Series like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Super Smash Brothers have dominated the fighting game scene over the last few years, yet there are still gems of this genre to be found outside of these massive franchises. River City Girls, released in 2019 as part of the River City franchise, was a moderate success. Two years later, the game’s sequel would release, and River City Girls 2 picks up right where the first game left off-literally.
After rescuing their boyfriends and trashing the yakuza boss Sabuko at the end of the previous game, Misako and Kyoko are ready to get back to a normal life. However, the girls soon find that their enemies won’t let them win so easily. Yakuza have taken over their school and the girls have been expelled. After spending two months on the couch only playing video games (a convenient way to bring the player characters back down to base level), our protagonists venture out to find yakuza out to get them at every corner. However, Sabuko wants revenge for the way her family treated her and asks the girls to help take her father down.
Since this is a beat’em up game, it’s understandable that the story will take a backseat to the brawling. The plot is serviceable to both the brawling aspect of the game and the comedy aspect. The main story feels a bit lackluster beyond the variety of wacky side quests offered. River City Girls 2 also has a lot of humor injected into the game, particularly with the protagonists, which helps alleviate the fact that the story isn’t a huge standout of the game.
The main draw of River City Girls lies in allowing the player to kick the snot out of anyone and everyone. Luckily the game goes beyond just button mashing in the ways it allows you to achieve this.
Moves and Controls
When fighting, players start out with some very basic commands to punch, kick and jump. As the game progresses, the characters will learn combos or the player can choose to purchase them. Some are fairly simple while others get quite elaborate. This means players will have to be nimble-fingered to pull a combo off. When successful, these combos do a great job of making you feel like an absolute beast. Combos are not required to succeed, however, so even those who prefer to button mash should still be able to fight their way through bosses and goons.
On the other hand, it often feels as if the controls don’t always register properly. More often than not you will find yourself trying to do one move when the character will do something different. Running in particular felt extremely off in this game. To run, players must double tap in the direction they want to go on the left joystick. Regularly this failed to register and the girls would instead lazily walk across the screen. This is not something you want to happen in a fast-paced boss fight. These aren’t game-breaking problems, but the controls did feel sloppy enough to make some sections of the game frustrating.
Weapons and Items
One of the most entertaining elements of the basic gameplay is the variety of items that can be picked up and used as a weapon by the player. Various things littered around the landscape can be used to bash in an opponent’s head or be thrown at an enemy. Some of these are fairly run of the mill (baseball bats, tennis rackets) but others are things like bicycles or park benches. Watching Kyoko go to town on a yakuza cronie with a bicycle can bring a whole new layer of fun to the adventure, especially when playing with a friend.
These aren’t the only kinds of items in the game, however. Various shops are spread across River City, selling either food or accessories. Food can restore health or provide small bonuses, while accessories do things like give you extra abilities, make it easier to revive dead teammates, or buff your stats. While you might have to hunt for the really good stuff, the variety of different items you can equip allows you to really customize your build for the strategy you like to utilize in your playthrough.
River City is a very large town, meaning the game comes with a large map. There are some quick travel points via bus stop, but they are few and far between. As a fighting game, most of the brawling comes in every single area between the missions and bosses, so a large map lends itself to this kind of play. The game does a good job of telling the player what is of interest in the area, but it is necessary to constantly pause and open up the map to see if you’re even heading in the right direction. Things can get overwhelming as the game progresses and the town starts to open up, leading to some backtracking that more often than not feels tedious. However, the fights are fun enough to distract from this issue and keep things fresh.
Players will run into a variety of bosses blocking their path. Whether they are actively trying to stop the girls or just passively in their way, each baddie has a multi-phase fight that players will have to get through. Items are handy for these encounters, but one of the clever aspects of River City Girls 2’s boss fights is they can often be beaten by time and effort. Encounters tend to follow a basic formula, meaning those who are ill-prepared for a fight but don’t want to go back to the hideout can try repeatedly, memorize the attack pattern and learn when to dodge versus when to attack. It’s difficult work but it can be done, and it’s incredibly satisfying to get further into the fight each time. The bosses are also unique enough in both style and substance to not make it feel repetitive if this is the route a player chooses to tackle the game.
River City Girls 2 combines a fun pixelated art style reminiscent of arcade machines and early gen consoles with gorgeous and colorful anime artwork. The pixel art used in the overworld is simple enough to evoke nostalgia and keep the fighting the main focus of the adventure, but detailed enough to still give a clear picture of what River City and its occupants look like. Sprites use colorful anime-style art, which is sprinkled throughout the UI system and moments such as in shops or in boss splash screens. This art style really works for some of the designs, especially characters like Sabuko and Marian. While the main two girls and their boyfriends have fairly plain designs, the bosses and friends encountered along the way really pop thanks to the style as well as the bright colors used throughout the game.
The soundtrack to River City Girls 2 is a huge standout of the game. This OST is incredibly varied yet somehow manages to still maintain a cohesive through line that ties it all together. A huge chunk of the music wears its 80s/synthwave influences on its sleeve, but there are tracks with sweeping jazzy horns or soft piano sprinkled throughout that don’t feel out of place in the game or even when just listening to the soundtrack by itself. There are also several tracks featuring vocals that are incredibly catchy, and voice actor Cristina Vee even teams up with composer Megan McDuffee to sing the game’s theme song. McDuffee pulls no punches and manages to make a fun, bouncy OST that will leave players jamming even after putting the controller down.
In perfect tandem with the music, the voice acting is phenomenal as well. The game is entirely voice acted and features incredible talent like Kira Buckland and Kayli Mills as the leads, the aforementioned Vee, and a large variety of YouTubers like the Game Grump’s Dan Avidan and Arin Hanson sprinkled throughout. Sean McLoughlin aka Jacksepticeye is almost unrecognizable at first in his performance here as Godai, even though he is well known for his Irish accent. While it is unclear whether that is due to his own hard work or Vee’s voice direction, it’s a great example of just how fun and campy yet rock solid every performance in this game is. The humor carries the story, making it a necessary achievement.
Unfortunately, replay value is where the game starts to drag on its staying power. While you start out with four playable characters, there are two more you can unlock in the course of the playthrough. However, starting a new game with a different character reveals there is essentially no difference among the six of them as far as the story or dialogue goes. Each one does have their own skill set, so a subsequent playthrough can allow players to branch out and discover a new fighting style, but that is the extent of their differences. There is a new game plus and there are a lot of little secrets to discover, but it rarely feels fulfilling enough to have to go through the game again. A friendly fire toggle and the difficulty level at the beginning of the game can also change the dynamic enough to create some new novelty for players.
The most notable way to get replay value out of River City Girls 2 is multiplayer. This release supports couch co-op for up to four players as well as online play for two players. Players with friends who are also interested in fighting games that have enough controllers to go around will get a longer lifespan out of this game than most.
River City Girls 2 is a fun romp through a vibrant and exciting world full of yakuza, witches, and weird schoolmates that keeps players on their toes. Quality art, excellent voice acting, a fantastic OST and a variety of different fighting styles to try out help turn an entertaining but somewhat tedious brawler into an enjoyable few hours, especially when played with a friend. Those unaccustomed to fighting games will likely find little here to satisfy them, but there is plenty of meat on the bones for fans of the genre or the River City franchise.
Final rating: 8/10.