River City Ransom is one of those games that, if you’ve played it, you probably love it…but not a lot of people have played it. I came across it by chance at the video store once, played the heck out of it, but it took me forever to find a working copy. I finally did, though, and it quickly became one of my all-time favorite games on any platform.
The story is simple, as you might expect from an early NES game. You play as either Alex or Ryan, and Ryan’s girlfriend is kidnapped by a gang leader (Slick) from a rival high school. I’m not sure why Alex would go on the mission solo when it’s not his girlfriend, but those details were not important, or perhaps were lost in the translation. Anyway, your goal is to punch and kick your way across town, fighting increasingly difficult gangs and bosses along the way. If you’ve played Double Dragon or other fighting games from the era, you know what’s up. What set RCR apart from them was a pretty solid RPG aspect. You gained money from defeated enemies, which could be used to buy items to increase your stats, replenish lost stamina, and learn new fighting techniques. There are also weapons like rocks or pipes spread throughout the levels, or to be taken from the rival gang members.
The game has a ton of 8-bit charm. The blocky sprites are large and colorful, with goofy anime-inspired designs. The music fits well, and changes when something important is happening. The gangs are color coded by their t-shirts, and have names like The Jocks or The Generic Dudes. When defeated, the enemies say silly things like BARF. But make no mistake, the game isn’t a cakewalk. The tougher gangs and bosses with wipe the floor with you if you don’t fight strategically and improve your character.
As implied above, you can play it as a 2 player game, though in the US they didn’t include the mode that removed friendly fire. So feel free to beat each other up if you like, it’s fun. That’s what the game is about, FUN. You can play it in emulation on the NES, or get it for the Wii Virtual Console. Well worth the cost if you like old-school beat ’em ups.