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River City Girls 2

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Arc System Works
Developer: WayForward
Release Date: Dec. 15, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'River City Girls 2'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Dec. 13, 2022 @ 9:00 a.m. PST

River City Girls 2 is an all-new entry in the knuckle-busting beat-'em-up franchise.

River City Girls 2 begins not long after the original game. After defeating the Yakuza leader Sabuko (and kicking her out a window for good measure), delinquent schoolgirls Misako and Kyoko earned the ire of her father, Sabu, who breaks out of prison to ruin the lives of the duo. Getting expelled from school isn't so bad, but when Sabu's goons start getting in the way of buying the newest video game, it becomes personal. The duo (dragging their boyfriends along for the ride) set out to beat the living hell out of anything that gets between them and enjoying themselves, and woe awaits foolish crime lords who think they can intimidate teenage girls.

Like the first game, River City Girls 2 is a bastion of meta-humor and goofy inside jokes. Pretty much everyone you meet is some sort of quirky goofy character, and half of them are references to popular titles. The game veers between in-universe humor and breaking the fourth wall at a moment's notice, and any attempt at taking the game seriously is quickly undercut by its protagonists. Thankfully, it is often genuinely quite funny with a lot of humor coming from the straightforward ridiculousness. The main story is presented through charming comic panels that give the entire thing a distinctive feel. It's absolutely old-school, and some of the humor might be lost if you're not a fan of the River City franchise, but it stands well on its own merits.

River City Ransom's core gameplay is here and functionally bigger and better than ever. You're given a ridiculously large map with multiple locations to explore, and each route has multiple paths, hidden shops and secrets, and tons of enemies. Once you start the game, you're functionally free to go in whatever direction you like. Beating bosses unlocks more areas to explore, and most areas have side-quests for extra prizes or valuable items. It's all nice and standard to the franchise, and you'll probably find it to be comfortably familiar, but it can sometimes look intimidatingly large. There is fast-travel, but the points are far enough between that it is often faster to walk there.

River City Girls 2 keeps the same RPG-lite mechanics. Characters gain experience as they beat up enemies, which unlocks new moves and abilities. You can spend money on food (or not-food things, like books and toys that you explicably eat anyway). These items recover your health, and the first time you devour anything, you'll gain a permanent stat boost. You can also spend money to learn new attacks and super moves from the Double Dragon brothers. There are even equippable accessories that offer special boosts, such as status effects on attacks and changing the attributes of some of your moves.

The biggest change in the game comes from the characters' expanded variety of moves. A larger variety of traditional fighting game moves and combos are available, so it's easier to break enemy defenses, knock them into the air mid-combo and follow up with aerial combat strings, and shift from defense to offense. In general, there's a lot more fighting game DNA than before. It's still a River City game at heart, so don't expect anything overwhelmingly complex, but it's closer to something like Streets of Rage 4 than it was before.

Adding to the fighting game feeling, you can also call in assists. When you get the last enemy on screen to low health, there is a chance they may surrender. Surrendering enemies can be recruited, at which point they join you permanently as an assist character. Each different enemy has a different move, with different pallet swaps having different moves from the enemy's move sets; you can hold two at any time and summon them with the tap of a button. There are also special assists who are usually cameos from other games, and they can be hired for cash and tend to have much stronger moves. The only downside is that assist characters have health, and calling them out at the wrong time means they take damage. If the character's HP bar drops to zero, they leave the party and have to be picked up from a hangout to continue using them. Hired help, on the other hand, just leaves, and you need to pay the fee to get their help again.

Probably one of the coolest new features of River City Girls 2 is its expanded roster of playable characters. In addition to Misako and Kyoko, you can also play as their boyfriends Kunio and Riki, Provie from River City Ransom Underground, and probably my favorite new addition, Marian from Double Dragon. Yes, that's right: the lady who gets punched and kidnapped at the beginning. She decided that getting kidnapped was for the birds, got ridiculously swole, and is having her own adventures. Each character plays differently enough that it's easy to find favorites. Kyoko is more agile, while Marian is a brawler who can dodge in any direction and dole out amazing amounts of damage. You can swap characters at any time, but progress isn't really carried over between characters, so it's probably best to find one you like and stick with them.

Overall, River City Girls 2 is a darn fun beat-'em-up. It isn't quite the masterpiece that Streets of Rage 4 is, but it makes up for that with a goofy quirky sense of humor and a lot of genuine laughs that bolster the gameplay. The expanded roster of characters (and expanded co-op options) offer a lot of flexibility and fun. There's also a lot of content, with the huge areas meaning there are plenty of different zones to explore. There's sometimes too much backtracking for my taste, but it's not a huge issue. The only frustrating part is that the PS5 load times are a hair longer than I'd like, considering how often you have to see them.

RCG2 has two serious problems that kind of drag it down, and both mostly involve the boss fights. The first is that the bosses trend toward having too many overly lengthy invincibility periods where you can't actually damage them and can only dodge attacks. I don't mind this happening now and then, but there are several boss fights where the boss is untargettable more often than not. It drags down the fights, especially if you lose and have to fight your way back to where you were — including the lengthy invincibility period. The original game also had this issue, but it feels exacerbated in this one, with some moves effectively making the foe invincible until they stop to catch their breath.

The real problem is that the platforming isn't responsive or tight enough for some of the game's platform challenges. It still has the same slightly stiff River City Ransom movement and controls, but you're expected to do precision platforming and dodge attacks mid-battle. In some cases, there are alternatives, such as parrying or dodging, but in others, you're stuck trying to make your character avoid attacks as if they were in a more mobility-intensive game. One thing that helped was swapping over to the d-pad instead of the analog stick; platforming becomes a touch less finnicky without the risk of diagonals, but I am sure I lost more of my health to the platforming than to enemies.

Neither issue necessarily ruins the game, but they made me not very excited for boss fights, which were otherwise the highlight of the game. The bosses tend to be creative and clever, and when you can hit them, the gameplay is excellent. I wish the game would put more emphasis on fighting instead of just dodging attacks until you can land a few hits. Some of the new mechanics, like parrying and longer combos, mean that you can dish out a lot more damage during vulnerable periods, but it still felt excessive. It only stands out because of how comfortable the rest of the game feels.

River City Girls 2 retains the same pixel art style as the original, and it still looks great. Everything is bright, colorful, and charmingly animated. There are a ton of visual flourishes and backgrounds that make everything pop, and I always looked forward to a new area to see what the backgrounds were like. Everything is clear and easily readable, which helps the combat remain smooth during the chaos of some fights.

The audio end of the game is fantastic. The voice acting does a phenomenal job of making jokes land and making characters fun, even though they may seem insufferable. The main duo must carry a lot of weight, but they absolutely do. The soundtrack is fantastic. It has amazing new tracks and nice remixes of older songs, and like so many of Wayforward's titles, it's a delight to listen to.

River City Girls 2 is pretty much everything you'd expect from a sequel: more enemies, more allies, more moves, more areas to explore, and more everything. It doesn't veer too far away from any of the original's design choices, and the result is a comfortable, if safe, sequel. The boss fights feel a little less tightly designed than they did in the first game, but it's a small complaint at best, and there's still plenty to enjoy here. If you enjoy quirky comedy with a fighting game twist, River City Girls 2 has a lot to enjoy. It's also way too cool to body-slam folks as a muscular, super-cool version of one of gaming's most famous damsels in distress.

Score: 8.0/10

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