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River City Ransom Review

When Joe was 10 he moved to Florida and there met his long time bestie, Steve. One day they found the game that would basically occupy our entire first summer, creating a bond that has endured for over two decades.  Yes, it was River City Ransom (RCR).

RCR was one of the first games to approach gaming from a completely different angle: It isn't about being hard, learning the moves and the levels and the combos, it is about exploration and growth and the journey. As far as console games, RCR was one of, if not the first, to take this exploration idea to something other than a JRPG. As such it has gone down in history as a legendary title that never got a sequel... until now.

Conatus Creative Inc. got the rights to make a Kickstarter for River City Ransom sequel, naming it Underground, and I have no idea how they pulled off such a miracle, but miracle it was. After 28 years the franchise returns to life.

The problem with bringing a 28 year old beloved game back to life is trying to balance the new style of gaming, what with its slick auto-save and turn by turn quest navigation with the old school style of hand writing a long save code and wandering around aimlessly until you stumble across where you're supposed to go. Conatus is left in a sticky spot, modernize and bring new fans, but upset all us old curmudgeons, or built a game for a niche fanbase and receive the ire of every 20 something who didn't grow up with the game.

And with that we begin our 3 man attempt to conquer the streets of River City Ransom. Eli, James, and Joe

 Wait for the end where James (Paul the Boxer) kills himself with a tire IN THE SAFEHOUSE.


Conatus took me by surprise when they did the monetarily unthinkable. They decided to make an old school style game, bringing the warts and all, to craft a true fan style RCR experience. Thankfully the one thing they removed was the need to write down save codes by hand and then input them back to restore a saved game, though to drive home the point that everything used to be harder, like how we had to walk uphill in the snow both ways to school, you can only save in "Hideouts" that are scattered across the map, which you also have to find partially by luck.

I love it. Nothing is obvious in RCR. Not the stats, not the character moves, not how to save the game, and certainly not the plot. It's a mishmash of in-jokes about the original game and some kind of evil nefarious scheme that has turned the gang ridden wasteland that is River City against you. I don't care what the plot is, the original plot was a guy named SLICK kidnapped some girl and it was all ass-kicking until the credits roll. They didn't even improve the bottom of screen dialogue system that makes reading while fighting impossible and reading anything longer than one sentence unbearable.

To win in RCR is simple. Kill everyone. Take their money. Eat food to gain stats. Train and read books to gain abilities. Get stronger. Kill the bosses. Win the game. The combat is a modernized version of the original, complete with accidentally kicking trashcans into your teammates and falling into construction pits. It feels fantastic, in every way like the original of my memory without some of the weird NES limitations. Now there's many characters with unique moves and some really awesome combos. Of course, most of these combos don't tell you how to do them, they just give you some vague hint like "punch." Discovering how to implement your new ability into your chain of attacks is up to you to solve!

Why? Because you can!

All these things sound like backhanded compliments, but trust me, to a fan of River City Ransom these are the gems that made my first summer in Florida a year to remember. To a newcomer they're likely going to be torture, as I suspect we'll soon hear from James and Eli.


For me this game has zero nostalgia as I never played the original title from 1984, so my point of view will be a little jaded in that respect. First i will start with the good, it is a challenging platformer with awesome 8 bit graphics and music. Now that we got that out of the way lets get into the meat of the review.

First off this game is a GRIND, there is no limited number of lives, there are few places to heal up and saves can only be performed in a safe house. This means you will spend countless hours playing the same section until you can level up or afford the moves to help you breeze through it. That is my first real gripe with this game, there is no inbetween you are either too weak to fight in that area or you just wipe the floor with everything in your path.

What do all those items do? Only way to know is buy one and find out!

Now as someone that has not played the original game, as a standalone this one feels like a cheap knockoff of Street Fighter meets double dragon. Nearly all of the characters have a Street Fighter counterpart while the game play brought me back to last month's review of Double Dragon. Nothing really stands out as something original or groundbreaking, now this may be by design or may be a parody of such that me being new to the series just does not understand. Not sure if that is my fault or maybe they should have thought of new players when developing the story.

I know I have ragged on this game fairly hard but I don't want you to think it is some terrible title you should never think about touching. If you enjoy platformers that will keep you grinding for hours on end, I would highly recommend this game. The controls are well done, the graphics look great and it is definitely a challenge to play. So overall for me personally this game will probably be something I only play when I have a few friends that want to take a break from our staple games and do something different but I don't see me doing much solo queuing on this one.


I thoroughly enjoyed RCR:Underground for many reasons. As a nostalgic life long gamer, the obvious feel of the oldschool battle toads / double dragon games made me feel right at home beating up random thugs on the street on my quest for clearing up my gang's name from the evil SLICK. 

Something that I found particularly delightful is the fact that this game is clearly within it's genre of side scrolling beat em ups but manages to incorporate so many pop culture references and homages to fighting games. The playable characters feel like they are coming from Street Fighter or King of Fighters but all the bad guys have generally hilarious names and zingy lines. The system of getting coins from your foes to go eat food for stat gains, or training at a dojo to learn new moves provides a solid RPG component that wouldn't have existed in previous games. It's not like on those classics such as Sunset Riders, the Simpsons, Xmen there is any character development of stats or skills, you get what you get. RCR gives you much more than just your basic move and a super move.
Aside from the above, I though the music was excellent, I found myself humming it for a while during and after playing the game. I only wish the single player campaign was longer, but re-playing the game with friends or on different characters should still be a rewarding experience. I'm certainly looking forward to what updates or new offerings the devs will roll out, but there is a lot to love about this game already.
Every gang member loves a good sauna, am I right?

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