River City Girls 2 Review (Switch)
In 2022, we received not one, but two Kunio-kun beat’em up RPGs in the form of River City Saga: Three Kingdoms in July, and the highly-anticipated followup to River City Girls, aptly named River City Girls 2. Originally expected in Summer 2022, River City Girls 2 would instead end up releasing December 15th on the Switch. I for one am okay with delays when they are necessary, and it turns out that this particular game (and version) needed more time in the oven…and probably should have had even more time to simmer than it was given.
River City Girls 2 once again follows high schoolers Misako, Kyoko, Kunio, and Riki as they deal with their city being overrun by the Yakuza. Along the way they’ll meet both new and familiar faces, and even join up with the likes of Provie from River City Ransom: Underground, as well as Marian from the first River City Girls. A notable difference is that Kunio and Riki are unlocked from the get go – they were rescued in the previous adventure, after all – and either one can be your primary character from the very beginning. The aforementioned Provie and Marian become available to play as at certain points as well.
There’s a nice melting pot of recurring characters, cameos from adjacent properties like Double Dragon, and new characters that blend well with the serious, yet clearly comedic tone of the high schoolers and their cohorts. Kunio-kun games have always been a bit over the top, but I do feel like this one requires a greater suspension of disbelief than most. There’s something to appreciate about experiences that don’t take themselves too seriously, especially when it comes to the often overly serious RPG genre, but that doesn’t mean you should go hog wild with the idea either. Regardless, seeing some of the River City Ransom: Underground characters gives me hope that it may one day join the fray on the Nintendo Switch (please make this happen, Conatus Creative and Arc System Works!).
River City Girls 2 is a beat’em up RPG that has you pummeling baddies all across River City (via solo or local/online co-op play). The city itself is split into dozens of individual sections, many of which have branching paths to other sections that may or may not require certain items or story events to unlock. Certain areas may harbor boss fights, and almost every location may spawn with a handful of generic baddies to defeat. Beating enemies into a pulp will provide experience and money, which are in turn used for leveling up and buying various goods at shops across the city.
A primary goal in River City is to accumulate a vast wealth in order to buy out every shop in existence. Kunio-kun RPGs pride themselves on giving out stat gains with most, if not all consumable items, and River City Girls 2 is no different. Consuming something for the first time will generally give your character a permanent stat boost, and all of these stack with gains made from leveling up naturally. On top of that, accessories can be purchased, found, then worn to impart various bonuses to your character, though their descriptions can be frustratingly vague at times. This is an unfortunate carryover from both the olden days of Kunio-kun, all the way to the previous River City Girls entry.
Combat isn’t handled through basic kicks and punches in River City Girls 2. Instead, you can train at a dojo in order to learn new combat abilities. These require some money, and may also demand your character to be at a certain level before learning, but are ultimately integral to making combat more interesting and exciting. Before long, you’ll be able to combine all sorts of punches, kicks, aerial moves, and grappling maneuvers to deal with the masses in whatever way you best see fit.
You can also mix in recruit attacks, which have been upgraded in the sequel to allow for not one, but two sporadic companions for the high schoolers. Alas, they still feel a bit unsatisfying to use just like they did in the original, since they demand an unnecessary degree of precision and are still susceptible to enemy attacks.
Nonetheless, it is fun to try and “catch’em all” since there are some unique recruits this time around and they can be swapped between after unlocking any time from a hideout. Speaking of, the hideout allows you to swap between unlocked characters at any time, but the majority of meaningful character progression does not carry over which makes trying out different characters in the same run far more tedious than it should be. Like the aforementioned recruit flaws, this was the same in the original River City Girls and unfortunately was not remedied in this latest release.
River City Girls 2 features an impressively large world, but the majority of the experience is still linear. However, there is usually a side quest or two available at all times that incentivizes you to go off the beaten path, even if for just a moment. Side quests are generally good to do anyway since their rewards are excellent and they can even unlock some unique recruits to use. Due to how the world is built, there is a lot of necessary backtracking to do in both the main and side quests, which is truly unfortunate given the game’s most egregious crime…
Performance and Presentation
Whereas River City Girls ran as smooth as butter on the Nintendo Switch, with minimal load times, the sequel is unfortunately the complete and total opposite. An inconsistent 30FPS, mild input lag, and 5-6 second load times between every individual map makes saving River City, to say the least, a bit annoying. Map transitions alone undoubtedly tack on unnecessary minutes, if not an hour or more to the overall runtime, which is saying a lot when the game can be beaten in less than ten hours.
It’s such a far departure from the silky smooth gameplay of the original game that it makes playing that one more appealing despite the noticeable gameplay improvements here. That said, River City Girls 2 fortunately not only improves on gameplay, but also the aesthetics and sound despite reusing a large portion of graphical assets. Composer Megan McDuffee returns with a multi-faced blend of techno, ‘80s, and Pop vibes that feels right at home with some of the iconic remixed tracks found in previous entries. Even if you aren’t a fan of these music genres historically, it’s all but guaranteed that you’ll find something catchy anyway.
Poor optimization is all that is holding back River City Girls 2 from dethroning its predecessor on the Nintendo Switch. Despite the new bells and whistles, River City Girls still feels much better to play simply because of its silky smooth performance, which I’d argue is most important when it comes to any sort of action-based game. Although the performance isn’t so bad that the game is unplayable – it’s still fun – the long load times brought on by frequent screen transitions alone make it a hard recommendation on the Nintendo Switch. If you have the ability to play River City Girls 2 on any other platform, assuming they are in a better state performance-wise, then I’d suggest going elsewhere to experience this otherwise superior sequel.