(Review archived from February 26, 2015)
River City Ransom is an interesting game in that it was never astoundingly popular on the NES at the time of its release. It was later that the retro gaming scene contributed enormously to the popularity this game has today. And with good reason. IMO this game is the best beat ’em up on the NES. Some of the innovations seen here have seldom, if ever, been seen again in the genre. Chief among the unique features present in RCR is a surprisingly deep RPG style system of stats. You are given standard stats of Strength, Agility, Defense and so forth, as well as specialized stats which allow you to focus on specific aspects of your fighting style such as Punch and Kick. You can’t have a stats based game without a stat building system, and once again RCR proves itself to be quirky and unique in this regard. Rather than gaining experience for defeating enemies, they will only ever leave money. With that money in hand you can shop one of the many specialty stores in the game to purchase veritable multitude of items, all of which affect your stats in various ways. It really is amazing the amount of purchasable items present in the game. Furthermore each shop has a unique theme appropriate to the items it sells. You’ll find coffee shops, burger joints, book stores, sushi bars, toy stores, bakeries, saunas, music stores and more. There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in simply exploring the various shops to see what items are for sale.
The fighting in RCR is a fairly straight forward Double Dragon sort of affair, which gets increasingly more enjoyable as you progress through the game gradually improving your stats and move sets. The enemies in game are all part of various gangs. Each enemy fighter is individually named according to the theme of their gang, and will continually chat your ear off while you’re laying into them with a solid beating. If you’re able to pay attention to this banter, it’s worthwhile to do so, as it’s often fairly humorous stuff. The running motif various themed gangs has always reminded me of that landmark street fighting movie The Warriors.
This was the first time I had played the updated EX version of the game, and I would definitely qualify this as the definitive version of the game. The updated 16 bit graphics look fantastic. The colors are a bit washed out in comparison to the bold colors on the NES, but the gradient dithering gives the sprites a lot more depth and appearance of detail. Even better still this version offers many features not present in the original version of the game. First and foremost, you can play with computer controlled allies that make a big difference in terms of evening the odds. By default you’ll be paired up with Ryan, but as you progress through the game you’re also occasionally given the option of recruiting other gang members to your cause. Despite the fact that this game isn’t terribly difficult to begin with, the extra members in your posse really do add an element of fun to the game, allowing you to completely dominate the streets. Unfortunately all the fun to be had with computer controlled allies leaves one pining for the cooperative multiplayer available on the NES. 4 player co-op on this game would be an absolute blast, despite being complete overkill (unless you left all friendly fire options on) . The EX version also includes additional weapons, fighting moves not seen in the original release, and a surprisingly deep set of menu options allowing you to tweak several options in game, including damage taken from allies, in game gravity and a whole host of others.
So are there any downsides? Well I made mention of the many menu options available to you in the EX version for the purpose of tweaking in-game settings. Somewhat puzzlingly, the game presents you with these options prior to even starting the game. It’s a bit overwhelming actually, and would have been better suited to a New Game+ mode or something along those lines, IMO. The one other issue I had was a subtle thing that I didn’t notice until I was about halfway through the game (so obviously not a huge problem by any means). On some boards you’ll find that you cannot see the entire fighting area onscreen from north to south. This is probably due to the limited onscreen real estate of the GBA, but it’s a bit strange when some boards introduce a bit of vertical scrolling. Like I say, it’s not a huge issue, but once you notice it, it’s hard to un-notice it.
At any rate this game is a street fighting legend, and is highly worth your time if you’re into beat ’em ups and have somehow not tried it out yet. Further if you’ve played the NES version but haven’t yet tried the GBA release, it’s definitely a worthwhile endeavor to do so.
9/10 – Would BARF! again