In its first hours, WayForward’s River City Girls 2 feels a lot like a second River City Girls game. You’re walking around River City as either Misako, Kyoko, or their boyfriends Kunio and Riki. You’re beating down rowdy students, local toughs, and yakuza thugs. The characters reuse many of their combat animations. Even the graphics, already brilliant, got some extra visual flair thanks to some particle effects, but you wouldn’t be able to tell which game is which from a random screenshot. Even the initial maps are similar, if not identical, in layout to the previous ones, often using the same background music at first.
Sure, there are narrative reasons for this kind of familiarity, but there’s a sense that maybe a little bit too much is being “recycled” at first. If you’re fresh off of River City Girls, you might feel like you just started a New Game Plus run instead of a sequel. Thankfully, the feeling doesn’t last, and that slight suspicion is replaced by excitement.
The initial burst of familiarity is WayForward’s way of letting you plant your feet on solid ground, because when River City Girls 2 opens up, it does so like a flower in rapid bloom. It’s easily twice the size of the original in hour count, a mammoth game in a genre known for almost criminally short runtimes.
As events start to escalate and the “RPG” part of this Brawler-RPG makes itself more evident, the scope of River City Girls 2 unfolds, revealing a much more detailed and realized rendition of River City. It’s not an open-world title per se, but each of the eight playable zones of the city is comprised of at least a dozen distinct areas. All those areas, from your neighborhood in Crosstown to the heights of Sanwakai Tower, are teeming with enemies all eager to take a piece out of you.
Clearing an area of foes only gives you a temporary reprieve: Enemies respawn after a minute or two. The only relief from an unending tide of baddies is to either duck into one of dozens of shops, or to retreat to your hideout (there’s one in every zone). The hideout is perhaps the biggest addition to River City Girls 2, as it changes the flow of the game from a long, rambling brawler into one more akin to a survival title.
Getting killed in-game gives you the option to respawn from the last screen transition, in exchange for some of your money. However, you can instead choose to spawn at your hideout for no penalty. Going home is often the smarter choice, especially in the early going. This lets you swap characters, pick healing items from your storage, and crucially, select your preferred assist characters.
As before, you can recruit an enemy to use as a recharging special attack. River City Girls 2 deepens the system by giving each character space for two assists, and vastly expanding the selection of characters to recruit. Many of the enemies are palette-swaps, but a few use different attacks when summoned. For example, most “Female Yakuza” characters throw a pattern of knives when summoned, but the special Zombie Female Yakuza stabs an enemy and poisons them, making them useful against tough enemies and bosses. You’ll want to collect them all, and go back home to pick your favorites.
Between the new shops, expanded areas, and quests that have you running all over town to gain access to the Sanwakai Crime Syndicate’s toughest leaders, a session of River City Girls 2 feels more like planning an expedition than getting to the next “level”. You’ll still unlock new areas in a fairly linear progression, but the sense that you and the violent teens under your control are exploring – and saving – a whole city is vivid in the mind.
Well, it’s not just teens. Marian Kelly, the formerly distressed damsel of the Double Dragon series, and Provie, the breakdancing fighter of River City Underground, are the new playable characters. Though you need to unlock them at first, they’re definitely worth the hype. Even within the relatively simple structure of a brawler move list, Marian and Provie play distinctly differently from Misako, Kyoko, and the boys.
Marian is the biggest playable character in River City Girls 2, but feels like the fastest one in practice. Her boxing stance and animations give her shorter reach, but she compensates by closing quickly and having specials with a very long travel distance. With big jumps and powerful straight punches that send enemies flying across the screen, a capable Marian player jumps around the combat area, diving into scrums like Mirko from My Hero Academia had been translated into a 2D brawler template. Meanwhile, Provie uses smooth footwork and dance choreography to move around the battlefield while still seeming untouchable. The characters are so distinct I kind of wish WayForward had had them available from the start.
One other bonus is the fact that dialog changes depending on which character you’re controlling and your selected “partner voice”. This means you can experience the story of River City Girls 2 through Kunio and Riki, the River City Boys, with the tone and delivery of various lines changing appropriately. It’s a great incentive for players to revisit the game and try out other characters, and underscores WayForward’s excellent sense of humor and grasp of tone. Villains and NPCs alike get similar attention, with many, if not most of the shopkeepers being some reference to a deep cut from the history of Kunio-kun, Double Dragon, and arcade brawlers in general. You can even hire Abobo as an assist attack, and do side quests for Skullmageddon.
Of course, no game is perfect, and River City Girls 2 has its own issues. The sheer business of the 2D environments, complete with foreground objects, can make some combat areas difficult to read. I wish the experience-sharing between characters was a bit more generous, to make it feel less like a downgrade to switch characters deep into a run. Some of the side mission briefings are a bit too vague on instructions, leading to some frustrating flailing around until you cotton on to what the game wants you to do.
Perhaps the biggest issue isn’t really an issue with River City Girls 2, but more one with brawlers as a genre: Playing it solo is lonely. It’s lonelier in this game particularly because all the characters are presumed to operate as at least a pair. The game supports online co-op, but I wasn’t able to find any games to join, perhaps due to it being before release, or due to my location (you can select a matchmaking region to improve your chances).
Lacking a local buddy to play with, I noticed that a few of the mission challenges were more clearly tailored to having a second player to take some of the heat off. As a result, their challenges felt hectic rather than exciting. I highly recommend having a buddy to play the game through with, if you can. Brawlers are better with more (human) players in the mix. You can even turn on friendly fire, if you feel like straining a few friendships.
In the end, though, those nitpicks are minor, and River City Girls 2 is an unequivocal improvement on its predecessor. It builds on the distinct atmosphere of River City Girls and greatly expands its horizons, without losing any of the charm of the original. I don’t know if I’d agree with some of the characters when they claim “Sequels are always better,” but I can say that this sequel definitely is.
River City Girls 2 is available on the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.