River City Girls was a surprise hit for me when it released in 2019. That game perfectly blended solid beat ‘em up mechanics with light RPG mechanics, all wrapped up in a lovely bubblegum pop aesthetic. River City Girls 2 takes everything I loved from the first game and offers just a little bit more.
Kyoko, Misako, and their boyfriends return in River City Girls 2 to beat up the Yakuza that have taken over their town. Whether playing alone or in 4 player co-op, you pick your favorite character and punch your way through each stage to take down several Yakuza bosses ranging from wizards to social media influencers to a particularly spicy celebrity chef.
In addition to a colorful cast of villains, River City Girls 2 offers a selection of 6 playable characters. The cast from the first game returns, but there are two additions, Marian (of Double Dragon fame) and Provie, a new original character. I loved Marian’s design in this game and played as her for the bulk of my playthrough. Characters you aren’t using level up in the background, so you can switch up your play style as often as you want.
Each playable character has a unique move set, including light attacks, heavy attacks, grabs, and special attacks. New attacks can be unlocked in stores or by leveling up your character. There’s a surprising amount of depth here. Playing around with launchers, ground attacks, and special maneuvers can help you string together very long combos. Don’t be intimidated if you aren’t interested in high-execution combos because the game is easy enough that most players will be able to get by mashing buttons.
The game takes a light tone and is heavy on the jokes, which is a good choice given the kooky premise. I found the script funny overall, though occasionally grating when a couple jokes in a row didn’t land. You shouldn’t expect a riveting story or character study, but do expect lots of laughs from River City Girls 2.
River City Girls 2 is also full of references to other beat ‘em ups, WayForward games, and the Kunio-kun series. This game feels like a love letter to all the other games that inspired the developers when you run into characters like the Double Dragon brothers at dojos around the map.
The new playable characters were some of my favorite additions to River City Girls 2, though their implementation in the story leaves a bit to be desired. Instead of incorporating all six characters into the story, you only hear from two at a time. One is the character you are playing as, and the other is one that you can choose through the settings menu. As a result, you rarely see the characters interact as a group, which is disappointing.
On a brighter note, all my favorite NPCs from the first River City Girls game return in the sequel, mostly acting as side quest givers. Side quests are much improved in River City Girls 2. Instead of being exclusively combat-centric, side quests often involve short minigames that add some variety to the gameplay. The minigames are all well done and never overstay their welcome. There’s a huge variety here as well, with minigames ranging from rhythm games to dodgeball battles.
In addition to minigames, there is a variety of collectibles to distract from brawling. Each full collection is rewarded with new content, items, or experience. Fans of collectathons will appreciate that there are several different collections, unlike the single collection in the first game.
The fighting in River City Girls 2 is as excellent as it was in the first game. It’s standard beat ‘em up fare here as enemies wander in from the sides of the screen for you to wallop with your character’s abilities or by picking up a weapon. Weapons felt good at the start of the game, but once my stats had increased a bit, I found myself relying more on regular attacks, which allow you to string longer combos together.
River City Girls 2 isn’t difficult, but varied enemy types and environmental hazards prevent you from turning your brain off completely. You’ll have to watch out for ranged attacks, explosives, and enemies that leap around the screen. The game throws in more complicated and tougher enemies as it progresses, so you’ll see all sorts of characters and attacks by the time the credits roll.
One of River City Girls 2’s more unique features is enemy recruitment. If you see an enemy attack that you like, you can get them to join your side and use their attack yourself. You can recruit up to two enemies at a time to assist you in combat. At the press of a button, the former foe will swoop in and perform their special attack.
Recruitable enemies add a ton of fun and depth to the gameplay. You can pick an enemy that can help you extend your combos, one that adds a ranged attack to your repertoire, or just one you like the look of. Any way you slice it, recruitable enemies help you personalize your play style. I had a blast experimenting with every new enemy I found.
Players can also personalize their River City Girls 2 experience using accessories and food. Accessories are pieces of equipment with a variety of effects. Some make the game easier, others change the rules of combat, and some arguably make the game harder. You can have two equipped at any time, so which ones you use should be based on how you like to play the game. I loved using special attacks and weapons, so I chose an accessory that made my special gauge fill faster and another that made my weapons explode when thrown.
Food also plays an important role in River City Girls 2. Many shops sell consumables that restore health. Each unique consumable has a stat associated with it that is permanently increased the first time you eat it. This acts indirectly as a difficulty slider. Players can seek out every store and buy every consumable to maximize their stats or avoid food if they want a greater challenge.
All the food, accessories, and recruits will be essential for taking on River City’s most dangerous bosses. Bosses all have a unique theme and fighting style that helps make each one memorable. My favorite was the chef boss, who spends most of the fight chucking knives at you to dodge. Most bosses have three phases, which follow a pattern of the boss performing a sequence of attacks you need to dodge before you have a chance to do some damage to them. While this can feel formulaic, it’s fun looking for additional openings where you can sneak some extra damage in with a special attack or with a long-range weapon like the yo-yo.
The charming writing and memorable bosses are well supported by River City Girls 2’s presentation. The environments and characters are portrayed in beautiful pixel art during gameplay, but during cutscenes, we see detailed drawn images of the characters instead. The pixel art scratched the retro itch I always get from beat ‘em ups, while the cutscenes wowed me and added a lot of personality to each character.
The story is often presented via black-and-white animated and voice-acted comic strips. The presentation fits the childlike, actiony tone of the story, and gives each boss a chance to explain their tragic (or hilarious) backstory before their boss fight.
The soundtrack is also a high point. Megan McDuffee returns as the writer and performer for River City Girls 2‘s soundtrack. Each boss has their own theme that helps you learn what each character is about before you even fight them. Every song in the soundtrack is catchy and I found myself humming and singing along to several of the high-energy songs throughout the playthrough. Some of my favorite tracks from the first game also make an appearance in this game, and I was always happy to hear them.
Between the fun gameplay, charming writing, retro presentation, and banging soundtrack, River City Girls 2 feels like it takes everything from the first game and does a little bit more and a little bit better. More moves, more characters, online co-op, and better gameplay variety are just a few of the major improvements in this sequel. If you liked the first River City Girls, you’ll love the sequel, and if you didn’t, I would recommend River City Girls 2 to anyone who enjoys beat ‘em ups or just wants a delightfully charming game with lots of laughs.