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ICYMI is GAMINGbible's simple way of highlighting a game that's not quite brand new, maybe as much as a few months old, but that we've been playing and loving, and we really want to tell you about it.
I've not had time to finish many video games in 2019. There have been the short ones, like Sayonara Wild Hearts and Untitled Goose Game. The ones that I've played for review, like The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. But for the most part, I've a slew of recent games still awaiting their chance to roll credits.
And yet, I've finished River City Girls a couple of times, welcoming its New Game+ option and the extra playable characters (no spoilers!) that a first completion unlocks. It's a game that impresses in its first moments, maintains its high quality throughout (a couple of quibbles aside - more in a moment), and then pays the player back for their efforts with extra goodness and an unexpectedly funny ending.
River City Girls released in early September to a quietly positive reception, but inevitably failed to cut through the noise being made by the likes of Gears 5, Borderlands 3, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne and the Final Fantasy VIII remaster. And that's fine, it's okay - most of us only have so much time to enjoy our games in, and that's why I'm highlighting River City Girls now. That, and because it's easily in my own top five games of 2019.
So what is this thing? Basically, it's a scrolling beat 'em up, in the vein of Final Fight or Streets of Rage. Except, it's also semi-open-world, as you steadily reveal more of its city, which can be explored on foot for secrets and shopping opportunities. Alternatively, bus stops provide fast-travel options, whizzing you to certain streets. Its pixel-art aesthetic and hyper-stylish array of moves - unlockable at dojos - give it a look and feel that'll be familiar to fans of the late Scott Pilgrim vs The World. It's also part of the long-running Kunio-kun series of games, which has included (for Western markets) Renegade, River City Ransom, Crash 'n' The Boys, and River City: Tokyo Rumble.
Oh, and it kicks ass. Like, so much of it. Like, I've played my share of games like this ever since I was stuffing 10-pence pieces into arcade cabs on a Sunday afternoon, and kept on playing them through the 16-bit era and onto today, and River City Girls shines as one of the best. But then, with WayForward (Aliens: Infestation, Double Dragon Neon, the Shantae series) on development duties alongside Arc System Works (Dragon Ball FighterZ, Persona 4 Arena, the BlazBlue series), it's not like the action of River City Girls was ever likely to suck.
And yet, it's inconsistent. Protagonists Misako and Kyoko - ostensibly on a mission to rescue their boyfriends - have different fighting styles, and unlock unique special moves as they progress through the game; but both can miss attacks at the absolute worst times, when you're certain you should have connected fist with enemy face. And such is the challenge that River City Girls presents - you'll be glad of the infinite continues - that what in an easier game would be but a minor annoyance becomes a health-bar-hammering problem on several occasions.
There's a problem with the controller layout, too - the primary attack button is also the one you press to enter a new area, leading to situations where you're trying to deck someone but accidentally transition into a neighbouring screen. Even when you're aware of the issue, it's something you can't help but experience, right the way through to the end of the game.
And yet, it is amazing. When the girls' moves are flowing freely, strong attacks following swift combos, grounded enemies stamped upon before being used as weapons themselves, baseballs and yo-yos and motherflipping lightsabers put to bruising use, River City Girls is a dazzling blur of A-grade arcade action.
And when you factor in the brilliant anime-style animation, manga story sequences, the game's warm sense of humour and witty one-liners, and music that consistently bangs (it's an arresting mix of synths-kissed vocal pop and glitchy electro beats, and just a little garage rock, which you need to listen to on Spotify), the overall package becomes completely irresistible. And having more content when you get to the end? The cherry on the cake - slightly sticky with blood, but delicious nonetheless.
If you ever dirtied your virtual fists in an '80s arcade, or on a '90s SEGA or Nintendo console, River City Girls needs to be on your to-play list right now. And I haven't even touched on how good it is in two-player mode. Ganging up and taking down, juggling enemies back and forth before pure pounding them into the pavement. And then there's the multi-stage boss fights, and the endearingly oddball NPCs, and the quality voice acting, and the definitely non-consumable health-boosting consumables (please *do not* eat your video games), and the bizarre clothing perks your character can wear, and... Brilliant, basically.
River City Girls is out now on Nintendo Switch (version tested), PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Related: 'Katana ZERO' Is Kinda Like 'Celeste' With Razor-Sharp Blades And Beats
Featured Image Credit: WayForward / Arc System Works
Topics: Indie Games
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