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River City Girls Zero

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Arc System Works
Developer: WayForward
Release Date: Feb. 14, 2022


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Switch Review - 'River City Girls Zero'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 21, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

River City Girls Zero lets players experience the first time that Misako and Kyoko teamed up with Kunio and Riki to take to the streets in hard-hitting, curb-stomping action.

River City Girls is not the first time that Kyoko and Misako have been involved in the long-running series of Kunio-kun games. The duo's initial appearance dates back to 1994 with the Super Famicom game, Shin Nekketsu Koha: Kunio-tachi no Banka, which (like most of the titles in the series) stayed in Japan. To prepare people for the arrival of River City Girls 2, WayForward and Arc System Works localized the game and called it River City Girls Zero.

The game has three intro sequences. The first is an animated video with a song that explains the game plot and the fact that this isn't a new game. The song is pretty neat, as long as you aren't put off by the tongue-in-cheek nature of it, but the animation stands out since it's done in a style that tries to match anime of the '90s with some extra VHS fuzz. After selecting the language, you start with a comic sequence where Misako pays a visit to Kyoko and finds that she's acquired an old video game of their first adventure that also stars their boyfriends, Kunio and Riki. After hooking up the old console to Kyoko's old TV, they talk about how cool it would be if others got to play the game with some extra elements to make it seem more modern.

After that, the actual game begins with a cut scene depicting a motorcycle hit-and-run where someone protecting a girl from getting hit gets killed himself. The girl who was saved identifies Riki and Kunio as the ones who ran over the man, leading to the duo being imprisoned for its crimes. A visit from a friend confirms that the two were set up, and after a prison break and reuniting with their girlfriends, the group sets out to beat up everyone in the path to discover who set them up.

The first thing to keep in mind is that this isn't a remaster or a remake. Aside from the opening and ending comic sequences and movies, this is the exact same game that was released in Japan. The change to the copyrights for Arc System Works is present, even if the Technos logo is shown at the start, and the game can display the text in various languages, including both a literal and touched-up English translation that's different from the fan translation that's available online. For those wondering, the game happens runs on the higan emulator for high accuracy. (On a side note, having a dedication to Near in the "open source" credits is a welcome gesture from the team.)

After selecting whether you're playing solo or co-op, you'll notice that the game is heavy on dialog. Other beat-'em-ups have dialog playing before fights, and that's usually reserved for taunting, but a good deal of it happens constantly here. It's not unusual to get into a fight with a few enemies before text boxes appear and characters become more animated, and that doesn't slow down as you progress through environments. Those looking for arcade action may find this breaks the pacing, but those looking for more of an adventure game feel will appreciate that this moves the story along in meaningful ways.

Beyond that, River City Girls Zero has two distinct traits. The first is the ability to switch players on the fly. This happens at any time if you're playing solo, but it only occurs in the middle section of the game if you're playing in co-op. Either way, if one character is low on health, you can switch to a new fighter to continue with a new bar. Those health bars refill after hitting significant story milestones, but having one character lose all their life means that the game is over even if everyone else on the team has full health.

The second distinct trait has to do with the fighting system, which feels deep for a beat-'em-up. You have standard punch and kick combos, but the kicks look flashier since you perform a dropkick as your last move, and your jump-kick is rather powerful. You can block, but doing that in conjunction with a punch or kick unleashes a super move, like a tornado kick or a flurry of rapid punches. You can now grab things like overhead signs for swinging attacks, and you can attack prone foes with stomps or mounted punches. The only drawback is that the game sometimes unleashes the wrong attack at the wrong time, like performing a flying stomp instead of a jump kick, but overall, the fighting system feels surprisingly deep.

All of this creates an experience that feels rather good. The game adds some variety by including a few motorcycle driving levels that are the most difficult segments when playing solo, since you need to worry about attacking and not hitting the walls of the highway unless you want an instant game over. There might be too many driving levels for some players, but the break is appreciated. The single life system may prove daunting at first, but the infinite continue system and passwords make it a game that can be beaten with some perseverance, and that's before you start counting the save state system among those progress-saving tools. The game can be completed in roughly two hours — perhaps less if you're playing co-op — but that isn't a huge deal since that was the standard length for games in this genre at the time.

There are a few things that might be disappointing to those who are familiar with the franchise name. The game is much more linear and adheres to the older style of Kunio-kun titles like Renegade, instead of going for the more open River City Ransom style. There's no going back and forth between levels, and there aren't any upgrades except for the transition period when you go from a prison uniform to a school uniform. Some of the standard conventions of the genre are missing. The inability to pick up weapons is understandable, since only a few enemies use any tools, but it feels odd that there's nothing else to attack with here. The same goes for anything that refills your health, making the title more challenging unless you're good at blocking and countering or can find cheap strategies to take out everyone.

With the game relatively untouched, players get a good look at how the series adapted to the 16-bit era, and the answer is surprisingly well. Characters are no longer squat, but their exaggerated facial expressions remain intact. Animations are more pronounced; they take on the style of Renegade and Double Dragon. The backgrounds look great due to the expanded color palette. The music is also strong thanks to the sample technology of the SNES, and the effects hit with the same sort of bass that other games of the era on the platform exhibited.

River City Girls Zero is geared more toward existing Kunio-kun fans rather than those who are new to the series. Existing fans can appreciate the callbacks to older titles and like the fact that the game tries something different with the formula. Everyone else will still enjoy the game but may wonder why many series elements and genre traits are missing. It is a solid game, but be cautious going in if you aren't already a fan of the Kunio-kun series.

Score: 7.5/10

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