River City Ransom

aRiver City Ransom USA 208x294 River City Ransom NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotDeveloper: Technos

 January 1990
US Cartridge ID: NES-DN-USA

Players:  2, Simultaneous
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up
Supported Peripherals: Controller

ROM Size: 2 megabit
Mapper: MMC3 (128k PRG, 128k CHR)

Requires Flash10

Following Renegade and Super Dodge Ball, River City Ransom is the third game of the Kunio-kun series, and the first game to be published by Technos in America. River City Ransom‘s unique gameplay is a hybridization of two wholly disparate genres, borrowing ideas and mechanics from action RPGs like The Magic of Scheherazade and FaxanaduRiver City Ransom USA 005 256x224 River City Ransom NES Nintendo Review Screenshot while also bearing the marked influence of the complex fighting systems featured in Double Dragon II: The Revenge and Renegade.

Alex and Ryan are students at River City High School. On a day that they are both absent, notorious crime lord Slick takes over the school.  With the entire student body (including Ryan’s girl, Cyndi) held captive, Alex and Ryan are being targeted by every gang in the city under Slick’s command. Knowing what has to be done, the duo begins their fight through enemy territory, searching for information on Slick’s whereabouts so that they can put an end to this madness.

Instead of the traditional left-to-right scrolling stages that are common in beat ’em ups, River City Ransom features a freely navigable map of River City (much in the tradition of Metroid and Rygar) comprised of a total of thirty-four areas. Most of these are completely accessible from the outset, with the exception of River City High School, the final area that only opens once all of the “Zombie” bosses are defeated. Venturing through city streets, a warehouse, a factory and several shopping River City Ransom USA 161 256x224 River City Ransom NES Nintendo Review Screenshotarcades, the two friends must take on nine different gangs, each defending turf that they lay claim to. Gangs are differentiated by their fighting styles, the color of their shirts, and the amount of money they drop when they die. Each gang requires a unique set of tactics to successfully overcome, and many are fond of fighting with weapons like brass knuckles, pipes, chains, and trashcans. Alex and Ryan are luckily adept at using these same weapons, allowing them to even the playing field against dirty opponents.

Character stats, typically found in traditional Japanese RPGs, govern the heroes’ strength, stamina, agility, and more. In order make Alex and Ryan stronger, items bought from River City’s malls (with money dropped by downed enemies) can be used to augment abilities. New fighting techniques can be learned by reading books, and CD’s, food, and clothing all provide boosts to base attributes. Further adding to the RPG flair is the constant stream of text that appears at the bottom of the screen: major enemies might narrate important plot points and provide instructions on what to do next, while River City Ransom USA 113 256x224 River City Ransom NES Nintendo Review Screenshotenemies might shout things like “Mamaaa!” or “BARF!” after they’ve taken a severe enough of a beating.

The graphics are far above standard NES fare, with a huge variety of detailed backgrounds that convincingly depict the diversity of a typical urban neighborhood. Though every character in the game uses the same body and movement animations, characters have unique faces (some have sideburns or mustaches, while others might wear glasses or have their hair parted down the middle). A lot of small details humorously convey the enemies’ state of well being: a gangster taking a flying rock to the head might wince, eyes bulging, while another will huff and puff, out of breath from overexerting himself. All characters are also named, adding a welcome sense of individuality to each of Slick’s minions. The music is peppy and upbeat, and the final area pays a surprising and incredibly appropriate homage to another of Technos’ games, using a slightly remixed version of the epic Double Dragon title theme to great effect.

River City Ransom‘s control scheme is simple and easy to learn, in spite of the fact that there are only two action buttons that are used for punches, kicks, and the six additional moves that can be learned. The only time the controls become noticeably irksome is when Alex and Ryan are required to jump over walls or obstacles. Both A and B must be pressed River City Ransom USA 221 256x224 River City Ransom NES Nintendo Review Screenshotsimultaneously to jump, and if Alex or Ryan aren’t positioned the perfect distance from the object they want to clear, they’ll jump straight into it, causing them to fall and take damage. Though the two-player mode is undeniably the best way to play River City Ransom, friendly-damage cannot be turned off, making hitting and damaging your partner an inevitable and common occurrence.

River City Ransom‘s unique flavor makes it a one-of-a-kind game on the NES, and the impressive depth and cooperative two-player mode make this a must-have cartridge for all fighting game fans.

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