Checking the Score: River City Girls

While many point to how lifelike the next blockbuster action title is or how gorgeous an artistic indie darling is when it comes to evaluating a game, these visuals would lose their impact without a stirring soundtrack to score them. From the chip-tunes of Super Mario Bros to the Gregorian chants of Halo, video game music brings players closer to immersion and fantasy. Much like how a movie’s soundtrack sets the tone for dramatic scenes, game music also helps players connect emotionally with the story.

Checking the Score is a monthly feature devoted to these crucial compositions which are literally the soundtrack to our gaming lives. Delving into what makes them impactful, the process of composing them and the intricacies of each score, our aim is to put a spotlight on the aural backbone of gaming.

WayForward is a company known for their high-quality original titles as well as revitalizing classics such as Double Dragon and River City Ransom/Kunio-Kun into engaging modern releases. Recently the company remade the 1994 Japan-only classic Shin Nekketsu Kōha: Kunio-tachi no Banka into River City Girls Zero. But prior to that, they developed River City Girls in 2019. This was itself a new spinoff of the Kunio-Kun games featuring women as the protagonists in this cartoony side-scrolling beat ‘em up romp.

This series has always had excellent music since it first began back in the ’80s on arcade and Famicom. Even though River City Girls does not come from the original developers, it still brings with it a killer soundtrack. This is thanks to Megan McDuffee who composed the soundtrack for this title. Over the years she’s done work that spans films and other projects, but surprisingly not a ton of video games. It’s a surprise because once you hear this soundtrack you’ll wish McDuffee were the talent behind tons of other game music.

The first example of this exciting soundtrack is “Detention.” This song comes up right at the start of the game and lets players know right away that it’s going to be a good time. Despite being a thoroughly modern composition, it perfectly fits in with the vibe of a classic beat ‘em up. It also encapsulates the mood of the game, with our protagonists starting off in detention only to break out straight away. It’s a fun and action-packed tune that starts off a great adventure.

Next up is “Knockout.” This track provides an excellent example of the ’80s mood present throughout River City Girls. Though the game came out in 2019, it’s of course based on a series which began in the ’80s — making a retro feel a perfect fit. And as with every other track in the game, it maintains the sense of action and speed present in the gameplay. It amps it up all the more into an even better experience. The soundtrack is full of other songs just as good as this so it serves as a great representation.

A good number of tracks in the River City Girls soundtrack feel retro for a different reason. Some of them are actually chiptune-style songs. This is the case with “Boss Hibari.” It puts aside all pretense and sounds like it came straight out of a NES game. Again, this makes perfect sense and provides a wonderful homage to origins of the Kunio-Kun series on classic hardware. It also helps that this NES-inspired track kicks butt. It’s an excellent pairing with a boss battle, making players feel unstoppable.

One of the signatures of many Wayforward games are songs with strong vocals. We get multiple examples of that with this game, but a favorite for many is “Bully.” It helps because this is one of the early tracks players will hear and adore. As with many other songs on the score, “Bully” carries a real ’80s air about it, while being perfectly listenable today. This, alongside the other vocal tracks, are a must-listen even if you don’t end up playing River City Girls.

River City Girls is a great game with an equally excellent soundtrack. From the very opening moments, players are drawn in with the awesome music accompanying their every move. A beat ‘em up with a bad soundtrack simply wouldn’t be fun. Fortunately, this game stands strong in each aspect: gameplay, visuals and music. Those who have yet to try it out really should as this is one of the best beat ‘em ups in the past five years.