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River City Girls Zero Review

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Anyone that loved 2019’s River City Girls might be excited at the prospect of going hands-on with Misako and Kyoko once again.

Rather then delve into River City Girls Zero, however, they might want to wait for the upcoming sequel River City Girls 2. You see, while the name might insinuate that River City Girls Zero is a prequel to their adventure to save their boyfriends, it’s actually an old game repackaged in order to capitalise on its popularity.

Shin Nekketsu Koha: Kunio-tachi no Banka was originally released some 28 years for the SNES, but never left the confines of Japan. Now, thanks to WayForward and Arc System Works, it’s been localised, allowing a new audience to discover this classic title. But like most retro games, it’s an acquired taste. While some will be able to look past its issues and enjoy it for what it is, others will simply find it too dated.

What’s clever is the way that it’s presented. In a new animated scene, Misako and Kyoko come across a old game’s console and cartridge, the latter of which has their names on it. And so they have to connect it up and give it a try. You’re then transported into what is now known as River City Girls Zero. The story here is mainly focused on their boyfriends, however. Riki and Kunio have been set up, and after being jailed for a terrible crime, must fight to clear their names.

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Rather than throw players into lengthy stages, River City Girls Zero instead plays out more naturally, following its characters from scene to scene. As such, there’s a wide range of environments here, ranging from the inside of a prison cell to a wooden bridge over a lake. Needless to say, by the time you’re watching the credits roll, you feel like you’ve been on a journey.

Wherever you are, the gameplay stays roughly the same. Initially in control of just Riki and Kunio, you’re free to switch between them at will with the press of a button. You’ll eventually add Kisako and Kyoko to your party, too. If just one of these characters dies it’s game over, and so you need to keep an eye on their health levels and tag them out effectively to stay in the game.

While they all share a standard selection of moves, including punches, kicks and a nifty back attack, they also have a couple of unique special moves up their sleeves, too. From a flurry of punches to a Street Fighter-esque rising uppercut, using these can turn the tide of battle, but they can be clunky to initiate. Though “clunky” is a word that could be used to describe River City Girls Zero in general.

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Everything from moving to performing attacks just feels a little bit… off. Back in 1994 it perhaps wouldn’t have seemed so bad, but now the gameplay of River City Girls Zero simply feels unintuitive and unresponsive. Also, unlike in games such as Streets of Rage where moving close to an enemy allows you to grab, here you just move into them, existing in one space. Then, when you try to give yourself room to attack, you more often than not get whacked.

River City Girls Zero does have its merits though. Its music is fun, playing in co-op always leads to a more enjoyable experience, and there are some bike stages thrown in to provide a little variety. Ardent River City fans will also appreciate the inclusion of an image gallery, which has things like manual images and box art.

Released at a budget price, River City Girls Zero will undoubtedly find an audience. And retro fans are likely to lap it up, savouring its old-fashioned gameplay. Those who have spent the last few years playing fantastic modern beat ’em ups such as River City Girls and Streets of Rage 4, however, should probably view this as a curio and nothing more. It’s nice that it’s finally available in the west, but its gameplay is definitely showing its age.

River City Girls Zero Review – GameSpew’s Score

GameSpew Our Score 6

This review of River City Girls Zero is based on the PS5 version, with a code provided by the game’s publisher. It’s available on PS5, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch and PC.
Editor in Chief // An avid gamer since discovering the wonders of the Acorn Electron in the '80s, Rich has nearly played more games than he's had hot dinners. Not one to put all his eggs in one basket, Rich is happy to play games of all genres, but he particularly enjoys racing games and anything that's full of non-stop action, especially if it includes a good dose of humour, horror or crudeness!