River City Girls Zero’s charming presentation masks a frustrating vintage beat ’em up

We may have to wait a little earlier we can ora ora ora our way in River City Girls 2but beat ’em up fans can satisfy their hunger by shifting the time to the re-release of a much older ’90s game, now renamed River City Girls Zero. It’s now available for just about every platform, including PC and Switch.

River City Girls Zero, curated by WayForward, is a localization of the 1994 Almanic-developed 16-bit Super Famicom game Shin Nekketsu Kōha: Kunio-tachi no Banka. Thanks to the success of 2019 River City Girls, Shin Nekketsu Kohao is officially playable in the West for the first time. Instead of arguing like the sukeban friends Misako and Kyoko (don’t worry, they’ll be playable later in the game), get back in the saddle as their beaus, Riki and Kunio.

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At the start of the game, Riki and Kunio are in jail after the pair are charged with a crime they didn’t commit. After the required banchō squat, the pair beat up the toughest guys in the slammer, escaped, and began their warpath to track down the jerk who orchestrated their downfall. From now, RCG ZeroThe story turns into a gory telephone game in which the delinquents and their girlfriends beat up a series of punchable faces before discovering who framed Riki and Kunio. While RCG Zero‘s preservation of Shin Nekketsu Koha‘s graphics and music are welcome, the retention of the ’94 era gameplay proved to be a hindrance to my enjoyment of the game.

unlike RCG’s wealth of combo strings and crazy special moves, RCG Zero has a limited arsenal of attacks. Your toolbox consists of a punch, a kick, a block, a special punch and kick, and the tried-and-true jump or kick attack. On paper, these essential mechanics make up every beat ’em up. But in practice they are extremely restrictive, especially given the finicky nature of the fights.

River City residents are real and they will hurt you.  (Screenshot: WayForward / Arc System Works)River City residents are real and they will hurt you. (Screenshot: WayForward / Arc System Works)

Although it was easier to land full combos RCGlaunching your attack too close to the enemy can lead to gadgetry and retaliation. RCG: Zero offers much less margin for error on both fronts, so if you don’t execute it perfectly, nine times out of ten the enemy’s attack will land first and quickly hit you on your generous ass, yielding a nasty breakout.

If your button input happens to be a millisecond slower than the computer’s, your potential attack wave will be wiped out by a simple punch or kick. To deal with this, I had to defeat enemies with jump kicks or get lucky by striking inside the narrow window to block one of their attacks. Yet each of these tactics ensured a Pyrrhic victory.

River City Girls Zero's charming presentation masks a frustrating vintage beat 'em up

This made the gameplay less like a frenetic beat ’em up and more like a methodical game of flying kites and micromanaging enemies at the pace of a chess player. To make matters worse, punches and kicks from your characters feel useless compared to enemies because, unlike you, they don’t falter when placed on the receiving end of a combo. To make things even more frustrating, their punches tend to land more often and hit twice as hard as yours. A game that is hard is all well and good, but a game that is so broken is just overkill.

RCG Zero fog RCG‘s revive mechanic of stomp the mind back into your KO’d body, as well as retrieving items. Instead, the four playable characters serve as your extra health bars. For example, if Kunio is torn from butt to appetite, you can switch to Riki, Kyoko, or Misako and use their full health bars to complete stages. But due to the aforementioned pickiness of hitboxes and enemies randomly hitting harder than you, battling bosses became a spree of switching between characters and praying my punches would land first.

While RCG Zero‘s gameplay was aggravating, everything else about the game was damn awesome. Immediately the game wastes no time evoking the feeling of a Saturday morning anime with its catchy theme song by returning girls composer Megan McDuffie. The opening film was also masterfully accompanied by David Liu’s slick and deep anime style.

RCG Zero also has a lot of customizations. From the pause screen, you can toggle a CRT (old-school TV) filter and change the border image and screen size. The game also lets you choose between a relatively literal translation and livelier RCGstyle text. although WayForward was initially at the center of a discourse over wording the original text as “literally”, I preferred the RCG-style localization because of the taste of sideways hilarious language and because the more I played RCG Zerothe more I noticed that I missed myself RCG.

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River City Girls Zero's charming presentation masks a frustrating vintage beat 'em up

This does not mean that RCG Zero is devoid of its own fun beat ’em up segments, only after a while they proved more tiring than exciting. RCG Zero‘s gimmicky levels also tend to exceed their welcome with the length of some of the action segments. As much fun as it was jumping on top of a merry-go-round and kicking bad guys off their rooftops, if you had to repeat the action an odd number of times afterward, the creative scenery felt like padding for the game’s running time. I’m also beginning to believe that motorcycle fight scenes in video games are just plain crappy, as the complaints I had about the game’s padding and demand for precision in the fine-toothed hit box were only exacerbated over the long stretch of RCG Zerohighway battles.

Suffice to say, though RCG Zero is a fresh coat of paint on top of Shin Nekketsu Koha: Kunio-tachi no Banka, preserving the old-fashioned beat-’em-up gameplay does the game a disservice. Rather than just injecting its modernized take on the franchise through the lavish new cutscenes and text, I wish WayForward had put some extra time into ramping up its fights too.

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