic combos between coordinated players.

Weapons within this game are also an issue, a big one.  Most of the weapons within this game are single-hit knockdowns and I feel as though they do not do enough damage, finishing off an opponent slower than if you were to go at them hard with a combo.  Throwing anything in this game has a chance for you to damage yourself if you’re too close where it bounces off, you can  even hit your co-op partner’s character (even with Friendly Fire Off).  I find that weapons in this game are just not worth it to pick up half-the-time unless your life is low and you want to take the extra boring approach and knock an enemy down four or five times to finally defeat them so you can find an health shop

Speaking of health, it does not drop nearly often enough within this game.  Most of the time you are going to get health items are the few vending machines that you have to break, or by buying them within the shops.  I find that River City Girls is more than stingy in its approach to free health items (at least in co-op), which is bad considering if you do not save your co-op partner their money will be split in half.  Sure, they can come back with full health whenever you go to the next screen, but you need that money for Dojo moves.

Something else I want to note, which might be a bug, is Kyoko’s “Spike” move.  It is supposed to be Triangle+Circle in the air, but instead we keep getting the Cammy-esque Canon Drill move.  I have managed to pull off Spike, but only from going directly from her Down+Triangle, Jumping, and then doing it.  So either this move can only be pulled off directly another move, or maybe it is the apex of the jump.  Whatever it is, WayForward should either specify it or give us the ability to map a button for Triangle+Circle so it reads correctly.

Though, something I want to point out to leave here on a positive note is the homage to classic fighting games.  You have moves that mimic multiple fighting game characters and mechanics, such as Street Fighter III: Third Strike‘s parry, Chun-Li’s Lightning Legs/Spinning Bird Kick, Cammy’s Canon Spike, and even K’ from The King of Fighters desperation move where he throws his shades and proceeds to combo.

 Music 

River City Girls features music from NatesWantsToBattle, Chipzel, Christina Vee, and some more people.  Honestly, the regular music for River City Girls is not that memorable when you compare it to something along the lines of Scott Pilgrim v. The World the Game.  Even the music with lyrics (such as “Bully”), is great, but does not really fit this type of atmosphere.  To be fair, I have listened to a few of the vocal tracks when working on other things because it is great music, but unfortunately it feels as though it would have been better if it were more suited to a beat-em-up. 

I feel that better choices within music would have made the game a lot more enjoyable.  Seeing as Arc System Works oversaw this game, I figured they would have had some input since they are so well known for creating great music, but perhaps they just looked at the fighting aspects of it.

 New Game+ 

Finishing off the game unlocks an option for New Game+ (among other things).  I figured that I would play through this mode to see if anything changed, and sadly, nothing really did.  Enemies are suppose to be tougher (i.e., hit harder and more life), but I did not notice too much of a difference (Aside from late game enemies appearing near the beginning this time around).  I felt like New Game+ just did not have any bells and whistles that would make another playthrough all that more exciting.

A few issues with New Game+ did arise that were not in the normal game however.  On the in-game map you can pull up in the menu, you are able to see locations you have not been to yet (grey), places you have been (light purple), and little icons indicating if there are bus stops or shops there.  When you begin anew, you have to get access back to all the places you unlocked (which is not an issue), but everywhere on the map is light purple like you have been to them already.  This means that you have to guess and remember places you have not been to yet on this playthrough since you cannot tell at a glance since it keeps the areas you once visited within the first playthrough.  Thankfully a red exclamation point shows up in areas that needs an objective completed, but that does not help with making sure you have visited all places within a certain area.

 The Verdict 

 HALF-AND-HALF 
 STRENGTHS  — Fun gameplay, beautiful aesthetic, decent beat em’ up, great music (vocal songs).  WEAKNESSES  — Weapon items are bad, Story is a bust, Combat is lacking some flare, The music with vocals do not fit this game, and New Game+ feels the same (low replay value).  Final Impressions 

River City Girls was a game I was crazily excited about, however, I feel like it did not live up to that potential.  It was a fun beat em’ up for the hours it did take me to beat it, but I felt like it was missing so many elements to the combat, story, and music that I cannot rightfully recommend it without cautioning you on how lackluster it feels.  Do not get me wrong, many people are in love with this game due to their love of beat em’ up, the cutesy nature of Kyoko and Misako, and just the overall nostalgia of the River City Ransom series.  However, I do not think that is enough to tide over those who want to be able to play this game for days on end, as I believe it lacks the beat em’ up replayability of something like Charlie Murder.

At the end of the day, I believe that $30 for this game is asking a bit too much for the lack of content and online playability; I feel like this game would look much more attractive if the price was set at $20.