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River City Girls Zero Review

River City Girls Zero

Developer: WayForward
Publisher: Arc System Works
Platforms:Switch (Reviewed), Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC, Playstation 5, Xbox Series X|S
Release Date: Available Now
Price: $14.99 – Available Here


River City Girls came out a couple of years back and offered a fresh take on beat-em ups with an awesome soundtrack and visuals to match. The game was a hit for WayForward, who localized its inspiration as an appetizer before the eventual sequel. Released nearly three decades ago in Japan, Shin Nekketsu Kōha: Kunio-tachi no Banka has adopted the name River City Girls Zero for the west, getting some minor changes to make it a better fit for the namesake. Does this brawler still have punch all this time later? Let’s find out. 


River City Girls Zero is kind of a game within a game, wearing its “meta” badge proudly as our two heroines’ dust off a copy of a classic game featuring their boyfriends in a journey that took place long ago. After some modern cutscenes, the player is thrust into Shin Nekketsu Kōha: Kunio-tachi no Banka, where they will assist Kunio and Riki as they bust out of prison to prove they were framed for a crime they didn’t commit. Traversing high school, the streets, and dark alleyways of River City, it is up to these four to clear names and kick ass in what is a highly narrative driven adventure. 

The story can get a bit winded at times but comes off as accessible due to the tongue-in-cheek nature of how this game was localized with the script. In all honesty, I do think I would have liked to see a little more modernization here as some parts seem a bit too far-fetched, but that is kind of the charm of the experience. The execution is very clever, putting this new title on an older gem of the past – and WayForward seemed to have gone into this project with a lot of respect for the game that brought River City Girls to life. 


The gameplay is about as River City as you can get, but with a twist to make it feel unique. Players start as Kunio and Riki and must beat up squads of enemies in set locations to progress. Players are equipped with punch and kick combos, and for the little sets of enemies at the start, those work well enough to move onward without much issue. As the game pushes forward, our girls join the squad and players can then utilize a few new techniques in combat, as well as switch back and forth between heroes to prevent a quick death. The switching mechanic was very intuitive for its time, as it gives players access to a new health bar if they are playing solo, giving them a bit of an advantage due to the lack of support. 

I’m not new to beat-em ups whatsoever, but sometimes the combat feels a bit too aged for its own good, especially in comparison to Zero’s predecessor. Sure, I get this is an old localization, but a few extra mechanics would have added some spark to a game that sometimes feels heavy and stiff in terms of actual gameplay. There isn’t a lot of fluid movement, and while we do see some expanded options later, the player’s own preference for that old River City style will ultimately determine their own infatuation with the experience. Boss difficulty also has a bit of a sudden spike, with small hit boxes blending with overly complicated foes who seem to only have a strategy of extending their presence as you nail a few hits, dodge, and wait the more opportune times to strike again. 

There are some cool 3D bike segments to break up the combat a bit and they work well enough here, but you will still have to factor in that old-school mindset as basic attacks work about the same in these areas as well. I don’t want to sell the experience short by pointing out where Zero shows age, as it ultimately is a well-polished brawler that is awesome to see on modern consoles. I do feel however that attaching both WayForward’s name along with River City Girls in the title comes with a bar that most would expect the overall package to hit – and Zero seems to just inch below that as it still comes off as a well-meaning port, rather than something new and exciting that can contribute to what was such an innovative take on the genre.  


Gotta love that 16-bit charm! I truly was taken back to my own childhood with the visuals here, as the sprites are well animated, but still show that aged quirk through facial expressions and hindered walking animations. Again, this is a port, so that is expected and, in most cases, perfectly fine. The hud and menus are a bit basic as well, giving us those old green to red health bars of the past, along with the usual simplistic stylings that have maintained their atmosphere and delightful nature after thirty years.


The soundtrack is awesome, all around. Right off the bat, we get treated to a new, fully voiced theme that gets you in the right mindset for a continuation for Misoko and Kyoko, which is just as excellent as what we saw within River City Girls originally. The music within the actual game is upbeat and pleasant as well, where fans of the original River City Ransom franchise will feel right at home. Could there have been more cutscenes added with voice acting to capture more of that feel of the original as the two girls’ dust off this classic? Well, probably so, but what is here is decent and achieves in giving us an awesome start to unveiling the curtain of this already stellar port. 


River City Girls Zero is a bit of a complicated one. It ultimately is a port with a name change, and that is fine as old-school brawler fans are going to love how well this old relic still holds up. I do think there is a lot in a name though, as modern fans of the original experience are sure to come in with higher expectations than what is ultimately delivered here. Part of me loves the final package as it’s still a good game, while the other part cannot stop thinking about how well this would have gone as an actual reboot, with the original version packed in as a bonus. Either way, at less than fifteen bucks – River City Girls Zero is still a nice way to localize an otherwise forgotten classic, and yet another release that will surely deepen the franchise’s history as it moves forward. 

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WayForward take us back with River City Girls Zero, offering up a piece of history as a new block in their own franchise.
WayForward take us back with <i>River City Girls Zero</i>, offering up a piece of history as a new block in their own franchise.River City Girls Zero Review