Kunio-kun, the super-silly classic beat 'em up series, has had more than a few fun games brought to the west in recent years and here's a brand new spin-off developed by WayForward of Shantae fame. Could the best Kunio game not even star Kunio?
For whatever reason, I find myself perpetually drawn to Kunio-kun games. Heck, I've already reviewed 9 games in the series, featured it in a Versus piece, and even compiled a tricky trivia quiz based on the franchise. It must be the combination of humour, tight beat 'em up multiplayer action, and distinct character models that I find so appealing. I mean, how could anyone resist such a charming old-school franchise? Well, River City Girls certainly feels like a Kunio-kun game but it definitely doesn't look like one.
That being said, the humour is even funnier in River City Girls than it is in the main series. The story stars friends Kyoko and Misako who are on a mission to rescue their kidnapped boyfriends who happen to be series regulars Kunio and Riki. Misako is ruthless and brash while Kyoko is dumber than a sack of bricks and their chemistry is downright hilarious. Watching them interact with NPCs who range from smartasses to quirky authority figures made me regularly laugh out loud as I played. It's charming and ridiculous through and through.
River City Girls plays just like past Kunio-kun games as you navigate through city streets while beating up a variety of enemies with your fists and feet as well as found objects. The controls are tight and intuitive and watching your opponents fly across the screen after you unleash a fury of attacks is incredibly satisfying. This is especially the case when you learn new special moves at the dojo whenever you level up and earn enough money. You'll end up learning so many special moves that you'll spend a good chunk of time experimenting with them and picking out your favourites. Anyway, although you can enjoy River City Girls solo, I highly recommend playing it cooperatively with a chum as it's much more fun that way. Just keep in mind, there is no online multiplayer.
As with most Kunio-kun games, there's a welcome amount of supplementary mechanics in play here. For starters, you can recruit enemies which makes them summonable after you tag them in. You can only do this with the last remaining onscreen foe and only when they beg you to. You'll also level up as you play which increases your core stats plus purchase goodies from shops which can heal as well as grant a slight permanent boost once you consume a type of food for the first time which is a lot like the system in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Navigating the 6 area maps while growing your capabilities, uncovering secrets, and mastering side-quests is extremely rewarding stuff. There's even a secret boss and 25 Sabu statues to discover so doing everything will take quite some time.
On your way to rescue Kunio and Riki, you'll face an assortment of bosses and each one makes for a challenging and exciting battle. For example, one boss shifts the gameplay to be completely 2D and it plays sort of like a boss in a Mega Man X game as you can leap off walls. To assist you with taking on these bosses, you'll acquire a wealth of accessories as you progress which can offer helpful enhancements and being able to store purchased food items will allow you to heal mid-battle, too. In other words, you'll rarely get stuck.
Of course, River City Girls may be a great game but it does have some downsides. The biggest issue is that it feels a bit draining after playing it for a while. This is due to the fact that you'll almost constantly be beating on enemies with very little to help break up the gameplay. Sure, there are moments that add variety such as the bosses and when you have to jump around a room as if the floor is lava but the gameplay still manages to get rather tiresome. Even when you clear out a screen of a dozen or so foes, more will eventually come in to try and end your life. It never ceases. Next, I wish more information was readily available such as which foods you already ate and where certain NPCs are. Memorizing such things is tricky to do. Finally, I would have loved to see some bonus modes such as Dodge Ball or an arena survival challenge since past Kunio-kun games included a few very fun side-games.
As a huge fan of all things Kunio-kun, I must say that I'm extremely impressed with River City Girls. In fact, it may just be the best game in the franchise. Sorry if you're reading this, Kunio and Riki, but these girls proved to be more kickass than you are.
- + Awesome beat 'em up gameplay that's great fun with a chum
- + Absolutely hilarious and full of charm
- + Lots of cool upgrades and bosses
- - Could use more to break up the almost constant brawling
- - Some information should be clearer
- - No online multiplayer or bonus modes