River City Ransom
System: NES Publisher: American Technos Developer: Technos Japan
Genre: Action Type: Sidescrolling Beat-em-up Circa: 1990
Barf!...Just another day of strolling down the street and kicking butt

Every so often, I'll look through multiple reviews for one game, and I'll often come across games that get almost all 9's and 10's, but there will be that one lone reviewer who gave the game a much lower score than all the others. For the first time in my reviewing career, I feel like I am now that one lone reviewer. Enter: River City Ransom. In this game, which has largely been praised as one of the greatest NES games or greatest beat-em-up games of all time, you play as one of two high school kids as they trash thugs across the city, while trying to rescue their girlfriend. I really wanted to enjoy this game as much as everyone else did, but some things just didn't work out so well for me.
GRAPHICS: 7.5/10
The graphics of River City Ransom are actually rather nice! The style is very similar to Double Dragon, only the characters are much more "cartoony". The backgrounds are bold and colorful, and vary from city streets and bridges, to parks with trees, warehouses, and malls. The different locations give you a good feeling of being in a city. Even though they tried to disguise this game as an American city by putting "US Mail" on the mailboxes, it is clearly Japanese and has an anime flavor to it. The characters all pretty much look alike, with the exception of their faces and shirt colors. Some characters wear glasses, and some have different eyes or hair. The shirt colors represent different gangs. However, all the characters are short, chubby, and almost a complete block shape. The animation of the different attack moves, such as kicking, punching, and the spinning jump, look terrific, especially for NES animation, but the characters have a very stiff run and walk. Maybe it's because of the way it's presented in a letterbox format, but something about the game world looks a bit truncated, especially how all the buildings and trees appear to be the exact same height.
Oooh...that's gotta hurt......Phear my whip of death!
SOUND: 5.5/10
Of all the aspects of RCR, its sound appears to be the one thing that people are most divided on. The music is okay, but for the most part, feels average. There isn't a whole lot of variety. I really like the main theme, but it repeats quite a bit. It sounds kind of "sixties-ish", which keeps with the overall atmosphere of the game. The boss theme is really good, too. Some of the music can be annoying, especially when you're in stores or looking through your subscreens. The sound effects are mostly your standard thuds and thwacks, but one effect I really like is the sound a pole makes when it hits the street. It really sounds like metal hitting pavement.
CONTROL: 7.5/10
At first, RCR's controls felt a little bit "floaty" to me. I didn't like the slow pace at which my character moved around. However, I became used to it after awhile, and discovered that by double-tapping left or right, it makes him run at super speed across the screen. The basic kicking and punching is easy and those controls feel more intuitive than most beat-em-ups I've played, such as Double Dragon or TMNT2. The jumping control is very awkward. You have to press both A and B at the same time to make your character jump, which is not easy to do or control. As a result, I don't use jump kicks that much, but at least the game doesn't require any really tricky jumps, so it's not that big a deal.
What can I get you today?...But I'm not a punk, so let me through
One thing that makes River City Ransom unique is that the enemies who have taken over the city aren't super-beings or aliens, or even adults for that matter, but a bunch of high school kids who have formed various street gangs. The leader of the gangs has taken Ryan's girlfriend hostage at River City High School, and it's up to Ryan and his friend Alex to cross town, beat up the bad guys, and rescue her. Why the default player is Alex when it was Ryan's girlfriend who was kidnapped is beyond me. Anyway, the story is low on plot, but it does have a lot of anime-style humor. The enemies often make funny one-liners when you defeat them, such as "BARF!" or "Is this fun yet?" But there's not really a whole lot of character interaction. Even though this game has often been called an "RPG", don't expect to be talking to a lot of people. One thing that's funny is the way Alex and Ryan eat things in the various food joints. There is only one animation used for everything they eat. There is no drinking animation, therefore, when one of them orders a drink, he appears to swallow the whole cup! RCR is full of humor like that (ie, the infamous "Sauna scene"), but it's not really as funny as I had thought it was gonna be. Just quirky.
