With the industry increasingly moving towards AAA blockbusters as the rule rather than the exception, there will always be room for more classic affairs like the side-scrolling brawler to make an impression. Following the excellent 2019 affair that was River City Girls, WayForward Studios and Arc System Works are back with River City Girls 2, an impressive beat-’em-up sequel that makes smart improvements for another wonderful adventure.
Kyoko and Misako are back once more with their boyfriends, and it seems like those Yakuza punks vanquished in the first game are back for more beatings. Needless to say, don’t come expecting a deep and interesting story here because the action is where it’s at, and when you have a city full of punchable bad guys hanging around, a good time awaits.
That’s not to say the writing is bad, which is the opposite. Within the barebones story lies smart writing, with witty banter a constant highlight, be it between the lovable protagonists or the very enemies that they will beat up. Such sharp writing helps to keep things moving briskly, and there is always the potential there for a more involved narrative, even if River City Girls 2 doesn’t quite nail it.
Toss that all aside, and the true gem that is the brawling takes centre stage. All four characters can be chosen to dish out the hurt straight from the off, making story progress and levelling up at the same time. Although the first few hours can feel slow, once more advanced moves and techniques become unlocked, River City Girls 2 ascends into a violent and almost balletic performance of fast and hard-hitting action unlike anything else. Throw in four-player co-op, and that mayhem translates into major fun.
It also helps that most of the combos and moves you’ll pick up in River City Girls 2 are easy to pull off, making their integration into your go-to combos an easy enough task. The different heroes also feel distinctly unique, catering to players of different tastes and play styles.
Misako is great for those that prefer to juggle enemies in the air for non-stop pain, whereas Kyoko is all about controlling the immediate area around her with damaging kicks and punches. As for the boys, Riki is quick on the move and perfect for tying up a solo enemy with his combos, and Kunio is a straight-up brawler that will bring the pain. River City Girls 2 also introduces two new characters in Provie and Marian, with the former alike to Riki but is made for crowd control, whereas Marian is a master grappler that can take out even the toughest of foes.
The game’s penchant for variety also extends to the bad guys that are in your way, with all sorts of enemies to mix things up and keep you on your toes. If you know the legacy of the franchise and even the genre, many of them will feel immediately familiar, which makes beating up on them all the more satisfying. Of course, it is not always that easy, as River City Girls 2 can offer a stiff challenge for those that rush in without taking a more measured approach, so you have been warned.
There will be specific sections where gauntlets of enemies will descend upon you for an extended fight, which can feel tedious even for the most seasoned of players, but otherwise, the pacing is usually set just right throughout the entirety of the game.
As in the first game, certain enemies will offer their fealty upon defeat, joining the player’s crew as assisting characters that can be called upon in a time of need. While this system was already present in the first game, the sequel expands upon it with new NPC characters that can join in the fight as well.
All of the action continues to take place in River City, which has received a facelift and a much bigger play space to explore and more to do. Even with a fast-travel system, the distance to your next goal might require plenty of walking, which isn’t the best if you are raring to keep moving through the content.
Aside from the fighting, there are various side quests to keep busy with. Perhaps you might want to join in catching ghosts, or rob banks controlled by the Yakuza, or just master dodgeball – all of the side content are worthwhile adventures that complement the otherwise non-stop fighting quite competently.
The increasing amount of money earned from beating the bad guys up can also be spent at a variety of stores found in the city. Eating consumables grant not just a permanent stat boost the first time, but they can also be saved for a particularly difficult section when you need it. There are also plenty of gear items to look at, further spicing things up with bonuses and effects that can make the 10 hours or so spent in River City Girls 2 even more interesting.
Visually, the game is stunning, and the pixel style once again stands out for not just the beauty, but also the execution within the spaces provided. Character models are enhanced with smooth animations, while backgrounds often pop when you are out and about in the city. The varying styles in different areas of River City are also a treat to marvel at, and when you are questing about, there is always a chance to take a breather and enjoy the magnificent work put in by the artists.
Similarly, the music is banging all the way through, with Megan McDuffee once again demonstrating that her excellent form in the first game continues with River City Girls 2. Every area just comes to life even more when the music hits, and when you are in the thick of the action, there is no better feeling than having a soundtrack that matches your triumph.
For anyone looking for that good old fix of nostalgic beat ‘em up experiences, River City Girls 2 comes highly recommended as your next stop. A game that wears its heart on its sleeve, has smart, witty writing despite a lacklustre story, and combat that provides both depth and satisfaction, River City Girls 2 is everything a sequel should be even with some rough edges.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
The beat ‘em up genre gets another modern classic with River City Girls 2, even if the story never quite keeps up with the witty writing and excellent combat.
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Story - 6.5/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 8/10