It’s been a wild ride when it comes to the Kunio/Renegade/River City Ransom franchise in the west as we have gotten so many titles on so many different platforms with the open world brawler in River City Underground that’s set in the future on STEAM to the PS4’s River City Melee to the 3DS exclusives River City Tokyo Rumble and River City: Rival Showdown to the DS sports entries and so much more. In Japan the Kunio franchise is a massive franchise that spans various genres with different adventures of Kunio and Riki as they are either saving their girlfriends Misako and Kyoko or their friends or just having sports tournements and more, there is no single genre for Kunio however the primary genre is the brawler genre which initiated this franchise 30+ years ago and now with this new entry the franchise is back with a unique twist and this time it’s not Kunio and Riki saving their girlfriends but rather their girlfriends Misako and Kyoko are out to save them and they aren’t docile damsels rather they are kick ass lasses….. ok that was lame but you get the point; they are the RIVER CITY GIRLS!!!
Story: The story of River City Girls is pretty much the original River City Ransom with a massive revamp in all aspects. Misako and Kyoko start off in Nekketsu High School and they find out that their boyfriends Kunio (series hero and mainstay) and Riki have been kidnapped and its up to them to search and find out where they’ve been taken. Misako is the rough and tumble no nonsense ruffian akin to Kunio while Kyoko is the sweet and well-mannered albeit ditsy counter to Misako’s personality and yet these two incredibly different characters are best friends and complement each other. They are voice by Kayli Mills (Misako) and Kira Buckland (Kyoko) who do a superb job of brining these two girls to life and establishing their personalities and mannerisms in a very believable and realistic way even with all their quips and one liners.
The story is presented in three formats: animated cutscenes, manga style moving stills, and in game graphics with character portrait cut ins with all 3 being voiced and all very well done especially when you run into any of the many bosses in the game from series vet Misuzu, Yamada, and Abobo (Yes Double Dragon’s Abobo and no that’s not the only Double Dragon references in this game) such as how Misuzu enters the school wrecking shop or Yamada practicing the dark arts before you fight him and Abobo doing what Abobo has…..well…always done with breaking a wall and entering the room to fight. The presentation and intros for each boss and new character is incredibly well done and deserves praise.
Graphics: The in-game graphics are incredibly well done and just is in that fluid and artistically animated style that Wayforward is famously known for in so many of the other games they work on from Shantae, Mighty Switch Force, and also Azure Striker Gunvolt. The way that the girls and all the other characters animate is very awesome and the they aesthetics really show the attention to detail with how when a character attacks their hair and clothes ripple in response to whichever attack they are doing or when they walk or run the characters animation is reflective of that. The art style is a mixture of not only their standard Shantae/Gunvolt style but also mixes in aspects of the original Kunio style and even harkens a lot to Scott Pilgrim vs the World game that is no longer available.
Fans of classic Nekketsu/Kunio will appreciate the attention to detail and respect to the franchise in the graphics department. The enemies are numerous and while you will run into gangs of the same enemies over and over, you’ll run into different colored variants of them. The bosses look superb and their animations are so well done that you can catch their tell-tell attacks with their individual animations that let you know you can block or parry their attacks. And can I mention one of the coolest animations is Kyoko’s Dab attack? You just need to see this to believe it!
Gameplay: When it comes to the gameplay this is hands down one of the absolute BEST brawlers to come out in decades and honestly excels easily anything Wayforward did with Double Dragon Neon and trounces the legendary Scott Pilgrim vs The World and also exceeds the cult classic original and modernized River City Ransom by miles. The controls are fluid and responsive with the ability to move all over the screen, jump, quick and heavy attack, run, pick up weapons and baddies, call in assist characters ala the Marvel Vs series and the striker system of KOF and so much more! The layers of depth to the gameplay is truly amazing with so many attacks and moves that you can buy from the Double Dragon Dojo run by Billy and Jimmy Lee in their Double Dragon Neon goofy forms (I told you the Double Dragon refences were many).
The button layout is fairly simple as you have a light attack button that allows you to perform combos for quick rush downs and also a heavy attack button that’s slow but is powerful enough to knock down enemies in one blow or even powerful enough to knock them back into a wall or object and bounce them off of it and into other enemies. There’s a special attack button that thankfully burns through your meter instead of your life and deals double the damage of your heavy attack and is built up from normal attacks. You’re able to grab enemies and either punch or knee them and either throw them or depending on the character you’re playing as you can do any variety of moves such as Misako who has the Stone Cold Stunner that is point for point the move in its entirety and has the enemy pop up and flop over like many who fell victim to the Texas Rattle Snake. You can do ground stops, powerbombs, dragon punches, Blanka roll into a straight punch, Bruce Lee back punch, room clearer when surrounded, and even the hyper knee from the NES version of Double Dragon II: The Revenge complete with the animation and the sound from it too.
