After a bit of a dry spell, beat ’em ups have had a good few years recently. With releases like Battletoads, Streets of Rage 4, and Shredder’s Revenge making fans of the genre very happy, we seem to have hit a bit of a beat ’em up renaissance. WayForward helped launch this boom of beatings with River City Girls in 2019, a spin off of long running Kunio-kun series that features River City Ransom RPG elements. Now while we wait for the sequel, River City Girls Zero is here with a blast from the past.
River City Girls Zero is a re-release of the fifth game in the Kunio-Kun series, which came out on the SNES in Japan in 1994. The main characters of the series Kunio and Riki have been wrongfully imprisoned for a hit and run, and when they find out their schools have been trashed and their girlfriends kidnapped they hatch an escape plan. After a bit of rough and tumble with the guards, the pair begin an adventure to rescue their girls and find the person who framed them.
If you’ve ever played a beat ’em up before, you’ll feel at home with River City Girls Zero. Each side scrolling stage is full of goons to batter, and you’ve got all the moves you’d expect. You can punch and kick, jump-kick, block, and even have a few cool specials to unleash when the time is right. There isn’t much revolutionary about it, but it was originally released in 1994.
Possibly the coolest mechanic of the game is the character switching. Instead of choosing who to play as, you have access to all four characters (once you rescue the girls) and can switch by pressing L1. If a single character dies you get a game over, but they all have their own health so you can just tag out if it’s getting dicey. They all have their own special attacks too, and while not wildly different in utility it is cool to try them all out.
Unfortunately what lets River City Girls Zero down is the action itself. Compared to the greats of the genre the combat just feels a bit clunky, and when that’s pretty much all you do in the game that’s a big issue. It would certainly be understandable if this older game couldn’t live up to the heights of the fantastic modern beat ’em ups, but there’s no real reason to play this over Streets of Rage or Golden Axe.
That’s not to say it isn’t without its charms though. There are motorbike sections that are a fun distraction, and some interesting environments to brawl in too. My favourite was probably the theme park, because who doesn’t like the idea of punching thugs while spinning around on a Ferris wheel.
It feels slightly harsh to say this, but my favourite part of River City Girls Zero was probably the opening cutscene. The style and character of the modern River City Girls games is spectacular, and the little cutscene showing Misako and Kyoko discovering an old video game starring them is just adorable. If anything, this re-release did make me more excited for River City Girls 2.
The visuals of this 28-year-old game aren’t anything to write home about, but the chiptune soundtrack is pretty great. The actual fighting might not blow you away, but at least you’ll be listening to some banging tunes while you’re doing it.
River City Girls Zero has some entertaining moments, but ultimately the clunky combat and outdated visuals make it tough to recommend to anyone but long-time fans. If you love River City Girls more than anything else this might be an interesting look at the series past, but it’ll probably just make you want to play a better beat ’em up.
Great chiptune soundtrack
Some interesting mechanics and environments
The combat is clunky and outdated
Fairly ugly looking
Will just make you want to play a better beat em up