River City Girls 2 Review


Product provided for review. Thanks, WayForward!

The River City Girls are back! Hot on the heels of the success of their first starring role, WayForward and Arc Systems Works have brought the Gals back for round two. In case you haven’t been following this game’s development, WayForward was hyping this game up for a whole year leading up to its release, with multiple trailers that gradually revealed more and more of the game’s characters and features. And with each new trailer, I felt just a little bit more…apprehensive. While I enjoyed the first game, I didn’t like it enough to want more of it. Moreover, I knew Two Button Crew was going to get a review code for this game, and—having reviewed the first title—I’d would be reviewing this one. But, I have a job to do, so let’s get this over with.

River City Girls 2—much like its predecessor—is two parts beat-em-up and one part R.P.G. Players explore the titular River City while pulverizing punks with a plethora of punches, kicks, throws, weapons, and miscellaneous other striking techniques. As they do, they’ll earn experience points—with which they can level up—and money to buy food, equipment, and new fighting techniques. It stars the eponymous girls—and their respective boyfriends—as they try to free their hometown from the grip of a sinister yakuza family.



Brawling is the foundation on which River City Girls 2 is built on. Fighting was easily the best part of the first game and R.C.G.2 expands upon it…A lot. Seriously, combat in River City Girls 2 is jam packed with new attacks and techniques. For example, characters can now learn launcher attacks that will launch the player’s character and whomever they were bludgeoning into the air, which can then be followed up by the new aerial combos. And those are only some of the attacks added in this sequel.

Once again, WayForward knocked it out of the park with the combat. On the surface the premise seems simple enough: string light attacks together and end the string with either a heavy or special attack. In practice however, it’s a lot deeper. Even the most basic fight is a parade of on-the-fly tactical decisions. I was constantly engaged, having to make decisions such as pressing an attack or trying to reposition myself to avoid getting surrounded, prioritizing stomping a downed opponent or attacking one still on his feet, and so on. The player is spoiled for choice, not just by the game’s expansive move list, but by the sheer number of ways one can approach fights.

What’s more, River City Girls 2 makes stringing together combos much easier. In the first R.C.G. bouncing opponents off walls and juggling them was possible, but took a fair amount of skill just to set up, much less execute. In this game, however, WayForward tweaked the recovery frames of many of the attacks, making it much easier to follow up on an opponent who’s bounced off a wall thus making it a viable option during a fight. Combine this with the enlarged move list that enhances the characters’ mobility, and the game’s protagonists can zip across the battlefield like cyclones of teenage wrath.

Overall, fighting in this game is just plain fun. Each attack carries just the right amount of weight and always lands with a satisfying oomph. Even when facing down the same thugs over and over again, I never got bored of River City Girls 2’s combat, and had to make a conscious effort to ignore enemies toward the end of the game while trying to quickly wrap up side-quests.


Fighting is not the entirety of River City Girls 2, however: exploration is also a central component of the game. River City is a sprawling web of interconnected areas that players will crisscross on their quest to free it: meeting friends, accepting missions, and shopping for food and equipment along the way.

Unlike the Mushroom Kingdom or Hyrule, the layout of River City is much the same as it was when last we saw it. Instead of creating a new map for the city, as so many sequels do, River City Girls 2 simply takes the previous game’s map and adds to it. While on its face this sounds like a lazy copy and paste, it actually adds a great sense of continuity that makes the town feel like a real place. Many of the game’s landmarks and locales and their layouts should be instantly recognizable to fans of the first game. That said, many of the game’s returning areas have undergone some visual changes, most notably downtown which somehow went from a rundown slum to a literal dumpster fire. Furthermore, the city’s returning districts also have many new nooks and crannies to poke around in.

Another new feature is the inclusion of hideouts. These are safe zones where the players can heal, swap their characters, swap out recruited sidekick characters, and store items. Additionally, players can opt to restart from a hideout after getting a game over.Having a place to duck into to get some reprieve is small addition, but one I quite liked.

One of my favorite parts of navigating River City is how detailed and densely-packed the environments are. Rooms in this game are far more than straight, empty corridors; they come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. What I especially like, however, is just how three-dimensional these rooms feel, and I mean that literally; objects aren’t just set dressing that the characters have to walk around, almost everything in the environment has volume. This is used to great effect, not only to give the environment an immersive sense of tangibility, but also to add verticality to areas that makes them far more interesting to traverse and explore.

While out and about, the heroes of River City Girls 2 can duck into shops and restaurants to pick up gear and food. Shopping in this game is a massive improvement over the first game thanks to one small change: the game actually says what the item does before the player buys it. Yeah, remember how the first game forced players to part with their hard-earned money before they knew what an item did?


