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River City Ransom

Year released: 1989
Company: Technos Japan
Genre: Beat-em-up

For the first couple of days during NES Marathon Week, I've reviewed two games that have not really blown me away with their quality. In both cases, the game looked like it had a good idea and some nice inspiration to it, but was mangled in the programming process. River City Ransom almost falls into this very same trap, as it's a very solid game with one large concern (much like the other two games), but it manages to avoid the same scoring range as the other two games because its positive points outweight the negatives considerably.

The storyline, obviously, has very little in the way of creativity. You know, I wish these people could've come up with someone else to rescue other than a girlfriend du jour. The guy's parents, his child, his pet dog Tickles, the president (wait a sec... that has been done, hasn't it?), anything that isn't the hero's love interest. There is some nice use of dialogue throughout the game (even if most people will only say "BARF!" to you), and the '50s greaser street-gang setting is just enough to keep the Plot rating at the average level. Chances are if you're playing this game, the conflict doesn't matter much anyway; you just want to beat people up.

The character design is straight out of the Kunio playbook, which means that the enemies from the neck of are very individual-looking, which is a fresh touch after playing Double Dragon and fighting waves of Lopar clones. From the neck down, everyone wears the same color shirt, but that's more out of identification that programming limits. Your heroes themselves are animated very nicely, with plenty of facial expressions to keep you amused.1 The scenery is colorful and well-detailed, too.

Musically, though, this game fails to stand out. Yes, the main background theme is pretty good, and long enough to withstand its infinite repetition, and yes, I like the boss theme too, but the rest of the tracks sounds very bland. This is a characteristic of Technos, too; many of their games suffer the same problem of having their interstitial music being very dull. The sound effects are decent; punches sound like fist hitting face, the metal pipes clink when they fall to the ground, and nothing really intrudes on the experience.

The game controls fairly solidly, although there are a few rough spots. Most notably, if an obstacle is in the path of your jump, rather than you just coming down alongside the object, you actually bounce off of it and recoil backward. Aside from that, though, the isometric layout of the game is handled quite well. The buttons use the standard beat-em-up paradigm: A punches, B kicks, and both in unison jumps. Hit detection is accurate and your characters respond quickly to your commands.

Now here's the place where the game almost falls apart. Supposedly, you can pick up a password no matter where you are in the game, to keep track of which bosses you've beaten, what's in your inventory, and so on. Maybe I just have a faulty copy, but when I enter in a password, it does absolutely nothing. I got a mega-powerful password from the Internet, plugged it in at the start, and may stats are no different than they are to begin with. Luckily, this game can be pretty readily beaten in a couple hours without the use of passwords, so as long as you intend to complete a campaign in one sitting, it won't cripple the gameplay. The game itself is a mite easy; once you've learned the Dragon Feet skill and have a pair of Texas Boots, all the gang members go down in one attack, and most bosses are defeated in one or two. Chances are you'll lose lives (of which you have an unlimited supply) a lot in the early going, but once you've gotten a chance to boost your statistics, the odds quickly tilt in your favor.

Originally when I played this game, I dismissed it as a Double Dragon knock-off. Then again, I'd probably say that about every beat-em-up game. RCR is actually a lot more fun to play, thanks to the personality found all over the place. Each gang has its own fighting style, and its own member names, but they all say the same things when they hit the ground, which usually is worth a chuckle or two.2 Being an easy game, it's not something you'll work up a lot of frustration about, so enjoying yourself while playing isn't too much of a task.

It may have some chinks in the armor, but River City Ransom is one of the few games that can overcome those flaws and still be an extremely solid game.

1. If you haven't seen it yet, check this out. It's one of the coolest things I've seen on the Internet.

2. Let's face it - seeing people named Slash and Blaze say things like "BARF!" and "Mamaaa!" is kinda quirky.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 14
Challenge: (Easy)
Aesthetic Score: 17
Overall Score: 74%

You are now listening to the main background music to River City Ransom.