The brawler genre still finds its way into modern releases, but some would argue that its golden age lies in the past. I certainly remember a time when they would populate arcades with people crowded around a single machine, mashing buttons and slamming joysticks.
River City Girls, a new brawler for the PS4, brings the popular Kunio-kun series west with this spin-off that puts the brawler concept in a headlock and beats some new ideas into it. It’s a gorgeous, fresh, and exciting take on the concept, but is it enough to bring fans of these games back and convince new gamers to try it out? Let’s find out.
Beating Some New Ideas into The Genre
The thing about brawlers is their simplicity can often lead to repetition. I realize this is blasphemy to those who love the genre, but the simple fact of the matter is that mashing the same buttons on the same enemies gets old after a while.
It was exciting back then due to the large environments, flashy moves, and the bombastic bosses, but these days you need to go above and beyond to really stand out. River City girls does this in a number of ways, but it all starts with the whacky premise and storytelling.
Misako and Kyoko are in detention when the game opens, only to find out via text that their boyfriends have been kidnapped. They leap out of their seats and set out to rescue them, which kicks off a hilarious and insane story that somehow feels perfectly in line with the world it takes place within.
The humor almost immediately clicked with me. I loved one particular line in the opening scene where the teacher says “take your seats!” only for the girls to shout “No, you take them!” at which point they throw their desks at the poor teacher.
The entire school immediately jumps into action, spurred on by the principal who encourages that the others beat up these girls. It’s insane, but the enthusiastic voice acting and shifts in style during cutscenes really sold the over-the-top feel of the narrative in a way I very much enjoyed.
Ridiculous story aside, River City Girls is a pure brawler at heart, but it adds some new mechanics that breathe life into the genre. When you first start, you’ll have basic and strong attacks, with a few aerial variations, but not a ton of variety.
You will also be given an accessory to equip that offers stat boosts or buffs. You can equip two at a time, and switch them whenever you’d like. Since some of them boost damage to specific genders, there’s some strategy here to swapping out your accessories in a way that fits the scenario before you.
River City Girls also offers some metroidvania elements that subvert the usual expectation that a brawler always moves in one direction. Locked doors and branching paths on the map open up to you later on when you get the ability to enter locked doors. This allows you to move fluidly through the map at any point, and explore areas you couldn’t enter in the past.
Finding a shop or dojo also lets you spend cash from beating enemies to buy supplies or new moves. You also learn new moves as you level up in the field, which slowly builds out complex sets of combos and offers variety to keep you interested.
The opening hour or two of the game can become a bit of a grind as you start to level up and build out your moveset, but those who keep at it will find that River City Girls is far more rewarding than your typical brawler. It actually gets better and more varied as time goes on.
Bosses, of course, offer plenty of challenge and flashy moves as you would expect. This is where playing on local co-op is a huge boon to your success. When you go down in single player, you return to the last room, but in co-op you can revive your downed ally.
This is done, appropriately to the game’s personality, by stomping their body until their angel falls back into them. Playing in co-op really lets you chain together moves and juggles in a way that makes the combat even more bombastic than it is in a single player session.
Another unique mechanic that River City Girls brings to the table is the recruit system. Often the last enemy on a screen will beg for their life. You can walk into them to grab them and choose to pummel them like any other grabbed enemy, or you can recruit them.
Doing this adds them to a slot on your HP bar. Pressing L1 summons them into battle to do an attack and then retreat. It can be super helpful, but if you summon them at the wrong time, they will take hits and lose some of their health, so it’s all about timing.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say River City Girls reinvents the brawler genre, I will say that the sheer style, humor, responsive controls, and unique mechanics make this one of the better brawlers I’ve played on the PS4.
An Eclectic Mix of Superb Visuals and Audio
River City Girls is a treat for both the eyes and ears. The gameplay retains a retro style with smooth animation and little details in pixel art, but the cut scenes and shops feature gorgeous anime style art that really pops with color. There are even animated manga scenes that feature excellent narration from the main characters.
All of this combines with a superb soundtrack that offers both catchy retro beats and vocalized songs that mesh perfectly with the action on screen. The soundtrack is, simply put, intoxicating.
Brawler fans will find a lot to love about River City Girls, and the inclusion of local co-op makes it a perfect fit for gaming with your player 2 of choice. If more brawlers took risks like this and injected their own measure of style and confidence, perhaps we could see the genre make a triumphant return.
In the meantime, River City Girls will do just fine.
Final Score: 8.5/10
A copy of River City Girls was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes.
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 9/6/19