River City Girls 2 uses the openness of its setting to good effect. After a few introductory missions, the game turns the players loose on the city to hunt down Sabu’s commanders on their own. Unlike the first game, whose progression was completely linear, River City Girls 2 allows players some choice in which order they tackled the game’s main objectives. Not every area is available from the start, however, so it isn’t completely nonlinear either. Overall, I think the game’s structure strikes a nice balance, giving players freedom while also offering that rewarding sense of progression that comes from unlocking new areas, characters, and so on. Ultimately, the more open-ended approach complements the game’s level-design. That said, the game does have a tendency to gate off some rooms arbitrarily with no in-setting justification until some unrelated criteria is met. Thankfully, this only happens with optional rooms.

Toppling a criminal empire isn’t the only thing to do in this game, however. River City Girls 2 also introduces side-quests. While wandering town, the game’s protagonists will come across a myriad of eccentric characters in need of assistance. These tasks may be as simple as fighting enemies in a certain area or as involved as tracking down cats all over River City. Some even take the form of mini-games, such as a dodge-ball match or a race. These are a great addition that help inject a little variety into the game and give players even more reasons to explore every inch of River City.


The original River City Girls had a weird, lopsided difficulty curve, where the game started out fairly unforgiving and gradually became more lenient. A large part of this was because of how hard money was to get at lower levels, and the sequel smooths out the difficulty curve by making sure every enemy drops at least something, either money or some health-restoring food. On top of that, there are many, many little tweaks here and there that make it much easier for players to heal their characters. Additionally, players can restart from a hideout to avoid losing money after getting a game over, thus avoiding the first game’s vicious cycle of not being able to afford food because the player keeps losing money from getting game overs because they can’t afford food. In the previous game, defeat—at least in the game’s first half—felt like an inevitability: the product of attrition and lack of resources. Here, defeat feels like the result of a lack of skill or planning, or in other words, fair.


If I have any criticisms for the gameplay of River City Girls 2, it’s the game’s occasionally slow pace. Moving from one region to another requires the player to hold down the attack button for a short while. While this is preferable to constantly changing rooms by mistake, as was common in the first game before it was patched, having to briefly stand in place just to initiate a screen transition isn’t a perfect solution; it breaks the flow of the game. What’s worse, R.C.G.2 has some fairly lengthy load screens, at least on the Nintendo Switch. The amount of time spent waiting when moving from one area to the next quickly adds up and becomes especially annoying when trying to backtrack or scour the city for collectibles.


The game features the same distinctive pixel art style of the first River City Girls. In fact, the game reuses many of its predecessor’s assets. That’s not a bad thing, though. The first R.C.G. had amazing animation and that’s no different here, for both the reused and new animations. The animation is once again hypnotically smooth and packs enough oomph to really sell every hit. Plus it’s chock full of little nods to other River City titles that long-time fans of the series are sure to appreciate.

While it’s hard to improve on the quality of the series’ character animation, the background art has gotten an upgrade. Environments in River City Girls 2 are much more detailed, often with an extra layer of grunge. This is especially noticeable with the many objects in stages that react to the player characters as they walk by: drinks spill, bottles break, and so on. Another great detail is the inclusion of a day-night cycle. It has no effect on gameplay, but it makes the world feel less video gamey.

Also returning from the first game are the manga-style cutscenes. There seems to be fewer of them than there were in the first game, however. Also, most of the manga sequences assume the players are playing as Misako and Kyoko, which I found jarring since I played as Kunio for the entire game. Come to think of it, that might be why there aren’t as many as in the last game. Personally, I’m okay with the manga sequences getting less screen time: I prefer seeing the character I chose participate in the story than a fancy full-motion cutscene. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the game’s intro animation sequence is absolutely gorgeous.

The game’s visual design isn’t all great, however. A few of River City Girls 2’s menus are modeled to look like social media apps. Maybe it’s just because I hardly use social media, but I found these menus hard to navigate and difficult to parse. Not helping matters was the very small font that was next to impossible for my aging millennial eyes to read from the couch. Come on, WayForward, not everyone has a 67” television; some of us are CHEAP!

While we on the subject of bad menu design, the map in this game is bordering on Thief: The Dark Project levels of unhelpful. Every segment of the map has a name, and side-missions will often reference these names, but the map only displays the name of the room the player is currently in. Secondly, there’s no way to zoom out and view the whole city at once. Instead, the game lets players view maps of each of the city’s districts individually. This makes it next to impossible to plan out a route across multiple districts. To make matters even more confusing, bus stops do show the entire map, meaning a zoomed out version of the map does exist in the game, players just can’t access it from the pause menu.


