Capsule Review: River City Girls

A beautiful combo-based brawler, though the constant threat of losing money to death may frustrate some players.

A one- or two-player 2.5D brawler with RPG elements. Play as Misako or Kyoko (or both, with a friend) and fight your way through the bizarrely-aggressive residents of River City on a quest to rescue your kidnapped boyfriends, series protagonists Kunio and Riki.

Combat is combo-based and requires careful threat management and skilled use of your abilities to avoid getting overwhelmed. If you let your guard down, you will take damage - even after clearing all enemies in an area, more will spawn if you stick around. Defeating enemies earns you experience (though not always - it seemed like only the first group of enemies in an area awarded experience, presumably to keep you from leveling up too far too soon) toward level-ups that give slight stat increases and unlock a few moves. Defeated enemies also drop money, which is the main way to become more powerful - at various shops you can buy food and similar items that restore health and provide additional stat gains when consumed, and at the dojo you can buy more moves (limited by your current experience level). Misako and Kyoko have slightly different sets of moves available, adding some replay value and an opportunity to choose your preferred character and fighting style.

Falling in combat costs you a third of your cash on hand, encouraging you to take every fight seriously and spend frequently - though moves are much more expensive than food and often worth saving up for. However, you don’t always have quick access to shops (and in fact you don’t get to the first shop until after the first boss fight). Even if you decide to backtrack to the nearest shop and run past the enemies on the way, you can randomly trigger “screenlock” battles that require you to deal with a few waves of enemies before moving on, so it can be almost impossible to reach your destination without losing health. This makes the question of whether to spend or save less manageable as a risk/reward trade-off, and instead it’s mostly a form of regressive difficulty. The threat of lost money (and thus, a need to spend more time grinding enemies for money) is always looming, and if you respond to threats of this kind of punishment the way I do, it can be a persistent source of unpleasant tension that gets worse the further you are from a shop.

If you like brawlers and can put up with the constant threat of lost money, there’s a lot to enjoy here. The visuals are gorgeously-animated pixel art and the soundtrack is excellent. The story’s a little thin but the world has charm and humor to spare. Combat is deep and satisfying to master.

I Stopped Playing When: I had a good time in the first few areas, aside from the boss fights. After the second boss, I felt like the ratio of frustration to enjoyment was too high for me and I put the game down. I only played alone, but I’d be happy to try playing with a friend and suspect it would make the game significantly more enjoyable.

Docprof's Rating:

Two Stars: Meh. The game has some merit - it probably held my attention for at least an hour or I came back to it for more than one play session. But there wasn't enough draw for me to stick with it for the long haul.

You can get it or learn more here.