River City Ransom – Review

Nintendo Entertainment System – NES

1989 – American Technos

As a kid growing up playing games in the late 80’s and early 90’s, games such as Super Mario Bros 3 would more commonly be found sitting inside a Nintendo Entertainment System. It was a slightly different story at my house. Coins were collected, enemies were defeated, and yes the heroine was saved….but not in the mushroom kingdom. It was on the streets of River City in a little game called River City Ransom!

The Story:

The story was simple, as it usually was in games of it’s era. Gangs run rampant in River City and their leader, Slick, has taken control of the River City high school and made hostages of the students therein. Including your friend Ryan’s girlfriend Cyndi. As Alex and Ryan you are tasked with cleaning up the mean streets, defeating the gang bosses, and taking down Slick to save the students. In the end however the story is somewhat incidental as the game-play and depth of such really takes center stage.

The Gameplay:

River City Ransom was developed by Technos Japan, which was well known at the time for producing the classic Double Dragon arcade beat-em-ups. River City Ransom is a natural progression from those titles with much more depth and content being added to the traditional beat-em-up format. Rather than left to right standard scrolling stages the game has a more sandbox open world style complete with shops to load up on gear, food items, and skills.
The game can be played single or tandem co-op with players able to harm another with stray punches or kicks. So be prepared for some shenanigans! When enemies are defeated they leave behind some shiny bouncing coins which may be used for dining at restaurants around town. This is the core game mechanic in terms of game progression. Beat up thugs, empty their pockets, dine in for some sushi….rinse and repeat. Eating food is the only way to raise your various stats and grow powerful enough to take on the game’s more imposing foes. The grindy nature of this mechanic may appeal to fans of RPG style games rather than beat-em-ups. This is where a divide can definitely occur.
Some may argue River City Ransom is more a restaurant dining simulator than a beat-em-up. I personally believe it adds some flair to what could have been a standard experience gain upon defeating each enemy. Which brings us to the real heart of what this game is all about…beatin’ up dudes!


The Controls:

Alex and Ryan move and attack way more smoothly than Billy or Jimmy did in Double Dragon for starters. Moves are pretty much effortless to pull off making this game easily accessible to nearly anyone. Upgraded skills purchased in shops can be cryptic sadly with virtually no explanation of what they do or how to activate them. This is still a minor complaint however as many of them will be obvious when returning to normal game-play. 
since the NES controller really only had an A and B button, options were limited for assigning multiple actions. Therefore the action of jumping is mapped to the combination of A plus B (punch plus kick). Some may find this less than desirable but i never found it to be an issue. If you use it well you can perform very effective flying kicks or even the flashy “acro circus” purchased maneuver.
Pummeling enemies in River City Ransom can be very satisfying with each attack registering reactions and dialogue from enemies shown at the bottom of the screen. This gives every encounter a little more character that adds something extra to keep you invested.


The Graphics:

The game takes you through city streets, back alleys, warehouses, and parks. Everything is colorful and lively with nice details found everywhere such as shopping districts bustling with various npc’s. Character graphics are in a sort of toon chibi style with exaggerated heads and expressions. The Facial expressions are sometimes a laugh riot with eyes bugging out and mouths agape when delivering a final blow for instance. Everything overall has a real polish and still holds up today.


The Sound:

The Soundtrack is something else that really shines. The music is fast paced and intricate with fast baselines that will seriously get your toes tapping while you’re punching faces. Just about every song is memorable in this one! In terms of sound effects there isn’t anything particularly noteworthy, but plenty serviceable.

The Difficulty:

River City Ransom is a notoriously short game with not too much in the challenge department. If you farm coins from the bosses Benny and Clyde early in the game you will effectively have enough money to nearly max out all stats within the hour and be able to steamroll through the rest of the game in no time. There are even passwords to save stats making it even easier to complete this one. The enjoyment of this game comes more from is pure game-play, two player co-op, and freedom to move about unfettered. So i do not believe it’s ease hurts the overall experience too terribly much.


The Verdict:

So many positives and very few negatives here. Though a couple common grievances do keep the game from attaining a perfect rating. The repetitive nature of grinding for money and the underwhelming length of the main game without any side missions or tasks to complete are detractors. But they simply do not detract enough from what is in my opinion a truly classic 8 bit game.
4 out of 5 TROGS


GameTrog Review By


Eringobrad is a perler artist and game enthusiast. If you enjoy retro games and art inspired by them find him on instagram and facebook.

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