River City Girls 2’s soundtrack is great. Most of the songs have a dark, punchy energy that really sets the mood for a rough-and-tumble-town like River City. Having said that, the music is much more varied this time around, with a wider variety of styles and instruments. Never does the score lose its identity, though.

As with the previous game, there are a number of lyrical songs by Megan McDuffee. This time around, many of the songs are sung from the perspective of one of the game’s bosses, which adds a ton of personality and characterization. For instance, the song “Better than You” is a hilarious deluge of insecure bragging from the game’s first boss.

Another, much more subtle aspect of the game’s audio design is its use of ambient sound. WayForward incorporated noises like birds chirping or dogs barking in the distance into the game’s soundscape. It’s not something I noticed consciously—at least not until I turned down the music volume—but it really gives the world a much more immersive, organic feel.

River City Girls 2 is fully voiced acted, which is very impressive considering the copious quantity of characters. Every character is well-cast, with his or her voice perfectly expressing their personality. The vocal performances also serves to enhance much of the game’s humor. Many jokes that would’ve just been good still have me cracking up when I think about them because of the voice actors’ deliveries.



River City Girls 2’s story begins right where the first game’s left off, with Misako and Kyoko kicking the daughter and stand-in leader of the local crime syndicate, Sabuko, through a window. While the heroines are reuniting with their boyfriends, Sabuko and her brother, Ken, report to their father, the yakuza boss Sabu. Understandably upset to hear his daughter was defeated by a couple of high school girls, Sabu breaks out of his cell on the spot, swearing vengeance on the River City Girls. The Sanwa family then seize control of River City High, expel the protagonists, and defenestrate them for good measure. Realizing that expulsion means they no longer have to go to school, the game’s heroes shrug it off. Two months of playing video games on Kyoko’s couch later, the heroes emerge from their gamer stupor to find that the city has been taken over by yakuza. Now it’s up to Misako, Kyoko, Kunio, and Riki to take back the city from the sinister Sanwa family.

Right off the bat, the story has a sense of focus that the first game lacked. For much of the first game, Misako and Kyoko wandered around town, following increasingly tenuous leads until the story culminated in them learning the entire quest was predicated on a contrived misunderstanding. Here, the characters have a clear goal they’re working toward and every objective they complete gets them closer to that goal instead of stringing them along with yet another wild goose chase. As a story, it’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s perfect for an upbeat, jocular beat-em-up game about teenagers fighting yakuza.


As to be expected with a WayForward game—as well as a sequel to River City GirlsR.C.G.2 keeps a lighthearted, breezy tone all throughout. Much of the humor is highly character driven, either from the many eccentric friends and foes that the protagonists encounter or from the protagonists voicing their idiosyncratic observations on their current circumstances. Ultimately, I enjoyed the humor more in this game; it was more varied and less reliant on pointing out weird moments of “video game logic”.

One nice feature I want to point out for people who play this game solo is the option to set which character acts as the player’s sidekick. Even in single player, the player’s selected character is accompanied by a second character. This character doesn’t do any fighting, they’re just there participate in dialog exchanges. This is a great feature that WayForward didn’t have to include. For those wondering, I didn’t know about this setting at first, and so I defaulted to having Kyoko as my sidekick. It was probably for the best, though as Kunio and Kyoko make for a hilarious duo. Kunio’s personality is somewhere between Misako’s gruffness and Kyoko’s bubbly enthusiasm, meaning Kyoko made for both a great complement and contrast to him.


If it hasn’t become obvious by now, I think River City Girls 2 is better than its predecessor in every way. It fixes nearly every major inadequacy of the first title while expanding on its concepts. The combat is deeper, the city is bigger, the game is better structured, and the story is leagues better. I suspect that future listicles of “hardest games to return to after playing the sequel” will often include River City Girls. What’s more, this game is a strong contender for my new favorite 2D beat-em-up game of all time.

My rating for River City Girls 2 is love it.

The game sells for $40. While that may sound steep, I can easily see myself replaying this game in a few years, so I’m going to say that’s a fair price.

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Blog Writer/Tech Guy/Pedant
Glen is a lifelong Nintendo fan, having been first introduced to Mario around the age of three while at a friend's house. Since then, he's learned the dark art of computer programming, gotten a masters in computer science, and dreams of someday starting his own game studio. He got this position by writing essays in the YouTube comment section.