>> River City Girls

Played on XBox with Misako on Hard difficulty

River City Girls is a modern pixel art 2D side-scrolling beat'em up where two high-school girls rescue their boyfriends. I personally do not care about the history of the game being a spin-off in the Kunio-kun franchise, but how it good it is as a fighting game. My point of reference is Streets of Rage 4, so I find this game sadly feels inferior with several issues specially the story and combat.

While the story is serviceable for an action game, it is not satisfying enough where a series of false leads culminate into a joke ending. Although it is an excuse to visit areas and fight bosses, the quest and dialogue is not clever or insightful enough to make it worthwhile and overall detrimental to its world whereas a simpler story might be better like trying to fight through a sale or rare item. I am not sure how impactful the references and callbacks are to the fans, but I felt every character was missing some key character details or relationships which made me confused as a newcomer. Despite not minding the story that much, it is still rather bad.

Before talking about the core combat, I did not like the inclusion of a level progression with stats and unlockable moves primarily because the starting expereince feels so limited and restrictive which does not allow or encourage for creative combos or expression. Addressing the stats first, it is not explained nor does it feel impactful. In fact, the strangest unexplained stat mechanic is that eating food increases stats but what stat will be increased is unknown until purchased. While I believe it is to incentivize visiting shops and purchasing items, I feel it is not valuable enough with money being hard to acquire and healing items commonly restoring a small amount given their cost. Also, equippable items even from the bosses commonly only offer stat bonuses that only give minor bonuses instead of gameplay depth or variety. My suggestion is to remove the stat system altogether or rebalance and rework its effects to make it more meaningful.

While unlocking moves primarily through money or a currency is a solid idea, it is hard here because they are expensive without extensive grinding and most importantly around 25% is lost on death which frequently happens without good crowd control moves. In particualr, fighting enemies to gain money for moves is not viable as the health loss cannot be offset by the healing items. Rather, defeating bosses is the main method of gaining money that must be immediately spent for expensive moves before dying. This death mechanic punishes hoarding that contradicts saving money for better moves to prevent death which is paradoxical. If moves are unlocked through levels or some combined skill point system like completing side quests, the inclusion of level progression would make more sense. Although I do not believe this is a good consequence for dying, this could have overall worked if healing and money were more viable since dying is occasionally cheaper than healing.

Regardless how moves can be unlocked, the worst issue is that the game's difficulty and approach does not push the player to its advanced techniques such as juggling or launchers which is typically where the fun is. The fundamental issue is a lack of tutorials, a training room and the ability to test a move makes it harder to learn the combat safely and creatively experiment specially with lost money on death. Also, the game does not incentivize good performances like a hit or damage multiplier where even small money bonuses could be attractive enough. After beating the game, it does not offer reasons to replay the game such as a ranking or new challenges despite offering two new characters. I do believe the game has depth, but the game is not designed to take advantage of that depth nor does it demand the player to be good which is a shame for a fighting game.

Moving on the actual combat, it has many minor issues making the game overall feel frustrating than it should be. First off, the environmental background feels unpolished or untested as the foreground elements obscure characters specially enemies that can lead to cheap hits where adding opacity would easily work. Picking up a weapon, enemy or attacking is tied to one contextual button that causes undesired inputs and confusion where different buttons would fix this. Enemies have too good vertical tracking attacks as well that makes those deceptive despite being able to dodge vertically or block. Since special attacks do not have invulnerability frames, enemy attacks occasionally interrupt special moves that makes them less safe despite being crowd control moves. In fact, players can be juggled or hit by multiple enemy leading to unfair damage where some knockdown invulnerability would help. On the other side since characters do not have moves to hit enemies on the ground, players have to needlessly wait for them to get up that contributes to making combat less engaging. Although players can ground stomp and grab enemies of the ground, it is not the same as creating a combo flow by relaunching them in the air. Overall, these many issues make the core combat feel occasionally unpolished and unfair.

I do have other issues such as the music, art style and boss design, but these said issues prevented me from fully enjoying and investing more time. Still as a casual cooperative game, this is an okay product but not for me.