Even as a kid, River City Ransom was somewhat foreign to me. I wasn’t introduced to the game until much later in the NES’s lifespan. I knew beat-’em-ups like Double Dragon and Battletoads (even Battletoads/Double Dragon), but that’s it. Later, I would come to hear the Kunio-kun name but still be mostly unfamiliar with the series. I mean, they weren’t Rash or Billy Lee, but hey, they’ll do. And the best part about River City Girls is that none of these things really matter.
The game does a great job of building an identity of its own, especially introducing Misako and Kyoko as its two protagonists — or anti-heroes, depending on how you look at them. They have rebellious attitudes, quirky comebacks, and, of course, can whoopeth thy asseth.
This was one thing that I really enjoyed throughout my time with River City Girls. While on the hunt to save their kidnapped boyfriends, you discover more personal details about the duo. This could have easily been a disjointed effort in order to introduce Misako and Kyoko. However, WayForward did an impressive job providing snippets of history on them and their friendship and went the extra mile with animation depicting it.
The hits keep on coming
There are a significant number of moves to unlock in River City Girls. You are immediately thrown in to combat, figuring out which moves work with one another, figuring out enemy patterns, and trying your best to dodge hits. Moves can work with one another, creating nice chains of combinations. The block even works as a breaker if timed right. Things start to ramp up fairly quickly, with light and heavy attacks, running strikes, and recruiting enemies to jump into battle in a sort of tag system. Defeating enemies and completing missions pays out currency that can be exchanged for items and new moves.
However, you have to grind to obtain new moves. Your personal stats increase each time a new level is reached. And some moves require you to reach specific levels before unlocking them. Defeating enemies often pays out anywhere from 130 to 200 XP. As you get into the double digits for player levels, it can take upwards of 11,000 XP to move levels. Most times, it’s in your best interest to wander back through areas that you’ve already been to in order to earn more cash, explore, and maybe even find a few hidden items.
Although this gameplay loop was mostly rewarding, I found it worked against itself in the early hours. There were many times, especially prior to a boss battle, that I was unprepared for the fight. I was either underpowered by attacks alone or the cost of health power-up items was too expensive. As I turned the corner on the midway point through the game though, things started to become more manageable for various reasons.
Beat-’em-up titles are not the most forgiving in terms of difficulty. For example, although Double Dragon Neon (also a WayForward title) sported impressive visuals and a killer soundtrack, it could be a nightmare for players who become easily frustrated. River City Girls is no different.
There were many times where I found myself entranced by the pop synth vibes and stellar vocals of the soundtrack of River City Girls. And from the onset, the trailer introduced one hell of a track as the theme song. But even the positive vibes tickling my eardrums couldn’t sooth the sometimes unforgiving battles. And sometimes, difficulty came from game-breaking bugs, like being unable to grab important objects, and there was a time that I won a boss battle only for my character to freeze up afterward, forcing a reset.
Enemies in the game come in an array of flavors. You might get a cheerleader doing deadly cartwheels towards you or a suited punk slapping sand in your craw, and the variety was appreciated. Heck, I even enjoyed when the zombie-like skins were applied to average characters as variants.
As mentioned, some characters can be beaten and used as allies in battle. Even so, I never felt like there was an end-all attack. For the first half of the game, I was constantly checking my inventory to make sure I had some health power-ups and watching my health bar like a hawk. Even picking up objects (if you manage to), like a bat or trash bin, comes with risk because throwing them in a jam might lead them to bounce back and hit you.
The loop of this gameplay wouldn’t have been so bad if the cash pickups for defeating enemies weren’t so sparse. I felt a few tweaks in drops might have alleviated this, even the introduction of more side missions other than Godai (a mildly creepy guy that hides in trash cans in each area who gives you tasks to complete).
When I finally wrapped up River City Girls, I thought I would have a feeling of completion. Although the game was filled with many quirky moments and dialogue to laugh along with, it never really became great. There is a ton of attention to detail, especially with smaller animations in the nooks and crannies of River City. Maybe I should have curbed my expectations? I’m not quite sure.
When it was all said and done, the experience didn’t provide that end-to-end satisfaction I was searching for. Bugs aside, River City Girls has a lot going for it; however, it still has plenty of room to grow.
This copy of River City Girls was purchased on the Nintendo eShop by the reviewer.