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Game of the Year #5: River City Girls

There’s this Daryl Surat Greater Action Movie postulate (which i only half remember so blame me not him) that goes “female led action movies <something something> falter because <something something> studios won’t let directors do the Hard R.” Which I bring up in the context of this video game because I remember this weird controversy about the secret ending as it pertains to not only mental health but like…. girl on girl violence? Like it went around the bigger bloggosphere and if I’m playing devil’s advocate shoot me but how much literal violence we will swallow (like just…. absolutely…. 6-8 hours of teens beating the shit out of each other) as long as nobody directly verbalizes it? Like haha what’s with that moralist shit dude go scream at a cop and let video games be even 1% gross sometimes. It takes me 30 seconds to refocus my eyes after this boss intro:

Usually when they say a WayForward game don’t end good, they’re talking about that part in the Bloodrayne platformer where you had to make 6 pixel perfect kick jumps off set of floating blood mosquitos while fire’s chasing you, am I right??🤣

Well, think about it this way. If most beat ’em ups feel kinda slight and most Way Forward games way too long, River City Girls is exquisitely paced for a Way Forward beat-em-up, especially as a direct-ish sequel to the original, where you could beat the last boss to the end of the game.

I don’t know if is this is just all in my head, but as someone who appreciates pink things, bubblegum poppin, oversized jackets, short skirts, and band-aids everywhere, emotionally I gotta approach a Bubblegum Pop video game aesthetic like I’m about to be served the next Lollipop Chainsaw…… specifically with what it’s gonna do with my emotions it’s rarely some “lived in” shit, if you know what I mean? And the line between “do I feel like I’m playing art about high schoolers, or art about playing chicken with the line of how fuckable you can make a child before someone will call you on it?” is like…. oddly thin? In video games specifically it’s like the Macualy Culkin The Good Son of thin ice (but I’ll save that for 2021’s 2020 Game of the Year Write Ups: Aegis Rim (which will not contradict what I said up there about gross video games so chill🥰much love in 2021).

The risky aesthetic dive is bolstered by a genius soundtrack. Is it synthpop? vaporwave? I am 100% sure a synth or a wave is involved but possibly not both. Album of the Year, and not only because I have found continuous respite this year via “smoking a lot of weed and listening to Smackdown on repeat until I feel like I’m falling into an infinite tunnel in the carpet.” While you got an overall great smorgasbord of tracks to beat ass to, sometimes she’ll hit you with this insane Stevie Nix-style croon like The Hunt, which is playing off diegetic speakers in the area and fades as you transition out…. I have no idea how to explain what kind of fuckin’ vibe that puts you in for a beat ’em up.

Kyouko and Misaki fill in the rest. Part sukeban, part valley, part scene girl, a mismash style of high ponys, varsity jackets, stocks with cute kicks, painted nails on scuffed hands, and pink backpacks (weaponized). They lean femme, yet they slip the beat em up noose of the sexy-cool girl (eg. Blaze) because they’re neither sexy nor cool? They’re thuggish brutes with a bit of a mean streak. That’s the whole point. It don’t matter if you’re a buff terminator man or a glitzy gyarus, in River City, you gotta be willing to chuck a trashcan.

You know what I’m saying. Kyouko and Misaki are a pair of mutually enabling, oversensitive knuckleheads on a moronic quest that the (maligned?) secret ending reveals was premised on nothing. This may also be described as….. puberty. I don’t wanna like… make that argument, but this would not be the same game if it wasn’t a pair of brutish morons making trouble for a whole city of equally brutish morons.

They don’t make fun beat em ups anymore (not since 2013) but they also don’t make games where a soft butch and a hard femme pick on each other for six or seven hours straight. There’s that fundamental comedy beat where the smartest person in the dumb-dumb group corrects everyone else, only for their correction to also be wrong? I think this is a game for anyone who has ever sat across from their friend and been like “I am so much smarter than this bitch.” One time I thought that sitting across from a person I lived with who also smoked, so we–on my initiative–stole a 5 gal paint drum filled with sand from campus for our personal indoor ashtray and threw our butts into it for a year. I 100% knew I was smarter than that guy.

And yet!! They were still…. my bitch. The girls take selfies together, compliment each other’s technicks, go gaga over food, scream about schoolyard drama, and kvech on the various creeps. Part of what makes beat em ups so fun to play is they’re something to occupy your basic motor functions while you chill with your besties. This is the fundamental truth of all multiplayer games–vectors for dorks to dish about their day–here it’s on the screen. Kyouko and Misaki know they are both the smartest, raddest, coolest, hottest, strongest girl on the block. Occasionally moments of cutscene outre reveal how the cool clique just fucking reviles these girls. But they don’t even seem to know they’re not part of the cool kids. Or they don’t care. They have each other.

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