River City Girls Zero
Platform: Nintendo Switch (version reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Age Rating: PEGI 12
Release Date: 14/2/22
A code was provided for review purposes
The origins to River City Girls can be traced back to Shin Nekketsu Kōha: Kunio-Tachi no Banka, a 1994 title on the Super Famicom – Super NES for Western gamers. Developed by WayForward, River City Girls Zero acts as both a prequel to River City Girls, and a remake. This is due to the title being updated and repackaged for its release to Western markets. Now featuring full localisation, River City Girls Zero is a great introduction to the wider Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun franchise.
As the title suggests, River City Girls Zero is essentially the first title within the River City Girls series. Working as an origin story for protagonists Kyoko and Misako, you’ll guide the characters through quite a bizzare story. Not only that series’ mainstays, Kunio and Riki are here too, with all four characters being playable at the push of a button.
The bulk of the story follows Kunio and Riki as they’re imprisoned for a hit-and-run that they didn’t commit. Once locked up, the duo are told of some strange goings on around their high school, and that there have been sightings of someone who looks like Kunio. As such the duo promptly escape jail, and aided by their girlfriends – Kyoko and Misako – attempt to find out who set them up.
River City Girls Zero spends a lot of its time feeding the narrative to you. At points there’s so much text, that the game feels more akin to a visual novel than a side-scrolling beat’em-up. However if you do take the time to read the story it’s actually pretty good. Naturally the writing is a bit quirky but it’s been localised fairly well. To best describe the story is to take The Warriors, Gangs of New York, and West Side Story, to then mix these with a heavy dose of Japanese high-school drama.
At its core River City Girls Zero is essentially a remaster of Shin Nekketsu Kōha: Kunio-tachi no Banka. While WayForward have added a few improvements, underneath the hood it’s still the same game from 1994. As such its mechanics do feel a little dated. Combat is slow and cumbersome with each character having access to a few different moves. Animations aren’t exactly fluid and the whole game plays very much like Double Dragon – also a spiritual successor to Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun.
While the game is lacking within its combat, there is a beauty within its level design. Throughout the story you’ll be beating down foes in a variety of locations. Everything from prisons, school corridors, and even motorbikes is on the table. Theres also a wide variety of enemies that’ll stand in your way. Whilst these fall into the classic genre traits, each feels serviceable for the location.
What also makes the game appealing is that it’s entirely playable in co-op. The ability to switch between characters on the fly is a great gameplay experience that’s sadly not utilised enough. While this does essentially give you four lives, once one character has been defeated it’s game over. So knowing when to switch is a real must if you’re playing solo. Thankfully co-op players fall into a down-but-not-out state and can be revived. Even though River City Girls Zero is perfectly playable for a solo player, it does feel that it was made for co-op. The ability to play as all four characters at once would have been the couch co-op icing on the proverbial cake!
Overall presentation is a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst WayForward have done a good job with this port, it’s hampered by the game’s original visual quality. It’s a real shame, as the original game came out towards the end of the 16-bit era and just missed out on those 32-bit polygons. However the game does look great on the Nintendo Switch, and its design is perfectly suited for playing in docked mode. The only real criticism I have is that playing on a larger screen does show the games uglier side. Naturally this is nothing new as nearly every port of an older title, suffers the same over-sizing. *shakes fist at modern technology*
From playing River City Girls Zero you can see the amount of effort that WayForward have put into bringing this niche title to the Switch. There are plenty of added extras such as updated key art, a gallery that showcases art from the original release, and even a gorgeous animated opening theme!
River City Girls Zero is one of those games that will fly under many gamers’ radars. While it is an extremely niche title, it’s still one worth playing. Fans of the franchise – and even those with an interest in retro gaming – will get the most out of this title. Not only does it bring an interesting origin story to two major characters. It’s also a showcase into 16-bit gaming’s twilight years.
Rapid Reviews Rating
3 out of 5
River City Girls Zero is available now and can be purchased via the Nintendo Switch eShop by clicking here.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.