−wait! Hold the phone! I just realized that I’ve spent all this time reminiscing and talking about everything I love about this game without actually talking about the game itself. My bad. I get carried away like that sometimes. Hmmm . . .where to start . . .I suppose I should begin with . . .
Most of which can be summed in SLICK’s (our major villain) message that appears within the first few screens of the game. It reads . . .
I hold your city captive and RYAN’s girlfriend hostage. With my gangs of students and evil bosses, nobody can stop me now. Meet my demands−or else! . . .P.S. ALEX and RYAN, if you interfere, you’ll be in for the fight of your lives! . . .SLICK
Admittedly, it’s not much of a story, but that’s generally all we would get during the height of the 8-bit era because
1) there was still something called ‘imagination’ floating around and
2) the surprisingly deep and complex gameplay made up for any lack of prologue
Now it’s time get into the meat and potatoes of the River City Ransom experience. At the start of the game you can choose between two characters, ALEX and RYAN, who are virtually identical except for their color-swapped jeans and tee shirts. No, seriously. Other than that (and their names) they might as well be clones of the same dude. So much for any sort of character development.
On to the controls. They’re pretty basic and there’s not much to them.
*A button: punch/confirm selection
*B button: kick/cancel selection
*A + B: jump
*D pad: navigate menu/move character. Double tapping either left or right makes your
chosen cardboard cutout start running. Tap once in the opposing direction to make
*START: pauses game/opens main menu
*SELECT: toggles onscreen display between character’s health and current amount of
money the player currently has
All right. You’ve picked your guy, you know what the controls do, and you know what the objective is: beat up a bunch of guys to save some other guy’s girlfriend from some psycho who likes to take over schools and kidnap chicks. Sounds simple enough until you realize that there will be several . . . complications you’ll have to deal with as you make your way from one end of the game the other. Surely you didn’t think it would be a straightforward shot, did you?
*Complication # 1: Getting to SLICK*
The first obstacle that any player would have to overcome is just getting to where the main villain is. SLICK’s base of operations turns out to be the titular River City High, which is literally across town from where you begin the game. The fact that the game begins outside the gates of a building referred to as Crosstown High just rubs it in a little deeper. There are no warps, shortcuts, or fast-travel points—except when you lose all your health, but more about that later. I must also mention that the entire trip must be made on foot. There are none of those fancy vehicles that gamers are getting spoiled with nowadays.
Despite being an 8-bit NES game, River City Ransom has a huge overworld made up of industrial districts, parks, downtown areas, and shopping centers that are just everywhere for some reason. All of the areas in the game can be divided into two categories: combat zones and non-combat zones which are mainly the shopping areas. This overall structure stays mostly consistent throughout your entire journey with only two exceptions. The first exception is when you enter a certain area normally reserved for fighting and encounter ROXY, SLICK’s girlfriend. She warns you that you should really focus on boosting your character’s stats before continuing on your way. You really should listen to her because the enemies and bosses will only get tougher from there on out.
The second exception deserves a more detailed explanation because it truly is one of this game’s many hidden gems. In essence, it is a rematch with the twins you more than likely faced off with much earlier in the game: BENNY and CLYDE. (Anyone else get the joke there?) You see them hanging around outside of a sauna near the end of the game and they want revenge. If you heeded ROXY’s warning from earlier this fight should be a joke . . .and a quick source of cash to blow on as many sauna visits as your heart desires. I personally get a kick out of repeatedly kicking these guys’ asses and spending their money right in front of them. That’s for throwing me into that river, you jerks!
*Complication # 2: Crazy-bad gang violence*
Combat is one of the things that makes the world of River City Ransom go round. If you want to make it to the final confrontation with SLICK on the roof of River City High, then you’ll have to fight your way through endless hordes of delinquents and the other, tougher delinquents that lead them. There really is no right or wrong way to go about it besides making sure that the other guy hits the ground and turns into a bouncing coin because you will need those. Thankfully, getting KO’ed does not result in an automatic game over, but it does result in some rather irritating events. The first thing that happens is you get sent back to the last shopping area that you passed through. The other thing that happens is you lose exactly half of the money you were currently holding and that’s really frustrating if you were saving up for a particular item.
I should really talk about all of the enemies you’ll have to take down because they make everything I’m going to cover in a moment possible. Typical enemies remain relatively easy to take down throughout most of the game. And, like ROXY so kindly warned you about, they do get stronger (and possibly smarter) the further you progress. They will also begin to drop more money, reducing the amount of grinding/farming you probably should engage in.
As I’ve referenced several times in this review, the enemies of River City are divided up into various gangs made up of nine members each, all with matching shirts. I can’t say how many total gangs there are, but I can say that you can gauge your progress by who decides to come out to play. (Sometimes you can walk into an area and nobody will be there. Lame.) I’ll explain my meaning with a few examples.
1) THE GENERIC DUDES, THE FRAT GUYS, and THE JOCKS are the weakest gangs in the entire game. They are the first enemies you see and are worth the least amount of money.
2) Things are starting to get serious when THE HOMEBOYS, THE MOB, and THE SQUIDS join the party. They’re a bit stronger, possibly smarter, and worth considerably more money. They’ll be occupying a large chunk of the middle of your River City Ransom experience.
3) You’ve reached the end of your journey when THE INTERNATIONALS and COWBOYS make their grand entrance. Though you might not actually see THE COWBOYS until you’ve reached the gates of River City High. I might also add that some of this game’s best music starts playing when you reach this point. I’m actually humming it as I type this.
The bosses that SLICK mentions in the message at the beginning of the game function a bit differently. They are faster, more durable, and more cunning than your average gang-bangers. Some won’t make an appearance until you’ve taken out their four-man entourages while others hang out all alone in certain areas until you make an appearance. There’s even one that you can’t fight until several others have been defeated. I highly recommend challenging the bosses repeatedly because they are worth WAY more money than the flunkies that follow them.
I know I have probably spent more than enough time talking about the opposition and how they work and there is a really good reason for that. In order to enjoy the most complex aspect of the gameplay you WILL have to spend a considerable amount of time taking them down because of the simple fact that—
*Complication # 3: You needs money!*
Getting from Crosstown High all the way to River City High on foot is going to be expensive. Raising those stats that ROXY so graciously told you about is going to be expensive. And the only money you’ll ever get during the whole game is what you can beat out of those delinquents and bosses I spent all that time talking about. Anyone out there still think that River City Ransom is just a run-of-the-mill side-scrolling beat-em-up? Ha ha, y’all are funny.
Commerce is that other thing that makes this game’s world go round. Any person who has played this title for any amount of time would agree that it could be called the Rodeo Dr. of video games. You can’t walk 5 feet (or screens, whatever) without tripping over yet another strip mall.
You see, using the items that you buy in all those shops is the only way to make your guy stronger and regain lost energy. All these different items restore varying amounts of health and raise varying character stats. Until internet guides like this became a reality, the only way to figure out what did what was to just purchase things and pray to the gaming gods that it did something useful. ‘Cause if it didn’t you would have to take down yet more guys in matching tee shirts until you could afford something else. I suppose that this really isn’t a problem anymore because of all these fun cheats floating around online. I highly suggest trying them out and going on an epic, city-wide shopping spree. I shall not judge . . .
With everything that I have shared here, you should be able to successfully transform all of these complications into total non-issues. And next time, I’ll be divulging some insider tips that I wish I had when this game first came out and all that gamers had were their wits.