Wayforward is on the top level when it comes to long-standing indie developers. Sure, not every game is a winner but when they do land, the studio knocks it out of the park. A long history of bangers has made it one of the most respected developers in the game, and one genre it consistently excels in is the old-school beat ‘em’ up. Even with pedigree that includes the highly underappreciated Double Dragon Neon, we were shocked with just how amazing 2019’s River City Girls was, ending up as one of our favourite games in an extremely strong year. Three years later comes River City Girls 2, which continues the adventure of Misako and Kyoko in a strong follow-up that maybe treads too much familiar ground and stumbles a little, at least on Switch.
Right away we’re treated to another gorgeous animated opening, with another cracking intro song from Megan McDuffee. One of the standouts from the 2019 original was McDuffee's fantastic soundtrack, and thankfully River City Girls 2 does not disappoint in that department. Each area of the game brings its own set of tracks, including the return of the vocal tracks themed to each boss, and even ventures into different genres with Mega Ran’s River City Girls Anthem. Luckily, if you liked the first game's tunes a lot, they play throughout this game and are unlockables that can be played in your hideout.
If you played RCG1, you you'll feel immediately at home. Each of the original four characters — Misako, Kyoko, Kunio, and Riki — return with some new moves, but for the most part play similarly to their original incarnations. New to the team is Provie, a young street dancer who incorporates the flow of dance into her battles as she searches for her missing friend, Chris. She’s cool, but the main event is other newcomer Marian, the former damsel of the Double Dragon series, along with her ‘legendary abs.’ While we mainly played as Kyoko throughout this adventure due to her strong and satisfying aerial combos and movement; Marian’s boxing and wrestling-focused moveset won our hearts.
River City Girls 2 takes place moments after the ending of the original; SPOILERS FOR RCG1 — the girls have just launched Sabuko out of a window. She’s picked up by her step-brother Ken, who aims to take over as second in command in the family empire following his sister's defeat. The big boss Sabu, has escaped prison and taken over River City. This takeover extends to the school, of which our heroes are immediately expelled, and spend the next two months playing video games at Kyoko’s house. After traversing out to get the newly released sequel to “Vampire Puncher”, the girls are embroiled in a plot to stop the yakuza takeover of River City. Even if the last two months spent playing video games have (conveniently) resulted in them losing their abilities.
The writing is still as sharp as ever. The back-and-forth between Misako, Kyoko, and their friends/adversaries is still super entertaining. While we prefer the first game’s tale of the girls searching for their missing boyfriends, the sequel's higher-stake affair is still a great time throughout the 8-10 hour runtime. However, one aspect where this is a letdown is when it comes to the extra characters. While you can choose your character and your partner to bounce dialogue off, it feels like the developers intended to have you play as a combination of Kyoko and Misako. There are points where you’ll clearly have characters speaking dialogue intended for those two, like Marian saying “didn’t you go to our school?” despite being a grown adult.
As you venture through River City, you’ll notice that 1) the spritework is still absolutely gorgeous, and 2) a lot of the enemies and areas return from the original. While there are new things for both, such as the great nostalgia-filled Technos area, in the early game it does feel like a bit of a retread. Many shopkeepers return from the original, with some — such as Skullmageddon — taking up bigger roles in the story. This is obviously in line with the Kunio-Kun and Double Dragon games that inspired it, where you would have Williams, Abobo, and Linda show up constantly; so it’s not a huge deal, but everything does feel very familiar.
Similarly to the original, boss fights are a solid time. Earlier ones like Marian are a bit tedious due to waiting out her acid, but as the game goes on the boss fights improve drastically, including smart and humorous ones which we won't spoil here.
New to this entry are the online co-op with crossplay — which sadly, we were not able to try out during the review period as online matchmaking was dead — and four-player local co-op. The latter is seamless, allowing you to drop in or out at any time. Like the original, the option is there to toggle friendly attacks on or off, so for those of you who love pure chaos, there's a little something for you too.
As for the Switch version of the game, it's a bit of a mixed bag. The game opens with a strangely long initial load before the intro even plays, and each area's loading time can last anywhere from roughly five to ten seconds. In a vacuum these loads aren’t too cumbersome, but when you are looking to quickly traverse the map and not hang out in each area, these quickly become tedious. Especially when, in a section towards the finale, the fast travel is locked. It runs solidly with the occasional frame drop in handheld; but the frame rate in docked mode feels a lot more unstable with frequent drops. The addition of extra characters sadly affects the frame rate, too, especially when three or four players are involved.
River City Girls 2 is more River City Girls, feeling less like a full-fledged sequel and more like a RCG 1.5. Switch-related performance issues aside, it was still a great time to return to River City thanks to its phenomenal music and voice acting, sharp writing, gorgeous sprite work, fun new characters, and satisfying combo-based gameplay, but at launch it feels a patch or two away from greatness. If you loved the original as we did, you’re bound to like this follow-up, and we hope the team at Wayforward gets more time and money to really expand the series for a third entry.