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Well, this is it. As far as I am concerned, with this game the Together Retro project reaches its zenith. Ignore what the rest of the calendar says. Turn out the lights. Unplug your game systems. Go find a hobby that is more sports oriented. We’re doing River City Ransom this month. It is THE ultimate retro game. It has it all: Double Dragon style gameplay, RPG elements, classic music, enemies that scream ‘Barf!’ when you punch them plus quaint references to classic 80’s era Japanese culture that the translation team had no clue what to do with.
Let’s get started.
River City Ransom is a side scrolling beat ‘em up. It is a love story as is typical of this genre: Cindi, the girlfriend of your characters Alex and Ryan has been kidnapped by Slick, leader of a rival gang. Calling the police for help has not occurred to you. Instead, beat the tar out of every single person you come across until you reach the final boss who you should also beat the tar out of if possible. What River City Ransom lacks in originality in the plot department, it more than makes up for in character and humor. This is not a game that is afraid to make fun of itself and you’ll giggle time and again as your enemies scream inane things as you pummel them.
River City Ransom is very representative of the golden era of arcade beat-em ups. Think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Double Dragon. You move up, down, left, and right as you travel from where you discovered your lady friend was kidnapped on the left to where she can be saved on the far right. In between these two points in space are small armies of gang members from groups like “The Generic Dudes” and the “Frat Guys”. Using various punches, kicks, and special moves, you dispatch them quite brutally so that you can gain experience and take their lunch money. Scattered about are barrels, pipes, chains, and rocks that come in handy for knocking your enemies out.
In between fighting areas, your characters get to visit old school Japanese open-air malls where you get to eat food to recover health and fortify yourself, buy martial arts books to learn new fighting moves, read comics to be inspired, and also buy items to help you out between malls when the beatings your characters take become too much.
It cannot be emphasized too much the layer upon layer of gameplay types that are wrapped up in this game. There is something for everyone in every aspect of this game.
Outside of the NES original, there were also releases on the Sharp X68000 and the PC Engine CD2. If anyone has access to those, be sure to let the rest of us know how they are because outside of the Wikipedia article for this game, I’ve never seen any sign of these versions. More likely, the Gameboy Advance port River City Ransom EX might be picked up by some of the Together Retro members. It is a colorful revision of the game that is surprisingly faithful but does make a few unwelcome changes, such as the removal of key bugs that some players use to make it through the game.
River City Ransom is the game that introduced gamers outside of Japan to the greater Kunio Kun series. In short, the Kunio Kun game series was a slew of games across numerous genres featuring Kunio, Technos’ mascot, and his friends. If the artstyle of River City Ransom reminds you of Super Dodgeball or Renegade that’s because they were originally all part of the same set of games that were then heavily localized when they were distributed to markets outside of Japan. Sadly, there’s not much of a legacy beyond greater brand recognition. Technos’ financial problems resulted in their going out of business in the mid-90s. Their assets were purchased by another company, Million. Million produced a few revivals of Kunio Kun games such as River City Ransom EX for the Gameboy Advance or a Super Dodge Ball title for the Nintendo DS – none of which set the world on fire.
Tell the world about how awesome Alex is for saving his friend Ryan’s girlfriend. Explain how amazing it was when you realized that the CPU is too dumb to jump up levels, allowing your to get free hits in as long as you are positioned on a level higher than your enemies. Grumble about how amazingly not easy this game is! Tell your story in the forums!