River City Ransom Review: Nostalgia or Not?


In the late 80’s and early 90’s the beat
‘em up genre of video games was all the rage. There was no shortage of them out there
so it’s likely you may have missed out on a few, even if they were mega hits. One
that I never got around to playing was River City Ransom for the NES, a game widely considered a cult classic. So, what made this game so different that it stood out amongst the sea of beat ‘em
ups? And do these qualities hold up after all these years or has nostalgia blindness
taken hold of it’s fans? Let’s take a look. Ahh, River City…A beautiful bustling metropolis
with plenty of fine dining, children laughing and playing, and gang violence erupting around
every possible corner! River City Ransom is a story we have heard countless times. The
main characters Ryan and Alex must save Ryan’s girlfriend from gang leader Slick. But there’s
a bit of a twist here, not only has Slick captured Cyndi, but with the help of his cronies,
he’s also claimed the entire city! His gangs are littered across most of the streets and
are looking to lay the smackdown on Ryan and Alex. A classic hero story but I like the
explanation as to why there are so many baddies ready to duke it out on the street with no
bystanders present. Because an entire city has been captured. I also like that the story is told
through a ransom note sent by Slick at the start of the game, gotta love when the title
makes sense. Then in typical NES fashion you jump right into the game play. You take control of either Alex or Ryan and
make your way to the right as waves of enemy gangs rush and attack you. Now if you’re
feeling outnumbered and alone don’t you fret because you have the option of bringing
a friend along for the ride. Which for me it’s heresy if you have no option for 2 players
in a beat ‘em up. The A button will punch and the B button will kick. Both buttons will
block when you press it as an attack is coming towards you. Enemies will often be carrying
weapons like brass knuckles, rocks, trash cans, or pipes and once you disarm them you
can pick it up and give them a taste of their own medicine. You can even do one of my favorite
things, pick up and enemy and use him as a weapon! The characters move on the slower
side and I didn’t understand why at first. It’s because there is an RPG element going
on here and stats can be leveled up. Punch power, kick power, agility, defense, max health
are among some of the things that can be upgraded. To do so you must enter shops and buy food,
books and other objects that will power up your base stats. What a valuable life lesson
you can get from this game, it shows you that books and knowledge are power. However don’t
gorge yourself on food and snacks in reality because this won’t increase your strength. These
upgrades make a huge difference and you’ll find that the game controls better the more
upgraded your character is, and the easier it will be to take out gangs and bosses. This
upgrade feature is a very welcomed mechanic for me and it adds a ton of depth to a genre
that is usually about mashing buttons. You can’t just mash away here or you’ll be
crushed on the first few screens since enemies get a lot stronger as you go, so upgrading
is a must. In order to upgrade you’ll need to get money
and to get money you’ll need to hand out the beat downs. However there is a flaw here
because as you move along in the game there are certain gangs like the Frat Guys and Squids
who are far more powerful than the rest, which is fine, but the result is you do a ton of
back tracking to fight the lower level minions so you can actually defeat them and gain money.
If you die fighting some of the more difficult ones you lose half the cash you just worked
so hard to get. It can get pretty annoying when you are saving up for a special move
or item and then you get killed. You end up running back and forth grinding for coins in the same
areas which can get a bit boring. Certain upgrades are a must if you want to have any
hopes of saving Cyndi. There is the Stone hands technique which will allow you to throw
3 fast punches in one button press, as well as similar upgrade for your kicks and weapon
attacks. These techniques are a God send because you’ll be dispatching thugs with a lot more
ease. It’s an awesome feeling when your character gets stronger and stronger and you
find yourself being able to take on foes that would have normally handed you your butt on
a silver platter. There are some areas where after you clear out the thugs, their leader
will appear and you’ll enter a boss battle. The bosses are a bit challenging early on
but beating them will net you way more cash. You also have the option of going back and
fighting them again. And what’s cool about this is that the bosses dialogue has changed
from the first time you fought them. They are aware you defeated them before and they
get bummed out when you do it again. Its a nice touch and very funny. Each gang member
you fight also has dialogue when finish them off, they will say something like, “mamaaa!”,
or “is this fun yet?” and I think everybody’s personal favorite “BARF!” Did Ryan and
Alex hit them so hard they threw up? Is this something that happens? And if so I can’t
imagine that it happens as often as it does in this game. But never the less, it adds humor. Now when it comes to the look of the game, its safe to
say that it has a very unique style. The graphics are very simple and blocky but its real “Slick.”
Very clean and minimal but thats what helps older games hold up so well. Even though it’s
simple the characters get very expressive. So it really complements the humor and over
all feel of the game. And it’s interesting because when I think back on other NES games
I cant think of many where the characters faces change up this much and show emotion.
Enemies are limited to about a maximum of 2 at a time and this seems to keep any slowdown
you might encounter to a minimum. The sound track is a bit limited, but this
is definitely on the upper echelon of NES soundtracks for me. Sometimes 8-bit music
can get annoying especially when its repetitive, which happened a lot in the early days of
video games. But River City Ransom has just enough tracks to keep things varied and most
of the songs are extremely memorable. So the question is, is River City Ransom
fueled by nostalgia or not? To me this is a clear cut case of NOT! The game is extremely fun
even playing it for the first time 25 years after it was released. The game gets you hooked right away, and while there are a few flaws, the upgrade system keeps you interested and makes it very replayable.
So if you’re like me and you had put off playing this one, don’t wait any longer
and pick it up, grab a buddy and spend an afternoon together with some sweet beat ‘em up goodness. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next time on “It’s All Fun and Games!” Thanks for watching everybody! And if you want to see the first episode of “Nostalgia or Not?” Click the video link down below And if you really like what I’m doing, click the subscribe button! Thanks again!

7 thoughts on “River City Ransom Review: Nostalgia or Not?

  1. I love this game, one of my favorite NES titles. Great video as usual.

  2. Awesome to see this game again! Thank you for a great review video.

  3. I think I fell in love with the characters expressions and the sprite design way before I ever played this game! – J

  4. I never played the game, but I did read about the GBA version on Nintendo power.

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