Once Upon a Time in River City
Good brawlers are my jam. I’m old enough to remember when walking to the right and punching things was a revolutionary idea in video games, and we’ve come a long, long way since the heady arcade zenith of belt-scrollers. The best brawlers oozed style, like Double Dragon’s weird post-apocalyptic mix of 50s biker gangs and 80s fashion, or Final Fight’s glossy, awesome sense of optimistic gangland mayhem—a world where a pro wrestler mayor taking justice into his own meaty hands almost makes sense. But it was on the NES, and even more so on the Famicom, that brawlers started developing substance that exceeded style.
In River City Ransom, Kunio and company injected RPG elements, exploration, emergent gameplay, quippy dialogue, and character progression into brawlers, and did it far more successfully than the weird NES port of Double Dragon managed. It also kept the two-player elements of brawling intact to boot. This is a hill I will die on: With few exceptions (I’m looking at you Battletoads), brawlers are just better with others along for the ride.
Hardly content to stick to mere street fighting, the intrepid high schoolers branched out to historical stage plays, zany pseudo-Olympic competitions, team sports, and a proto-Smash Bros four-player free-for-all. The cast of characters grew and developed as the series matured, until 1994’s Shin Nekketsu Kōha: Kunio-tachi no Banka thrust the spotlight on two soon-to-be-fan-favorites: series regular Misako, and newcomer Kyōko—The River City Girls!
For the first time in America, you’ll be able to play Misako and Kyōko’s origin story in River City Girls Zero, now available for pre-order at Limited Run Games. On today’s episode of Runtime: The Limited Run Games Podcast, I talked with Adam Tierney or WayForward about how the project came together, what to expect, and how Zero ties into the original WayForward River City Girls and the upcoming River City Girls 2. You can listen right here or on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or other places!
Adam’s a delight, and he shared a lot about how the whole River City Girls saga unfolded at WayForward, including the birth of River City Girls and how they brought Zero to America.
It all started with TGS. “I’ve been at the company for a long time,” Adam told me, “and I remember that River City games in particular especially River City Ransom, which was on NES was always one of those games where me and Matt Bozon our creative director would just say ‘ah it would be great to get our hands on one of those.’”
“Then a few years ago,” he continued, “we starting actually going to Japan when I took over biz dev for the company and doing Tokyo game Show, and that was really a big opportunity opener for the company, because now instead of having to go just through the US branch of these major companies (and also smaller companies), we could go directly to people in Japan.”
Adam sensed an opportunity to build something new around the franchise’s characters. “Knowing that Arc was one of the places we were going to be talking with,” he said, “I think this was back in 2017... I had recently become aware of the Super Famicom Game... if you look at that game the characters are just so appealing, and their animation and personality, Misako and Kyōko, it’s really about they’re the third and fourth playable characters behind Ricky and Kunio, and I fell in love with the girls.” The team built a proposal around a new art style by Priscilla Hamby, and Arc was immediately on board to partner up.
The goal was to create a high-energy game appealing to WayForward’s established fan base. Thus there was a heavy design emphasis on storytelling through action scenes, comic motion manga, and an explosive vibe to the combat and progression. River City Girls was a great success for WayForward, enough to warrant the development of a sequel, but Adam also wanted to give series fans a chance to experience a definitive version of the original game behind it all.
Thus, in partnership with LRG, Shin Nekketsu Kōha: Kunio-tachi no Banka was retooled, with new animated sequences and storytelling and a pair of English translations for players to choose from, one heavily literal, the other congruent with the vibe of the modern River City Girls games.
Adam explained the reasoning behind bringing the 1994 Famicom classic to America between its original WayForward River City games. “Part of it was really tied into the bridge for River City Girls from 2019 and River City Girls 2, which we’re developing right now,” he said. “We’re keeping our cards pretty close to our chest regarding who some of the characters are and major plot points and all, but what I’ll say is there are a lot of characters in the first River City Girls game. We’re adding just as many new characters in River City Girls 2.” He continued: “The major focus of it, like where your major adversarial relationship is and what's going on, was really pulled very specifically from the Super Famicom game.” He went on to stress that while River City Girls 2 is a stand-alone experience, exposure to Zero gives players a deeper dive into the Kunio-universe lore that will add a lot of nuance to what’s happening… as well as giving players another chance to adventure with Kyōko, Misako, Riki, and Kunio.
River City Girls is a venerable franchise with a rich, varied history born in the golden age of video games. As a lifelong Kunio fan weaned on River City Ransom, Nintendo World Cup, and Super Dodgeball, I’m dying to get my hands on Zero. I hope you’ll give it a look and give the podcast a listen!!
Limited Run Games:
the industry leader in the production and distribution of premium physical video games. Founded in 2015, they have published over 1,000 physical games and soundtracks in addition to winning a number of awards for their bespoke Collector’s Editions. Limited Run is the gold standard in bringing digital games to physical form for casual fans and collectors alike. Visit limitedrungames.comfor the latest offerings, or follow the brand on your social media platform of choice for all LRG-related updates:@limitedrungames.