River City Girls Zero takes the long-dormant 16-bit brawler genre and shifts it over to current consoles and gaming rigs. Originally a very popular title in Japan for the Super Famicom, nobody beyond the Eastern borders ever really saw this game. For whatever reason, it finally made it over to other parts of the world and there’s no doubt it’s a trip down memory lane akin to games resembling Double Dragon and Streets of Rage. Developers Wayforward and Arc System Works now hold the creative rights to the popular Kunio-kun series and decided to weave a narrative with the characters. With this particular title, this is an origin tale that centers around Misako and Kyoko boyfriends, Kunio and Riki, who was wrongfully imprisoned for a hit-and-run murder. Naturally, they must bust out of this complex and found out who framed them and why. It is a basic plot that can be plucked from any B-movie description, but this is all that’s really needed in an old-school beat’em up.
There was another installment of River City Girls released back in 2019 for the current generation of consoles and PC. It generally got a good amount of praise and the developers decided to expand the lore by creating a prequel story for the two main heroines. River City Girls Zero was recently dropped this past February and it generally has the same vibe as its predecessor, but with a slightly different aesthetic. However, the core gameplay remains on point and fundamentally solid with its hitboxes and control mechanics. Needless to say, there is more to this title than what meets the eye. There is no doubt that we hit a new benchmark with video games this generation. However, there are gamers out there that still enjoy the classic charm of 8 and 16-bit adventures and this is what this title is catered to.
Beating The Streets
The game is updated in terms of its narrative presentation. The beginning of the game has a manga-style introduction to the world of Kunio-kun. It lays down the groundwork regarding the characters and what was entailed in the previous game. It is a self-referencing act that shows the girls finding a video game that is somehow centered on their boyfriends being arrested. It’s a very meta way to start the game, but there is no doubt that a certain allurement can be found with this title justifying its dated gameplay and graphics. The girls even make jokes among themselves revolving around their financial situation and not affording current consoles and televisions. It’s a clever way to set the game up and kind of gives gamers a valid reason why the game is the way it is.
At the start of the game, players will take control of Kunio and Riki as they fight tooth and nail to get out of the prison complex. Even though there are quite a few bells and whistles engrained with River City Girls Zero, it’s generally the same game since it was during the 90s. Standard punches, kicks, and grapples can all be found, here. With some added flare, characters can also pound enemies that are on the ground. It’s a dirty way to fight, for sure. However, with street brawlers, that are the rules that one has to follow. There’s no honor among thugs. Both Kunio and Riki have the same move set, for the most part. The kicker is that during the first act of the game, both of these characters will be wearing prison garb. Therefore, for whatever reason, they will be unable to execute their special moves and ground attacks. Only when they’re out of prison and wearing their street clothes, they’ll have access to all their moves.
River City Blues
Of course, since this game is titled “River City Girls Zero”, it’ll be a missed opportunity to have players miss out on playing Misako and Kyoko. Not to worry, players will be playing as the titular heroines later in the game. The game does mix things up in terms of location and gameplay mechanics. The famed Mode-7 graphics engine from the Super Nintendo (and Famicom, respectively) makes a return. Players will be zooming down a highway with a motorcycle while kicking pursuing enemies. Very similar to the underrated Road Rash series. There is also a little bit of platforming to get through, such as jumping on top of carts on a carousel while fighting. The levels seem to offer enough variety and freshness to keep players compelled to keep going. On top of that, there are some Kojima-esque tricks in this game that can throw a curveball during the playthrough.
One example is that if players manage to make it all the way to the first encounter of the main villain, Sabu, and beat him on easy then something happens. Players will be warped to the beginning of the game. The only way to progress is by playing on harder difficulties. It’s little things like this that make River City Girls Zero more challenging. In terms of gameplay, the main difference between the girls and the guys is that the girls can’t grapple or ground attack. However, they come with faster speed and their own special moves. It’s a trade-off that players will need to deal with in terms of the different characters. However, this game is very much Kunio and Riki’s story and they will indeed be the playable characters throughout most of the game.
Even though River City Girls Zero is a different variation from its predecessor, there is no doubt that a niche group of gamers still dig this retro-style action. The old-school look and gameplay may turn off certain gamers that rather invest in more contemporary outings. However, people out there who are hardcore fans of this Kunio-kun title might actually get a kick out of it. River City Girls Zero is now available for the Nintendo Switch. Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that this game is associated with the classic Nintendo brawlers River City Ransom and Renegade. That alone could make this game worth checking out for fans out there who grew up with those titles.