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River City Girls – Xbox One review

Go on, fight like a girl.

WayForward’s repertoire as a developer has already become unmatched over the course of a few years. After all, these are the guys that have put their golden touch on franchises like DuckTales and Contra, but have then gone on to produce outstanding original fare like Double Dragon Neon (which needs a Switch conversion, I’m telling you) and the amazing Shantae games, most notably Half-Genie Hero, which is a series best to date.

But then, out of left field, the team announced that it was making a new River City game. But hold your Kunio-kun, because it isn’t a typical entry. Instead, it’s a jazzed up Scott Pilgrim vs. the World-esque brawler with two schoolgirls in the midst of everything, set to a soundtrack that only a team like WayForward can deliver. In other words, it’s the stuff that dreams are made of, and easily one of this year’s finest efforts.

The game puts you in control of Misako and Kyoto, two schoolgirls who adore their boyfriends, the original series stars Kunio and Riki. (Well, younger variations of them, anyway.) When they get kidnapped by corrupt forces, the girls take justice into their own hands, beating up a number of thugs, cheerleaders and other warped enemies while occasionally getting information from secondary characters that are interesting in their own right, from the creep hanging out in his front yard to the fanatic that can’t wait to get into the mall to get the newest nerd thing.

But that’s just the beginning of this adventure. As you dig deeper into River City Girls, it really opens up, letting you explore new areas of the city and discover other fun little things — like the fact that the Double Dragon brothers are running the local dojo where you learn your power moves. The map becomes so vast that a bit of backtracking is involved, which means going back and getting into fights again. It’s a slight issue, thanks to the game’s evolutionary combat system.

You start out with a few moves at first to knock bad guys senseless, and at first it can get repetitive. But as you progress, you’ll unlock new stuff that amazingly blends into your style in a proper way, from a sliding dab to a cool power slam to a Stone Cold Stunner. Ever see a schoolgirl effortlessly perform a Stunner? It’s something else. And that’s not to account for the unlockable characters in the game as well.

While there is slight tedium with combat and even a little bit of backtracking, River City Girls grows beautifully and becomes an unbeatable experience in the fighting genre. WayForward knows how to hook players, and provided they don’t get frustrated with certain boss fights, they’ll find a lot to appreciate here. The controls are as user-friendly as they can get, and the way to get some moves is a lot of fun.

You also don’t have to take on the journey by yourself. There’s a fun recruitment feature where bad guys beg you for mercy. It’s up to you to accept or not (you could just beat them up and be on your merry little way), but if you accept their plea, they’ll join you, allowing you to call on them to quickly jump in and help with a quick move so you can gain an advantage. It’s very cool, especially if you get a wrestler in a cat mask as your ally. I’m going to call him El Furico, just because…

And if you ever run low on energy, the shops are back once again. So you can stop in during the midst of a fight (awww, the opponents wait for you, how thoughtful) and get yourself a quick snack to recover your energy. Other stuff is available as well, if you feel like buying accessories to help make a difference. For instance, Bomb Bottoms help you take less damage during a fight. So they don’t just sound like a good fashion accessory, they make a difference. 

Gameplay and replay value is just the start here. WayForward may have its best looking and sounding game yet here — and that’s saying something considering how phenomenal DuckTales and Shantae are.

The visuals are awesome, with a design that fits the original River City games, but also stands out with quality animations, fun anime-style scenes between the characters, and some hilarious bad guy expressions when you beat them senseless. The backdrops are fun as well, from a shopping mall to a city filled with folks that just want to beat you up — while others apparently watch in delight. The only downside is that there are a few glitches here and there that enter the fray, and sometimes slow the game slightly. Not enough to break it, but just know they’re there. I think the developer is already aware, so expect those to go away soon.

And wow, the soundtrack. It may be my favorite WayForward soundtrack next to Double Dragon Neon. The songs are filled with personality, brought to life by a variety of artists, including the uber-talented Cristina Vee. The theme song alone is a battle anthem that’ll wake up your spirits if they haven’t already. The voice acting is also splendid, with a number of actors (including Vee) to spice up the dialogue. And the sound effects are your typical beat-em-up fare, but still great.

The only thing about River City Girls that might get in the way of someone’s fun is that there isn’t any online play. You can work with a friend locally, but those that are flying solo may be frustrated by the overwhelming odds in some cases. Perhaps WayForward will add this in the future, but for now, it seems to be encouraging the classic “couch co-op” experience. Which is fine for us, because it works like a charm as you team up with a buddy and take out the trash.

Lack of online play and a few visual hitches aside, River City Girls stands as one of my favorite games from WayForward to date, if not my ultimate favorite. Everything about the game is charming and has thought put into it, and the way that the gameplay grows with the effort you put into it is unbelievably rad. Once again, this studio has floored me with their effort, and it leaves me wondering just what kind of imaginative thing it has up its sleeve next. A sequel to Double Dragon with the River City Girls thrown in? A Chip ‘n Dale’s Rescue Rangers remaster? The sky’s the limit.

I’ll just be patient and see what they’ve got cooking with the next Shantae game. I’m sure it’ll be killer, because these folks can do no wrong with fighting women.

River City Girls – Xbox One review
Is it good?
Beat-em-up tactics that continuously grow with unlockable moves and inventive boss battles.
An inspired presentation with some of the best visuals and music you’ll find in the genre.
A bit on the tough side sometimes, and backtracking gets old.
No online multiplayer -- though local is still a blast.
9
Great
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