River City Ransom (1989) by Technos
System:NES
Game Type: Beat-em-up
Players: 1-2

Review by PrimeOp

When it was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, River City Ransom was one of the most criminally-overlooked games to ever get low distribution. Back then, I never saw it in stores so I could only rent it multiple times. You may have heard 'old-school' game players talk about this game with a tear in their eye or read other reviews that spoke of the game with a lot of reverence. After all, it was developed by Technos, the original developers of the Double Dragon series.

Students Alex and Ryan get a note from Slick the gang leader announcing his successful kidnapping of Ryan's girlfriend Cyndi. To make things worse, Slick convinces all the other young gangs to hit the streets and put stop to any rescue attempts. So the two young brawlers break all hostage negotiation protocol and decide to hunt down Slick. Alex and Ryan must follow clues, beat Slick's underlings while working their way to the main man himself. Yeah, it's not the most original story ever... but the game itself is makes up for that. Instead of taking place on stages that you can't return to thanks to some artificial barrier, the streets are represented by a world of screens that are connected by doors, gates and other clearly marked links. Yes, like Metroid. You start off with a punch and a kick and the ability to run and jump. As you combine those things to beat up the roaming thugs who drop money that you can pick up. That money can be used to be items that refills your lifebar, improve your set of RPG-like statistics and purchase books that'll give you new moves or enhance old ones. The 'Stone Hands' and 'Dragon Feet' manuals respectively upgrade your punches and kicks while Acro Circus gives you a brand new somersault attack.
River City Ransom: the only place where you can legally beat the crap out of irritating frat guys. Wait, what are Frat Guys doing in High School? Who cares? Beat 'em up anyway.
Sprinkled on the battlefields are eight weapons that can be swung, thrown, carried from screen to screen through the entire game. Each one has it's own unique quirks that go beyond most games' pick-up weapons. Example: the trash can be swung (slowly), thrown Spike Lee style, stood on and (my favorite) kicked or whipped with a chain to slide on the floor and smash into goons at the speed of light (or yourself if you're too close to a wall). You can even use floored enemies as weapons until they shake out of it. There are so many other combinations of things you can do with these objects that you wonder how later beat-em-ups get away with giving us so much less. You'll need every mad skill you can get because the enemies have mastered their own skill sets. Chumps like the Frat Guys are push overs, but crews like the Mob and the Squids make GTA punks look like moody toddlers. They'll dash and attack, slowly back off to get a nearby weapon, flee and even talk smack to you. It's part of the game's weird sense of humor that includes a theme for every gang and their member names, shops and items. One of the very few weaknesses of the game is it's short playing time. Yes, you spend a lot of time leveling up, but the actual task list is pretty short. Honestly, once you get hooked, you want more.
Early in the game, eat Conger Eels to build defense and regain 2 hit blocks as you first start building up your strength and cash.

River City Ransom is the greatest beat-em-up on the NES and was originally one of it's most overlooked titles. While finding a copy of it is tough (I only have it thanks to Raijin Z), you might get lucky and find a copy somewhere. Unfortunately, they're really expensive on eBay. Your best bet is to get the Gameboy Advance version that was released a while back. Gameplay 9
Graphics 8
Sound 8
Control 10
Overall 9

River City Ransom and all related characters © Technos

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