River City Girls 2 (Playstation 5) Review

Coming Home Again

By Joel DeWitte

This has been a banner year for beat-em-ups.  The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have seen a resurgence between the retrospective Cowabunga Collection and the future-facing Shredder’s Revenge.  Midnight Fight Express scratched the isometric, violence-laden John Wick-esque revenge story.  SIFU came out on the Nintendo Switch and promises an oppressive kung-fu combat against a diminishing lifespan.  River City Girls 2 has snuck into the last days of 2022, and in a way is the perfect end cap for brawler fans like me.

For the uninitiated, the River City Girls series is a descendant of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)’s River City Ransom, a rudimentary side scrolling beat-em-up whose unique feature was a larger world map and leveling-up system that added a layer of gameplay which was novel to its contemporaries.  The next game that took up that torch was Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, which tied that progression of purchasing items to boost stats like attack or speed with a setting acting as an overall love-letter to video games’ history.  River City Girls’ took back the reins and expanded the concept beyond, including special attack meters, actual leveling-up, purchasable attacks, and equippable items that do things like add a percentage to attack or increase the amount of health gained from items.

Functionally, River City Girls 2 doesn’t stray from the 2019 hit.  The sassy duo of Misako and Kyoko have returned with the boyfriends they saved in the original, but find themselves facing the Yakuza with enemies old and new.  The city is just as vibrant and colorful as before, with a fresh soundtrack that adds another slate of pop & punk rock beats.  The process of beating-up baddies, collecting cash, spending it at stores for stat increases or new abilities, then jumping back into the fray has that satisfying feel of coming back to old stomping grounds and obliterating punks that gave you grief before.  You can recruit defeated brutes and summon them at the click of a button to jump in for a punch or two.  

I can’t stress how much that action still just clicks.  The punches and kicks haven’t lost the snappy speed and pop on impact.  There is the right amount of precision in positioning yourself with the proper spacing and winding up a combo where you pop them in the air, jump for a few mid-air punches, slam them down, then stomp them for the kill.  There’s no lack of weapons to bludgeon with, cliffs to kick them into, and enemy types to encounter.  They continue the tradition of boss battles that are challenging, clever, and genre-bending that feels just as fresh.  It feels like a fighter – everyone can understand the basic inputs but the thrill is chaining together the right attacks to give the enemy no quarter.

My time with River City Girls 2 was like coming home after being away for a while.  The same bones are there, most of the stores and restaurants haven’t changed, and that minimal change is the way you want it.  More focused on refinement than redefinition, River City Girls 2 is more of the same, which is a great thing.

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