The highly influential Kunio-kun beat-’em-up RPG series initially made its debut in arcade cabinets and Apple II computers alike – all the way back in 1986, predating both Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Streets of Rage, if you can believe it – and since then, it’s gradually built up quite the storied legacy, spanning over 20 game releases in Japan. Though far fewer have made their way to the west. But recently, developer ArcSys streamlined Kunio-kun’s beat-’em-up RPG formula with the help of 2017’s River City Ransom: Underground and its sequel, 2019’s River City Girls. The latter was especially well-received for its slick combat, fun soundtrack, and robust level design. And now, three years on, developers WayForward and ArcSys are at it again with the upcoming River City Girls 2. It already promises to be a worthy sequel for brawler enjoyers and Kunio-kun fans alike, and I got the opportunity to play its first level while soaking up the initial story sequences as three of its six playable characters, exploring a small chunk of its sprawling map, and beating its first boss. It already feels like the perfect follow-up to both the original River City Girls and the much more recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, so buckle up.
River City Girls 2 is pure slapstick, centered around a whimsical yet delightfully self-aware cast of anime-inspired characters who are all supposed to be high school-aged but generally have a taste for violence that would be deeply unbecoming of any actual teenager. Regardless, the whole town wants a piece of you, and you’ll quickly find yourself picking fights with just about everyone. It’s a little bit like Cobra Kai meets One Punch Man, if that helps.
There are now six playable characters to select from (up from the original’s core cast of four), including new additions Provie and Marian, the former of which can bust out a boombox with the Y button and breakdance with the B button. Yes, these are actual fighting moves that can do tons of damage to nearby enemies, and there are plenty of others that I could have unlocked by visiting the Dojo and buying them with in-game currency. All of these characters seem to have their own fighting styles, moves, personalities, and dialogues, though I only tried three of the six, including Kunio and Riki. Kunio himself is more of a heavy hitter, whereas Riki does less damage per attack but moves faster overall. According to the developers, one game can now be occupied by up to four players at once with the new four-player co-op mode, though I didn’t get to try that in action.
The pixelized style of River City Girls 2 is just as colorful and expressive as ever, and it looks great in 2K. Having recently come away from the enthralling TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge, which relies on the same art style, it’s really difficult to complain. In action, everything feels just as smooth as you’d expect. Environments are full of objects to break apart and weapons to pick up, including other enemies, and River City Girls 2’s map seems especially open-ended since you can enter shops and peep into side-areas along the main path – at least in the first level. Much like its predecessor, it has a rich soundtrack that oscillates between 16-bit-inspired tunes and pop songs with excellent vocals from the likes of Cristina Vee and Megan McDuffee, and there’s plenty of satirical humor baked directly into some of these vocals as well. For example, this mall area is scored by a song that openly and gleefully taunts you throughout the entire section. It garnered plenty of laughs, and many of these story moments are set up with a light-heartedness that often breaks the fourth wall – which definitely fits the pacing of a brawler featuring high school students.
I found some cool new combat features here as well, including the ability to recruit up to two downed opponents. They then become summonable allies that you’re able to bring into battle for a very limited time, but depending on how you choose to deck out your character’s equipment – this is an RPG after all – it seems like you can specialize your summoning abilities, making them appear more regularly and do more damage. I didn’t get to see the full extent of River City Girls 2’s progression systems, but characters do visibly grow more powerful as you use them and invest in their equipment and skills, and it feels nice to develop your own skills along with theirs.
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Author: Ryan McCaffrey