This is where the game began to disappoint me. I've often heard RCR called an "RPG" because it incorporates some elements of RPGs. But instead of incorporating the better aspects of RPGs, such as huge sprawling worlds, intricate plot, people to talk to, or hidden items to find, they used one of the most annoying RPG traits: Stat building! In order to survive against the toughest gangs and bosses, you have to increase your stats. To do this, you earn money by beating up low-level thugs, and stealing the money they leave behind. Then you go to the stores at the malls and buy various foods and other items that increase your stats when you eat or use them. Different items have different effects. This is about the only reason the game takes awhile to beat, because you need to spend a lot of time building up your stats. Why do you need to build stats for this game? Because if you didn't, you could probably beat the whole game in about 10 minutes! The game's entire world is extremely small, even by NES standards. Think back to how long each of Super Mario Bros's levels were, and how many of them there were in the whole game. RCR's entire game world could just about fit in one of SMB's levels. Not only is RCR ridiculously short, but I didn't feel challenged by any enemy or boss in it. Even though some were more difficult than others, the only requirement for beating any of them was just to eat a few pizzas or burgers to increase your stats, and then punch and kick them to death. The final boss was even easier than some of the other bosses. There is a more difficult Advanced mode, in which the enemies take more hits to defeat and block attacks more often, but all this means is double the time spent building stats! Finally, there are no "Game Overs" in this game. When you die, you just restart at the last shopping mall with half your money.
FUN: 5.5/10
Here it is. The score that RCR fans across the internet are gonna come beating down my door in rage over. First of all, be aware that this is not a case of someone who sees a game getting a lot of praise and just has to drag it down. I wanted more than anything to enjoy this game as much as everyone else did, even if I didn't agree that it's the very best NES game. But I just simply did not have a lot of fun playing this game. I do chalk part of that up to the fact that I am not a fan of sidescrolling beat-em-up games. I had heard that many people who didn't like beat-em-ups did end up enjoying this game because of some features that set it apart. But for me, it just didn't work. The only features this game has over other beat-em-ups are the shops, the special items, and the humor, but none of those make the actual gameplay any better. The shops are kind of fun to visit. There's such a wide variety of foods and items, that I'm almost positive this game may be what inspired Earthbound's food and item system. The basic gameplay is standard fighting fare, with you beating up your enemies with punches, kicks, and special moves. It's a bit easier in this game than in some others, like Double Dragon, because the play control is better. You can pick up things like rocks, trash cans, and tires and throw them at your enemies, but they can also throw them back at you. You can also knock weapons, such as chains, poles, and brass knuckles, out of the enemies' hands, and then use them. Another feature of RCR that is often talked about is the ability to get new fighting techniques, such as the Dragon Feet and Stone Hands, which let you kick and punch at rapid speeds. However, many of them are very expensive, and in the time it would've taken for me to save up enough money for the advanced moves, I had already beaten the game with just the Dragon Feet and Stone Hands. Overall, the game was just too short and repetitive for my liking, and I have no desire to beat the Advanced mode.
Neat Japanese-style stores...What's up, Alex?

Sigh...I'm sure that everybody can think of at least one game that's highly popular that he/she does not like. This is the first time I've truly felt that I've been on that side of the coin, because I have yet to hear of any reviewer who did not like River City Ransom. I do not think it's a bad game, but I just did not like it as much as everyone else did. I still contend that the best beat-em-ups on the NES are TMNT2 and 3. RCR is different and quirky, and a fun little diversion, but IMO, does not stand up there with the best of the NES classics. If you're someone who's never played this game, understand that many, many people love this game, so maybe you would, too. It might also be more fun with a second player, which I almost never have. But I'll be leaving River City less than satisfied.
OVERALL SCORE (not an average): 5.5/10



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