Platforms: PC, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch[Review code provided by WayForward]
The girls are back in town for another round of brawling beat-’em-up action in River City – and this time they’ve brought some new friends. Following up on the 2019 original, River City Girls 2 sets out to do things bigger and better than the previous instalment – and, for the most part, pulls that off.
River City Girls 2 picks up where the first game left off: the girls have beaten Sabuko, found their boyfriends and embarassed the Yakuza in the process. When Sabuko’s father finds out, he decides to take matters into his own hands and take over River City in order to set things straight. Soon enough, the girls are expelled from school and Sabu’s goons are running the town into the ground. Now it’s up to the girls (and their friends) to save River City.
Those looking for a new beat-’em-up experience should be warned, though, that River City Girls 2 is not a traditional Streets of Rage or Final Fight style belt-scroller. Much like the series of games it’s spun off from, River City Girls 2 has a non-linear, light RPG flow. Players level up, collect cash and buy items and new moves as they roam back and forth across River City, beating down mooks along the way. The full game can be played co-op, with two players online or four players locally.
It’s at this point I should mention that I didn’t really like the original River City Girls. While the core combat was good, there was a lot about it that put me off. Going into River City Girls 2, I was worried that I’d be in for a similar disappointment.
However, I’m happy to say it’s a much improved experience on the whole. The presentation remains fabulous, with excellent pixel art, beautiful illustrations and a great soundtrack to boot. The combat is deeper, with plenty of new moves to learn and a combo system that remains satisfying from start to finish. Even for someone who’s not very combo-literate (like me), it’s easy to figure out flashy ways to beat down the baddies of River City.
Each character feels different and all of them are fun to play with. If a character isn’t clicking, you can freely swap them out by visiting a hideout at any time. The game scales well to your level, giving each character cash and level-ups even when you don’t use them so that there’s no grind to catch up.
River City Girls 2 also boasts a huge amount of voice acting, including (for the first time) the option to play with Japanese voices. It’s especially impressive that all of the game’s dialogue is voiced for all six playable characters, meaning any mix-and-match duo works and feels natural.
Unfortunately, you still can’t advance through dialogue at your own pace and there’s still too much of it. You either have to sit through every word or skip conversations entirely. As a light-hearted, comedy-focused game, a lot of the conversations revolve around the heroes being a bit dumb and reluctantly agreeing to run errands for people.
That said, the characters are still charming and entertaining in spite of some repetitive jokes (take a shot every time someone gets a word or name wrong). There’s a lot of genuinely amusing moments throughout, and the game doesn’t rely too much on meta-references, which scores points in my book. How much of the comedy lands will obviously vary, but I found it a lot more enjoyable than the first game.
The game balance is still a bit hit-and-miss, too. On the whole River City Girls 2 offers an enjoyable challenge, but there are times when it can feel unfair. The enemy AI is aggressive and likes to surround you. You can get stunlocked, bounced off walls and thrown down holes – once you’re stuck in a combo, there’s not much you can do to get out, resulting in huge chunks of unpreventable damage. These problems manifest in nasty ways sometimes, especially during boss fights.
Each boss fight in River City Girls 2 is a little bit different, with a number of gimmicks to make them more than a straight fist-to-face showdown. Some of them are clever and the variety keeps things exciting and memorable; however, several of the gimmicks are just plain annoying, particularly when platforming is involved.
One example is the boss fight against Marian, where she throws exploding barrels at three elevated platforms. The player is expected to see where she’s aiming and hop to another platform – easy enough, until she starts throwing two barrels at a time. Once you get hit by a barrel you’ll almost always land in the water, then respawn just in time for it to happen again. Moments like this can really spoil the fun.
There’s also quite a lot of trekking back and forth to do, especially if you’re clearing side-quests and hunting secrets. Navigating River City can be difficult, as it’s quite large and less straight-forward than you might hope.
The city itself is broken up into interconnected ‘rooms’, similar to a Metroidvania game. However, the exits to each room don’t always line up with the layout on the map screen. I found myself constantly opening the map, guessing which of three exits would take me the right way, then checking the map again to find out I’d picked the wrong one.
To make matters worse, every time you move from one room to the next there’s a loading screen. This bogs down the pace considerably and makes backtracking to shops a hassle. It no doubt hurts the co-op experience, where several players may want to go back-and-forth to buy upgrades and items throughout a session.
All said and done though, River City Girls 2 is a very solid hybrid of beat-’em-up action and light RPG elements. It runs just about the right length to not overstay it’s welcome, and there’s a decent amount of side-questing and secret hunting for completionists. The game also features a more challenging new game plus mode and four difficulty levels, so hardcore players have plenty to sink their teeth into. Plus, with six fully voiced characters to mix and match, repeat playthroughs should feel less stale.
There’s still some room for improvement, but the game is a big step up from the first instalment and makes me hopeful that a potential third game will be even better. If you enjoyed the first game then you’ll probably like the sequel just as much, and probably even more. It’s definitely worth checking out.
River City Girls 2 is a sequel done right, improving on the original game with more playable characters, deeper combat and a whole new adventure to enjoy.
Although the game still has some lingering issues, it does enough right to provide a very enjoyable experience from start to finish. Fans of the original will be sure to enjoy the follow up, and there’s plenty to like here for newcomers, too. Worth checking out.