In anticipation of the release of River City Girls 2, WayForward and Arc System Works have brought back an earlier game in the River City franchise in the form of River City Girls Zero, a port of a previously Japan-only 1994 Super Famicom game called Shin Nekketsu Kōha: Kunio-tachi no Banka.
River City Girls Zero is as retro as a beat ’em up could be, because, well, it’s an old game wrapped by a very cute and playful exterior, featuring the character designs from River City Girls. The “story” behind the existence of River City Girls Zero boils down to Masoko and Kyoko literally getting their hands on a cartridge of Shin Nekketsu Kōha: Kunio-tachi no Banka and playing it themselves.
The premise of the game itself is that someone framed Kunio and Riki, putting them in jail while River City High erupts in chaos without the ass-kicking duo to keep things in check. You get to play as either Kunio or Riki at first, and can change between them freely. Kyoko and Masoko eventually join in too, giving you extra lives to survive through the game.
And let me tell you, you’ll need all of those health bars because River City Girls Zero does not kid around when it comes to difficulty. Then again, some of that is also due to how hit detection works in the game, which is to say, pretty badly. Since there’s only one plane of play, you’re forced to be right in front of an enemy for hits to be registered, while the opposite isn’t exactly the case for your opposition, making it extremely easy to be caught in and ganged up on.
In a way, River City Girls Zero sort of works against what River City Girls proper had going for it due to just how old and antiquated it is. As a historical piece, it’s certainly a game worth being brought over to regions outside of Japan so that the public at large can see where characters like Kyoko and Masako came from in the first place. Gameplay-wise, it’s very outdated and might end up leaving a sour taste in fans expecting to get the same level of play they found in River City Girls and will eventually get to in its upcoming sequel.
Granted, it’s clear that WayForward has put a lot of care in bringing such an old game back and they’re in on the fact that it’s very dated. The manga panel style intro is clever and extremely well done, not to mention the animated opening that features a new song by Megan McDuffee, who was also responsible for the theme to River City Girls. It does little to hide the age of the game on display, making fun of that fact while still having you play through it anyway.
There hasn’t been any work on the game itself outside of the initial presentation when booting up to River City Girls Zero. The graphics are exactly as you’d see in the original release in all their 16-bit glory, as well as everything else. Like the gameplay, the visuals in this are outdated especially in comparison to the drop dead gorgeous sprite work of River City Girls, although there’s some charm to be found in the big head characters and their extremely exaggerated expressions while fighting.
Your mileage will vary when it comes to River City Girls Zero. Having access to a previously unavailable game is certainly great, and the way that they went in having it brought over is fun in its own right. River City Girls Zero is a timepiece whose existence can be appreciated for that fact even though it might not exactly be what everyone wants, but it might help tide fans over until River City Girls 2 is out later this year. At least for a bit, anyway.