I could spend months indulging on all my favourite retro video game genres, but one of the few I’ve always struggled to click with is the beat em up. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but the simplicity of these games has always meant I’ve struggled to find the enjoyment that many others find in punching goons over and over again. Thankfully River City Girls 2 is one of the exceptions, thanks to the RPG systems and charming narrative that elevate it to the tippity top of the beat em up mountain.
After our delightful heroes Misako and Kyoko beat their butts in the last game, the Yakuza are pissed. Their leader busts out of jail, and his son decides to take matters into his own hands to impress daddy. This doesn’t really go according to plan when he gets the girls expelled from River City High, only for them to go on a two month gaming binge. When they finally emerge to buy the latest new release though he sets all his goons on them, and an all out war ensues.
You probably wouldn’t expect it from a beat em up, but the story and dialogue in River City Girls 2 is simply sublime. Misako and Kyoko are the perfect double act, with Misako playing the aggressive counterpart to Kyoko’s pure goofball antics. The side characters are delightful too, from the vapid social media guru who shares unflattering photos of you on Honkr, to Double Dragon favourite Abobo.
When you aren’t talking to the citizens of River City, you’ll be beating the heck out of screen after screen of enemies. In the early hours of the game this is more or less the standard button mashing combat that the genre is known for, but before long you’ll be unlocking all sorts of extra moves that really spice things up.
Once you level up and buy enough new abilities from the dojo, you’ll have a variety of different ways to end combos and be ready to take down the school kids, androids and street thugs trying to take you down. It didn’t take me long to realise the moves I’d unlocked could be combined to create the perfect aerial juggling combo, and pulling it off was incredibly satisfying.
When the offense comes back your way, you also have the ability to block and even parry attacks if you have good enough timing. You can survive most situations by just unleashing your best abilities and utilising the deadly weapons in the environment, but I really appreciated having some defence in a genre that often expects only violence.
The main thing that separates River City Girls 2 from other beat ’em ups is the RPG elements. Levelling up raises your stats to make future fights easier, but you can also gain permanent stat boosts by eating food for the first time too. Much of my time in River City was spent going from grocery store to restaurant and chowing down on their entire menu. Truly living the dream.
Exploring each corner of the city is a delight too, especially because of all the side quests hiding down different paths. From taking selfies for a dubious NPC to boogieing on a dance machine, there’s a lot of variety in this sequel. The environments themselves have a lot of differences you’ll have to consider in combat too, from deadly moving traffic to conveyor belts and bottomless pits.
Possibly more than anything else, the soundtrack of River City Girls 2 blew me away. The catchy tunes are some of the best I’ve heard all year, and the tracks with lyrics especially were stuck in my head between sessions pretty much constantly.
I had one pretty major issue during my time with River City Girls 2, and that was how repetitive and long-winded going from one side of the city to the other is. Enemies spawn every time you move to a different screen, and when a quest requires you to go back along a path you’ve already walked, that’s a lot of punching, kicking and dabbing. You can avoid the fights by rushing from exit to exit, but you’ll miss out on cash and experience (and since every character levels separately you’ll probably need all of it). It’s definitely less of an issue if you’re playing multiplayer, but it slows the pace down too much when you’re going solo.
River City Girls 2 blends compelling RPG levelling and fast paced beat ’em up combat to create a game that even those less punching inclined can appreciate. The characters are beyond charming, and the music rivals anything I’ve played in a long time. If you’re looking for something retro to indulge on during the holidays, then you could do much worse than spending time with Misako, Kyoko and the gang.
Some of the best beat em up combat out there
RPG elements are really compelling
Charming characters and a great story
A sensational soundtrack
Feels a bit repetitive when going back and forth over the same screens
Less fun solo