Let’s talk about the combo system as it’s incredibly deep and allows you to chain together so many attacks from not only your weak and heavy attacks but also you can mix in your special attack button moves as well as rushdown attacks and grapples. Honestly the limitations are only in your imagination and creativity with your mix up game. There are plenty of weapons to choose from aswell such as chairs, bats, baseballs, yo-yos, logs of wood, chains, and even a lightsaber and more! There’s no lack of weapons to pick up and use and each has different damage properties and varying durability.
This game puts a very strong emphasis on defense in the form of blocking, running, and dodging to avoid taking damage. You can block with the right should buttons and it will protect you from most attacks thrown at you and if you time it at the last moment before an attack lands on you; you’ll end up parrying the move leaving your enemy completely defenseless and open to be wrecked however you want punish them. You can run by double tapping in either direction to avoid being cornered and also combine it with any of the 3 attack buttons for a rushdown attack. You can also dodge into or out from the fore and background by either double tapping up or down which can get you out of a sticky situation so make sure you perfect your offensive game with an even stronger defense.
We can’t talk about a River City game without talking about the RPG aspects of the game; in River City Girls you have a set of stats for attack, defense, health, and more. Every enemy you defeat nets you a set amount of XP or experience points that allow you to level up and increase your stats. You can also buy equipment that allows you to increase different stats such as increasing stun damage, gaining more money from defeated baddies, quicker recover from knockdowns, and even boosting attack damage based on fighting either male or female enemies. The possibilities of what you can mix and match to personalize Misako and Kyoko is endless.
Sound: When it comes to the sound; this is the one area of the game where the OST is simply GLORIOUS. Now, many may call this sacrilege but I’m going to say it: River City Girls has the best OST in a brawler since Streets of Rage 2 and I’m willing to go so far as to say that it is significantly better in many ways than what Yuzo Kushiro worked on. The main theme of the game “River City Girls” was performed by Nate Wants To Battle and voice actress Christina Vee and to say it gets you ready to kick some ass and save the boys is an understatement; I can have this song on repeat because its just that damn good, oh its true! The OST has been crafted to perfection and produced by none other than the sensational Megan McDuffee who produced the instrumentals and vocals and songs you hear in the game. Each song sets a mood so perfectly for where you are and it just gets in your head and once its in you cant help but hum along with the amazing score. Megan has truly crafted literal art with this score and a fun fact is she’s also working on CyberPunk 2077 so when you hear a damn good track from that game just know it was made by Megan and know that she’s amazing!
Unlockables: With all this content you might be wondering does this game have any replayability to it: the answer is yes it does and in spades. There are 25 statues of the original villain of the Nekketsu series in the game and I you find and destroy all 25 of them you net a prize that’ll be worth your while that I’ll leave you to find out on your own. What I will say is it wouldn’t be a Nekketsu/Kunio game without allowing you to play as everyone’s favorite bancho himself, Kunio and his pal Rikki, and upon beating the game you will be able to unlock both of them for use either in your existing game or in the New Game+ mode complete with newly updated sprites reflecting the art style of the game and completely different fighting styles from one another and Misako and Kyoko.
What could be better?: Only thing I can say here is the fact that there isn’t online coop for this game of which I find to be the only real let down. Yeah, you could complain about the fact the game feels repetitive at times walking left to right beating up baddies (it doesn’t yet many will complain about this) or complain about random difficulty spikes and enemy rush downs in swarms but with that I’d tell you to just grind and “git gud” as this is old-school in the modern age and no where near as difficult as it was in the old NES days. Still Online coop is my only gripe that I wish was in this game.
The Verdict: With a lengthy campaign, near limitless gameplay, tons of unlockables, innumerable callbacks and references to previous Kunio games as well as the classic CombatTribes and most of all Double Dragon particularly Double Dragon Neon and in many ways ties the Neon universe into the Nekketsu universe (although I doubt the canocity and view it purely as fan service), you simply can’t go wrong with picking up and playing River City Girls. This is honestly one of the best games I’ve ever played with supreme polish in it’s tight mechanics and great narrative, never once did it ever feel like a slog and even when I was grinding to level up I still had tons of fun. I am happy to say that Nekketsu/Kunio is back and in many ways this entry is the landmark title that lands it square in the west in the mainstream that you could say that for decades the original developers at Technos had failed to do and for so long leaving the Kunio series largely niche and unknown to many in the west while other franchises such as Double Dragon are significantly more known.
River City Girls will, for many in this generation, be their first Nekketsu/Kunio title and with how well this was made this may be the game to finally bring more brand recognition to the franchise and be the revival of the franchise, my hopes are that Double Dragon gets this same kind of love from the rights owners of that franchise and make a serious DD game instead of a game like Neon that made fun of the franchise and while I don’t have hopes for a serious DD game, there is always the phenomenal Legend of The Double Dragon made by Mr.Q that’s a free download and what a true Double Dragon game should be. All in all for 30$ and with what all you get, River City Girls is KAS CERTIFIED meaning BUY THIS NOW!!!