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Childhood is a time where the biggest challenges in the world are staying awake through homework and getting the cookie jar off that ridiculously high refrigerator. As adults, we have energy drinks and we keep the cookies next to/under our beds but our fondest memories tend to be from that time. For gamers, we remember when games were simpler but more challenging, and every game was the best game ever, unless it was made by LJN, the opportunistic bastards who bought awesome movie licenses and made them into crappy games. But I digress.
River City Ransom was among my favorite childhood video games. My cousin Matt and I took to the streets of River City with a vengeance, taking out street gangs, their bosses and ultimately that girlfriend-stealing Slick as Alex and Ryan. Of course the password system was terrible, requiring a 33-character input from Capital and Lower-Case letters, and numbers, so we played from the beginning every time. And every time, we loved it.
Nothing like a title screen to bring back the memories…
River City Ransom for the Nintendo Entertainment System was developed Technōs Japan, the creators of Double Dragon, and published by American Technos for North America. Known as Dauntaun Nekketsu Monogatari in Japan, this game was released on April 25, 1989 in Japan to great commercial success and multiple spinoffs. It’s subsequent releases in North America and the PAL region in 1990 and 1993, respectively, were lukewarm at best, but has since earned cult status thanks to its humor and playability. RCR was ported to multiple systems including the Sharp X68000 and Super CD-ROM. In 2004, Atlus attained the license and released River City Ransom EX for Game Boy Advance and 2007-8 saw Wii Virtual Console releases.
With a sequel on Kickstarter now in the works, we dusted off the game, cleaned up our top-loader and began to relive childhood.
So much of this game is good I couldn’t possibly cover it all. This game was a fusion of side-scrolling Action beat-em-up and subtle RPG elements in an age where genres were still being established on consoles. Attacks were basic as punching and kicking, or advanced as weapons, throws and blocks, and certain books would increase your options a bit. Enemies would drop money, which could be spent on said books, along with a variety of food items that could increase both health and stats. Impressive for an NES game.
The first of many bosses you must face.
The gangs were all color matched and had names like the Jocks, the Squids and the Plague. Each member has unique dialogue, difficulty level and AI behavior, so it’s easier to recognize a more challenging opponent before you take them on. Speaking of dialogue, it’s hysterical, with lines like “This blows my day” and “BARF!” being the norms.
It’s impressive how much you can customize the character. The clothes are always the same, but if you want a puncher who throws weapons at a range and can break through any blocks, you can build him as such. And if you want to be a master of all attacks, enemies respawn in their zones by leaving the area and going back, so money is unlimited.
He’s on the ground and making threats? Ballsy.
The graphics are stylized, meaning they stand up to aging to a point. The style, part of the Kunio-kun series of games, was also seen in NES games like Super Dodge Ball and Nintendo World Cup, instantly recognizable for its adorable, grumpy-faced characters. The soundtrack also happens to be catchy as hell, a great example of how a simple MIDI track can get you into a game.
The concept of the stores was also pretty innovative. Most mall areas are safe zones where you can take a little breather between brawls and spend some of that hard-earned cash. And how many stores in video games have “Smile” on the menu at no cost?
If there’s one thing that bugs me as a retro gamer, it’s the ridiculously long passwords you need to use. I understand the necessity; battery backups were expensive and with eight stats ranging from 15-63, two that go from 63-127, six book techniques, twelve boss encounters, an inventory system and up to $999.99 to track, there’s a lot to keep track of. But a new password for every slight increase can be a nuisance.
It’s an NES game, so take this with a grain of salt and a shot of penicillin, but the story is a bit simple: dude steals 1P’s girlfriend, opening screen is his ransom letter, and you start beating people up. What makes this better is the dialogue sections, where you receive hints on where to go and what to do, as well as some slight fleshing out of motivations and characters. Not bad if you can give a 25-year-old game some slack for its age.
The old days, when men were men and games were co-op.
One of the most underrated features in video games, cooperative campaign, is also present here. More common in earlier consoles, this feature is a blast in RCR. Enemies are more numerous, which means more loot, and having a friend to watch your back against the gangs you fight makes more sense than going it alone. Though this is a feature that can cause as much rivalry as it does friendship, as waiting for money instead of saving your buddy from a beatdown tends to go over poorly…
If you have an NES, then you already know this game and its quality. If you don’t, find someone with an NES and ask them to play. If you don’t know someone with an NES…then I feel bad for you, but it’s available on plenty of consoles including the Wii and GBA. Shouldn’t be hard to find and love. Just make sure you have a friend to share it with. Or someone you want angry with you if you plan on taking all the money (sorry, Matt)…
River City Ransom was released before the adoption of the ESRB but has since been Rated E10+ for Mild Suggestive Themes and Mild Violence. It was released for the NES but is also available on the Wii and an updated version with new features is available for Game Boy Advance.
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