RIVER CITY GIRLS / DEVELOPER & PUBLISHER: WAYFORWARD / PLATFORM: PC, PS4, SWITCH, XBOX ONE (REVIEWED) / RELEASE DATE: 5TH SEPTEMBER
Part of the long-running Kunio-Kun series (which is relatively unknown outside of Japan apart from 1989's River City Ransom, a favourite of many retro enthusiasts), River City Girls pays homage to its origins by sticking closely to the side-scrolling beat 'em up gameplay that made the series so popular in its native country, but adds plenty of modern touches that bring the series up to date.
After a glorious anime intro that wouldn't be out of place on the Cartoon Network (check it out in the trailer up there), we join schoolgirls Kyoko and Misako in detention. A mysterious text message informs them that their boyfriends, Kunio and Riki (the heroes of the main series), have been kidnapped, so the girls break out of school and head off across the city to rescue them. The rest of the story told through black and white manga comic strips and vibrant anime cutscenes, all fully-voiced and excellently-acted.
Playable alone with a single character or in co-op with two players controlling one character each, RCG's campaign takes players through six sections of River City. Kyoko and Misako are immensely likeable – sassy without being bratty and funny without being irritating. They level up independently and learn their own unique attacks throughout the game, so there's a high chance you'll want to play through at least twice (probably more) to see everything that's on offer. The brawling gameplay is seriously addictive, and RCG's structure allows players to move around the city on their own (as opposed to constantly being forced forwards), which gives plenty of scope for side quests and EXP grinding if that's your thing.
A few slight gripes – money is very easy to lose (a sizeable chunk is deducted from your balance when you die) so, if you need to buy healing items, you're sometimes left with no option but to revisit areas to earn more cash by beating people up. It's also very easy to accidentally leave a screen if you're standing too close to the edge, and the ability to remap the controls would have been appreciated (the top bumpers are never the best option). Other than that, River City Girls is hands down one of the best brawlers we've come across in a long time. Stunning animations, an exceptional soundtrack that deserves all the awards, funny dialogue and, most importantly, it's tons of fun to play. Go get those boys!