There’s something deeply comforting for me with old arcade-style side-scrolling beat-em-ups. Back in the days when every Pizza parlor and laundromat had an arcade, I would dump handfuls of coins in these machines, always rushing for the games with the cool-looking protagonists and endless waves of villains to fight. Metal Slug was my personal favorite, but that might have been more of a shoot-em-up.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve become a lot pickier with the games I play. It takes a lot more than a directional stick and two attack buttons to keep me hooked on a game, but nostalgia for the arcade beat-em-up genre still remains in my heart. So when a modern take on the genre comes out and does it strong, it’s a really special thing for me.
River City Girls 2 is a sequel to River City Girls, a pixel art beat-em-up from 2019 with a colorful palette and spunky Scott-Pilgrim-Esque-teen-power style. The original game, while receiving a ton of praise from players, was a bit of a sleeper hit, not garnering a ton of attention but doing well enough to earn a sequel.
And what a sequel it is. WayForward and Arc System Works really come out swinging with this title. And it’s no surprise, as Arc System Works are kind of the undisputed kings of the stylish fighter scene right now, bringing their unique and flashy art style to such super successful titles as Guilty Gear and Dragon Ball FighterZ. That’s not to downplay WayForward’s part in the game though, as the studio that created Shantae is already well-known for making beloved games.
After defeating the daughter of a Yakuza boss in the last game, protagonists Misako and Kyoko are targeted by the gangsters, who tear up the city trying to find them. The girls are joined by Kunio and Riki, and two new playable characters Provie and Marian as they take to the city streets beating up Yakuza with pep and power.
The game plays similarly to the first one, with some new moves for our returning characters as well as totally new ones for our two new ones. The addition of the two new characters Provie and Marian means the game can now support up to 4 players, creating room for fun foe bashing with friends that makes for a great weekend activity.
The art style is greatly improved from the last game too, featuring an updated take on the old look that just feels fresh and vibrant. The pixels are sharp, and each character feels super detailed in a way that screams retro and new at the same time.
The game also features a satisfying sense of progression. As you travel through River City busting up Yakuza, you’ll unlock bigger and better moves and accessories. Everything you unlock helps you pound more thugs into the dirt, and it always feels good trying out that new move for the first time on an unsuspecting goon.
Something the game does a lot is make you backtrack through areas you’ve already been to unlock new ones. While I personally didn’t love this feature, there’s very little to be done about it in a side-scrolling game that wants to give an “open world” feeling. You actually trek from location to location in the city, rather than just moving from level to level via a transition screen.
Something River City Girls 2 has more than anything else is style and character. The game’s unique look sets it apart form others in the genre incredibly well, and the characters only push the game’s memorable qualities even further. I loved the characters, especially the protagonists, who express so much personality not just through their dialogue but their unique animations and attacks too — When a character uses a dab as a special move, you remember it.
Even the background characters have a ton of personality. You really feel the difference between the colorful 80s Yakuza gangsters and the punk rockers as you’re putting sneak prints in their faces.
The world of River City Girls 2 is vibrant, spunky, and almost idyllic. It can be easy to make a boring city level, or one that feels repetitive and empty, but the world feels unique and alive with each stage you fight your way through. There was never a moment in River City Girls 2 where I failed to appreciate the details of the background behind me, and I was never bored seeing the same place multiple times when it came to backtracking.
My biggest complaint about River City Girls 2 is the price. While the under $40 price tag is certainly cheaper than a lot of games, I recommend picking it up on sale, as you probably won’t get more than 6 or so hours out of it.
The Final Word
River City Girls 2 is a fantastic example of a modern arcade beat-em-up, with a ton of spunky personality and great, simple gameplay to back it up. While a little short, you’ll definitely enjoy the game, and get a lot more life out of it if you play with friends.
Our River City Girls 2 review was written based on the PC version of the game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website!