You might not be aware that one of the games in the Kunio-Kun series is part of a connected universe of beat-em-ups because it is so old and has been released on so many different consoles. The most well-known of them, Super Dodge Ball, Double Dragon, and River City Ransom, are all distinct tales about how River City never seems to run out of punches to make. River City Girls 2 is both the final form of the action-RPG design that River City Ransom pioneered in the late 1980s and a sequel to the excellent 2019 beat-em-up. It is only slightly different from the one that came before it because it chose to improve systems and grow in size rather than completely changing how things work. But why alter your technique when you kicked so much butt the first time?

It is unclear how and why the Yakuza that Kyoko and Misako thought they had driven out of the city in the previous game are back, but they have taken over the school and all of the local hangout spots with their punchable faces. That is sufficient justification for their two-fisted campaign to remove them from the streets, one broken rib or cracked skull at a time. The writing is sharp and funny, and the story itself is light and easy to forget. The one-liners and banter between the protagonists and their adversaries and side characters never failed to make me laugh.

You get straight into the fighting before long, with every one of the four returning characters – our two driving women and their sweethearts, Waterway City Payment legends Kunio and Riki – playable out of the door in single-player or up to four-player center. Even though leveling up and learning new skills naturally or by purchasing them at the dojo transforms the combat system into a powerful palette for violent self-expression after a few hours, the beginning of the game can feel especially shallow. With just a modest bunch of procedures available to you, the button-malicious nature of this sort won’t ever feel more evident. In any case, that fills in as a conspicuous difference to what an extraordinary beat-them-up can be: The offensive options appear to be spectacular as you progress further down the combo rabbit hole.

The offensive options appear to be spectacular as you progress further down the combo rabbit hole.

River City Girls 2 has a lot of moves to learn, but they’re easy to cycle into your strategy because they only require a direction and light, heavy, or special attacks. Characters are also pretty easy to define archetypes that make them importantly different from one another: Misako and Kyoko are both all-around, but Misako has a much better air game and can lock down her area with kicks inspired by Chun-Li or repel them with the strongest dab in the world.

Provide and Marian, the new characters, as well as their boyfriends, feel like best friends are just two sides of the same coin. Riki and Provide are speedsters who move quickly and blind-strike opponents, but the breakdancer’s tricks are better for groups of enemies than Riki’s lockdown on a single target. Marian complements Kunio’s brawler instincts by being the more hands-on grappler in addition to being a total unit. In the end, this means that anyone who plays a particular way can choose from multiple options. However, since non-active characters level up much more slowly than active characters, you may still want to focus on one character and stick with them. If you aren’t actively leveling them all equally, you will set yourself back several levels every time you switch characters.

Anyone who plays in a particular way can choose from a variety of options.

The victims of the gang come in a wonderful variety of sizes and shapes, many of which are allusions to Kunio-Kun history, the beat-’em-up genre, or popular culture as a whole. They can be very stubborn, and the way they just surround you and scream at your flanks can be enough to frustrate you until you have better crowd-control tools. Fortunately, most of the difficult fights can be avoided by simply running to the exit, and only a small number of scenes force you to fight before you can move on.

Enemies you defeat in the first game will occasionally give in and beg to join your team, allowing them to serve as support characters in tag-based fighting games. River City Girls 2 goes one step further by offering a selection of NPCs who can join you without you having to beat them down first. This is another great way to avoid having to grind through opponents unnecessarily. I wish there had been a similar solution for the final hour, which was especially tedious because you had to fight off waves of bad guys by running through mazes of locked screens in a climax that felt more like busy work than a final test.

The outsider the interruption, the more I missed it when it was no more.

During the entire eight-hour journey, though, I wasn’t just street fighting. I found myself occasionally performing odd jobs like catching ghosts, robbing a Yakuza-owned bank, and teaching the locals the lost art of dodgeball shortly after beginning the quest to save the city. I missed it more when it was gone the stranger the distraction. The punch-drunk monotony was broken up by these much-appreciated tangents.

In combat, equipping with gear purchased from stores scattered throughout the city’s seven regions helps even the playing field. My personal go-to’s were items that gave me a health shield when I was low or enhanced my heavy attacks with elemental properties. However, some options change almost every way you interact with River City Girls 2. Need to move quicker? That requires an accessory. Need to hit simply the male (or female) foes harder for reasons unknown, there’s one for that as well. Even though food items are consumables that can only be used once, they can be stored for later use and give characters a permanent stat boost the first time they eat them. Therefore, there will be plenty of opportunities to spend all that hard-earned money if you decide to grind.

River City’s map is much larger in River City Girls 2 than it was in the first game. Because they are so well drawn and colored, my first time kicking ass through locations like the vibrant fish markets of Ocean Heights or the sleek offices of the Technos complex was a treat. Having said that, despite the presence of a fast-travel system, I had to spend a lot of time backtracking through different parts of the city to complete the main quest’s checkboxes due to the city’s size. Also, many screens have a lot of architecture and obstacles that can make platforming harder or force you to think more strategically in the fights you choose, but I found that I was also frequently falling off edges or having my view of the action blocked by something in the foreground.

However, the scenery requires further consideration. Combining a chunky pixel style for the character models and backgrounds with silky smooth animations, this game captures a style and expressiveness that rivals Streets of Rage 4 and TMNT: The Next Generation. Shredder’s Retribution. The music also demonstrates this: The amazing soundtrack by Megan McDuffee features instrumentals that are hard on the genre and get your feet tapping. When you walk into a room, you might hear amusing attempts to mimic local radio stations in the background. Songs with villains’ taunting lyrics taunting you on your way to them are featured in some of the more prominent areas. The music has so much vigor in it that it’s hard not to want to kick everyone in the room.

The Verdict

River City should be your next stop, whether you’ve been playing beat ’em ups for a long time or only recently discovered them thanks to the genre’s recent revival. The RPG elements, intense combat, and witty humor of River City Girls 2 are a real boost to a genre that has been celebrating its history recently but also needs some new ideas. Wayforward has created something that is both authentic to its roots and brand-new on the scene at the same time by expanding on its 2019 revival of the foundational design concept that was laid back in 1989. Wayforward has done this by blending history seamlessly with modern vibes. Being led back and forth through the city’s map might be considered stale, but that doesn’t mean those locations aren’t beautiful and full of great music.


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