River City Girls Zero is an updated port of Shin Nekketsu Kōha: Kunio-tachi no Banka, which translates to “The New Hot-Blooded Tough Guy: The Elegy of Kunio and Co.” When it was originally released in 1994, it was the first in the series to introduce Misako and Kyoko as playable characters, joining their boyfriends, Kunio and Rikki, in this re-release that acts as a prequel of sorts to 2019’s River City Girls. It’s the first time the game has been released outside of Japan officially, and using some handy emulation techniques, you’ve got modern save states for easy pick up and play sessions and an updated comic book-style intro to the game.
Being a port from the original 1994 release, River City Girls Zero plays very much like other beat ‘em ups of the time, like Double Dragon or Final Fight. Your movement is very stiff, and attacks have to be landed with precision; otherwise, you’ll miss and leave yourself wide open. You do have a bunch of special attacks you can use, like Dragon Punches and Machine Gun Kicks, as well as throws and mounted attacks for when your opponent is on the floor. When it all goes to plan, there’s nothing more satisfying in this game than climbing on top of a downed enemy and just unleashing a flurry of punches until they’re KO’d.
Whether playing solo or with a buddy in 2-player mode, the game focuses on the gang’s quest to find out who framed Kunio and Rikki for a hit and run attack. You’ll fight various students, bikers, thugs and gang members across different locations within the city, such as the gang’s schools, the Docks, and even a Theme Park. Each area you fight in usually has some sort of gimmick, like Rikki’s High School is falling apart, and you have to jump at the right time to avoid the aftershock of the floors collapsing. Some areas are followed up by vehicle sections as well, where you’ll ride Kunio’s bike across the motorways whilst battling bikers and trying to avoid crashing.
Each area usually has a boss you’ll have to deal with at the end to advance the story, and that’s usually when the game’s stiff controls and difficulty can start to dramatically spike. The bosses like to gang up on you with their underlings and come with their own special moves, making them a lot more dangerous than the regular enemies you’ve punched through to get there.
As a classic beat ‘em up, you’ll be doing a lot of punching and kicking during your time with the game, with the four characters playing slightly differently. Kunio and Rikki focus more on grappling their opponents, with both being able to throw enemies into each other or mount a downed opponent for a UFC-style ground-and-pound. With Misako and Kyoko, the girls focus more on combo-ing enemies and don’t have access to the boys’ grappling techniques, so they instead have a greater focus on their special moves that you can use by blocking and then pressing either the punch or kick buttons.
There isn’t much in the way of platforming sections you have to worry about, but the different areas often have bits of scenery you can interact with to perform more damaging moves. The ability to switch characters on the fly comes in handy, especially if you’re low on health as a single KO to any of your party is a game over (in single-player at least). This system means there’s a little depth and replayability into which characters you use during the stages. Do you save your best or favourite character for the boss or use them to get there?
River City Girls Zero is a faithful port of a game that’s very much still a product of its time when it comes to the gameplay. The developers at Wayforward and Givro have done a really good job on the translation too, giving it a modern feel, and the overall presentation of the game wouldn’t be out of place in the new River City Girls games and helps add to the background of Misako and Kyoko for fans. Ultimately, that’s who I think will get the most out of this game, fans of 2019’s River City Girls who want something to tide them over until the sequel later this year or fans of the bigger River City or Kunio-kun franchises as a whole. Unfortunately for River City Girls Zero on the Nintendo eShop, there’s a lot of competition, especially when it comes to side-scrolling beat ‘em ups, and at just over £12, you can get better value for your money with other readily available titles like Streets of Rage 4, 2019’s River City Girls, if you’ve not tried it, and Fight’N Rage, all of which are great, 90s-inspired beat ‘em ups that I would recommend to anyone before River City Girls Zero.
With that being said, I still enjoyed my time with the game, and after eventually getting a friend to come round and experience the 2-player shenanigans, it just made the whole experience more fun, especially when you start throwing enemies into each other or trying to set up ridiculous attacks and failing. Outside of that, if you’re a fan of the River City Girls series and want to discover a bit more about Misako and Kyoko’s origins, then this will be a short but sweet experience for you.
Publisher: Arc System Works
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 14th February 2022