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Dudes in Distress - River City Girls Review

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River City Girls Logo Switch

It came as quite a surprise when it was revealed that WayForward was taking on the Kunio-kun franchise with their own unique spin, centering around two characters that most people in the west might not have heard of before. To most people, NES games like River City Ransom or Crash n’ the Boys are the most exposure they’ve had to this series, but it has extensively covered platforms from the Famicom all the way up to the Switch now. With WayForward now at the helm with their own take, now modernised with tough girl attitude, is this beat em up worth your time, or is it just another punk on the streets in need of a thrashing?

Platforms: PC, Switch [Reviewed], PS4, Xbox One
Developer: WayForward
Release: September 5, 2019 (Switch)
MSRP: $29.99
Press Copy provided by WayForward

River City Girls Screenshot Switch

First things first, as apparent with any WayForward title, is the presentation. This company has always prided itself on being the cutting edge in old-school, pushing 2D graphics even well into the 21st century. The overall pop art manga aesthetic just bleeds charm in every corner of the game’s very core, from it’s hand-drawn manga cutscenes all the way down to the meticulously animated 2D sprites. The energy pumping, upbeat soundtrack complements the visuals perfectly, breathing even more life into an already energetic game, helping you get in the mood to beat up thugs even more. It all goes a long way to improve the title further than its simple roots would suggest.

And simple it is, at its core it’s no different than fan-favourite River City Ransom, albeit with modern quality of life improvements. The basic gameplay loop is beating up waves of thugs as they appear, levelling up as you travel across River City and getting stronger as you do. The cash you gain from beating enemies and clearing quests is used to buy new moves or accessories to make you even stronger as the game progresses. If you find yourself struggling at first, keep at it, before long you will be as powerful as it gets, combining basic combos into elaborate special moves as you move deeper into the story.

River City Girls Screenshot Switch

As for the narrative and the world itself, it’s an interesting blend of the original Japanese canon and more commonly known western localisation. The main girls are unknown in the west unless you dig deep into Kunio-kun lore, being the girlfriends of Kunio (Alex in River City Ransom) and Riki (Ryan) who are both on a mission to rescue their kidnapped boyfriends, a nice little role reversal from the norm. First appearing in Nekketsu Kōkō Dodgeball Bu: Soccer Hen is Misako, a rough and tumble girl with a short temper, who sits alongside Kyoko, first appearing in Shin Nekketsu Kōha: Kunio-tachi no Banka, ever energetic and excitable. They each play differently with different combos and special moves, though they share the same inputs as not to complicate matters. These two pair together exceptionally well, each one being the voice of reason to the other and constantly bouncing off amusing dialogue between them throughout the game.

The rest of the cast also take on their Japanese names and characters throughout the adventure, but are nonetheless introduced in a way that both suggests a prior history but without leaving the player in the dark should they not recognise them. Also sprinkled throughout are numerous Double Dragon characters, including a boss fight with Abobo, thanks to the license also being owned by Arc System Works, tying back to WarForward’s prior engagement with Double Dragon Neon.

River City Girls Screenshot Switch

It’s tough not to recommend this game, with its youthful energy threatening to escape from the confines of your TV and infect the world around it, but it’s not without its shortcomings. For one, if you aren’t a fan of retro beat em ups then I doubt there’s anything this game can convince you to change sides. It can be unforgiving at times, punishing the player for reckless actions like blindly attacking without thought for consequence. In singleplayer it can be somewhat frustrating, as dealing with larger mobs of enemies on your own can take a toll on your health bar. This was clearly designed with multiplayer co-op in mind and it really shines if you have a friend to play with, but it also lacks online functionality, something WayFoward’s prior Double Dragon Neon handled with no complaints.

River City Girls Screenshot Switch

There’s also a general lack of content once you beat the game, with only a loiter mode to clean up unfinished business and a new game+ mode to restart the game, carrying over stats, equipment, moves and money. Though you do unlock two new characters on the first clear, each with their own unique special moves. Lastly, a couple of the bosses fall completely flat, trying a little too hard to be unique with mechanics that don’t flow well with the rest of the gameplay. It’s an excellent game nonetheless, with charisma that exceeds well past the boundaries it sets for itself. With a buddy on tow it’s unfathomable amounts of fun, and even on your own there is still plenty in store for you.


  • Utterly gorgeous visual design
  • Superb music
  • Oozes with charm and humour
  • Uncommon old-school sensibilities


  • Maybe too old-school for some
  • Little to do once beaten
  • Some bosses are over designed




Great games are generally good buying decisions and are recommended for those with an interest in the genre. There might be a few flaws that detract from the gameplay, stories, controls, presentations, or value, but the game is still an enjoyable experience that justifies a full playthrough.

Want to know what this score means? Check out our Scoring Guidelines page.

About the Author: Jonathan N

Jonathan (Komodo_Zero) joined in 2013 to help create and manage the forums. Since then, he has served as both the graphic design lead and a content creator. He has authored guides, reviews, and articles: many of which are music related. If you see a fancy-looking graphic on Nintendo Castle or Pokeball Insider: you likely have him to thank. He currently writes reviews for all sites in our network.

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