River City Girls Zero (Switch)

In Japan there is a popular series of games starring Kunio-kun.  Kunio is a hot-blooded high school student who sometimes gets into fights and trouble, but he always stands up for his friends and against bullies.  And when he’s not doing that, he competes in sports.  Some of these games were brought to the US under name and graphical changes, so if you’ve ever played Renegade, River City Ransom, or Super Dodge Ball, you’ve played a Kunio game and may not have even known it!  A few years ago, game maker WayForward came out with River City Girls, a game that played like River City Ransom, but starred Kunio’s and his pal Riki’s girlfriends as they fought to save their guys!  And now they’ve ported over a River City Ransom sequel that came out on the Super Famicom but never in the US.  In the game, Kunio and Riki have been framed and sent to prison, but they break out and team up with their girlfriends to fight the gang that caused all this.  Supposedly this was the game that inspired WayForward to make River City Girls.  Huh, that’s interesting, I didn’t even know that!  Anyway, WayForward added an intro, cutscenes, and an English translation to the Super Famicom game and called it River City Girls Zero.  It’ll be available on more consoles later, but as of this writing, it’s only available on Switch.

River City Girls Zero plays like a side scrolling beat ‘em up similar to other titles like Double Dragon (also made by the same folks).  You can jump, punch, kick, and do a backwards kick if you get surrounded.  You’ll start out being able to switch between Kunio and Riki, but as you meet up with their girlfriends, you’ll be able to play as them, too.  You’ll want to switch between characters before you run out of energy as one, because if you do, you’ll get a Game Over and have to start over at the last checkpoint.  You’ll fight in places like a prison, crumbling high school, amusement park, night club, and more!  You can do single player or two player co-op.

WayForward and Arc Systems Works gussied this game up with a lot of special features and additions.  There is a neat anime styled intro at the beginning with a funny Saturday morning style theme song playing alongside it.  When you start the game, a fully voiced comic book intro explains the story of the game, with a lot of fourth wall breaking.  Seems the girlfriends have found an old cartridge and video game system to play it on, and it turns out this game stars their boyfriends and them, so they decide to play it!  And that’s the story.  Although I am a little mad at WayForward for making me feel old!  You can also access a new menu anytime while playing to adjust the screen size, view a gallery, and save at any time.  The game also has a password system so you can use that, too.  The game is also fully translated in English, so WayForward and Arc Systems Works gets an A for effort.

The game does have a few problems, but most just stem from the original game itself.  There are two difficulty settings, but even on Easy the game is pretty tough.  But the challenge comes from poor hit detection mostly.  Players who may be expecting a game more like River City Ransom or River City Girls may be disappointed here, because there is no exploration in this game, nor do you buy healing items in shops and you can’t even pick up weapons to use.  It’s more of a straight up brawler and akin to the original Kunio game Renegade.  There are even some motorcycle stages like the NES version.

They do a good job explaining the controls, but not explicit enough to explain things like how to grab onto ledges, which you need to do to climb the Ferris wheel in the amusement park stage.  Turns out you have to press an attack button to do that.  Also, the gallery has a scan of the printed instruction booklet, which is neat to see all the artwork.  But it’s all in Japanese.  It’s a minor quibble, but it would’ve been nice if WayForward went the extra mile and translated it like the rest of the game.

Even so, I’m a huge Super Nintendo fan so I’m always interested in playing 16-bit titles on it like this that never came out over here before.  I certainly would’ve at least rented it back in the day if it had come out in the US.  In a way I can kind of see why it didn’t come out over here, though.  It’s a good game, don’t get me wrong, but it would’ve had to compete with the glut of other 2-D sidescrolling beat ‘em ups out at the time.  So if you’re a die-hard fan of Kunio-kun games and want something to tide you over until River City Girls 2 comes out (can’t wait for that one), you may want to check this one out.  Now if only we could get WayForward to make a new Super Dodge Ball game!

Kid Factor:

River City Girls Zero is rated T for Teen with ESRB descriptors of Fantasy Violence and Language.  You do punch and kick bad guys that fall over and disappear and say “Argh” when defeated.  I didn’t notice any bad language in the game story text, but the intro song at the beginning of the game say that Kunio and Riki are ‘hella pissed’ so maybe that’s the bad language to get the rating.  But I grew up playing games like this and I think I turned out OK.  Reading skill is helpful for some of the text, and younger gamers may find it too difficult.

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