River City Ransom was the first NES game I ever bought with my own money as a kid. I liked it from the very first day I rented and had to have it. This game floats between well known and obscure in vintage game circles these days, and probably wasn't much more than that when it was new. It's quite the find if you can get it on a cartridge and system.
The story of this game is really simple. In the town of River City Alex and Ryan have had their girlfriends kidnapped. They get a note by a mysterious man named Slick who says they are held at River City High. He won't let them go unless you fight through his bosses and gangs. If that's not an NES plot few other things will fit into the realm of video game logic.
This game shines in it's attention to detail. You would be really impressed with everything they managed to fit into this 8 bit cartridge. I'm going to cover the gangs first. There must be over eight different gangs in this game. Each one has eight members. Each member has a name and it never changes showing well how many different things this game can track.
The gangs are also have their own themes and unique personalities. The Frat Boys are just that. They're one of the weakest gangs and will run away at the slightest sign of danger. The Jocks represent the football players. The Internationals are the foreign exchange students. There's a huge amount of variety here. The Mob, The Plague, The Cowboys, The Home Boys, and my personal favorite, The Generic Dudes. The creativity is deep and memorable.
When you KO a gang member they leave a bouncing coin which differs in amount depending on which gang they're in. Each member of The Squids leaves behind $1 for example. The highest paying gang members reside in the high school. This money can be used in towns you pass on your way. These towns offer food as powerups. These add to a pretty thorough stats page that can improve your character over time.
The skills that can be improved are many. Max Life, Throw power, Kick power, Punch power, Strength, Defense, Agility. All these and more can be improved with food or like powerups such as pharmacies, toy stores, and shoe stores in the game. This really makes River City Ransom much more than a normal fighting game. Your character is now upgradable with a max out point that is just hard enough to keep working for.
The game also contains special abilities you can learn. You get these from buying books at many book stores in the game. They grant abilities like fast kicking or punching(Stone Hands, Dragon Feet), the ability to flip through enemies(Acro Circus), swing weapons faster(Grand Slam), stomp on enemies(Fatal Steps) and more. It adds a new element to the game and can really help balance out difficult boss battles that would be very hard to win otherwise.
So let's get to the bosses. Most of the bosses are in their own gang called The Zombies. It's only in beating every member of The Zombies that you can unlock a way into the high school. The game doesn't miss a beat keeping them memorable as well, including two groups of bosses you fight as a duo. Some of the bosses are Moose, Rocko, Benny and Clyde, Turk, Mojo, Blade, Thor, Randy and Andy, Tex, Ivan and Otis. They appear all over the game triggering a fight once you have defeated all the gang members on that screen.
Finally, what holds this all together is that the world of River City Ransom is not linear. You are free to run to the high school and run back to the first screen if you feel the need. The game makes you do this, in fact, when you're told you need to defeat Blade in Sherman Park. This really creates a "world" where you can move anywhere you want around town.
This game is great fun with two players and can be mastered in a few different ways with one player. You can try a play through of the game with no books, or not upgrading your default stats, or seeing if you can skip bosses and still reach the end. With two players it adds another element of team work and communication. You can hit your friend in this game, and should one of your friends be KOed you can leave the screen to revive them without them taking the penalty of a KO, which is losing half of your cash.
A mostly overlooked NES treasure. Find a friend and play some River City Ransom.
The days of the classic NES were good days indeed. Games still felt like games without being too real and really had some levity in them. This game even with it's an action game feels light and fun. The colors are light, the music is light with some levity in it's sound effects and the game is just plain fun. The story has Ryan and Alex from Cross Town High going "cross town, get it?!" to River City High, the rival school where a student … more
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