My girlfriend once told me about a game she loved from the NES, River City Ransom; she told me you ran around beating people up, but that it also had RPG elements in which your characters got more powerful. She enjoyed buying sushi and visiting saunas in the game. I had to try it out.
Knowing that I was waking up early to go to Disneyland with her the next day, I booted up the game on an emulator on my Palm despite it being late at night. (I also obtained an actual NES cartridge, not that any proceeds could actually reach anyone related to the game.)
I hold your city captive &
Ryan’s girlfriend hostage.
With my gangs of students &
evil bosses, nobody can stop
me now. Meet my demands – or
else! … P.S. Alex & Ryan if
you interfere, you’ll be in
for the fight of your lives!
Yes, that’s the introduction to the game. I don’t know what I would have thought of it if I was an adult when the game was released, but now I love it. Here’s a game that knows it’s a game. Could I survive SLICK’s gangs, defeat his bosses, and rescue Ryan’s girlfriend? I had to find out.
“[Intro][NES] River City Ransom” posted by YouTube user kad3t
Once the game actually starts, the amazing music begins. You can hear this starting at 0:25 in the video. The bit at 0:35 is so fun! Starting at Cross Town High School, I began to explore the world, beating up anyone who dared approach me. Were the men who ran up to me working for Slick? Were they partly responsible for kidnapping Ryan’s girlfriend? I didn’t care. I didn’t question. I punched.
As an enemy ran up to me, I began to pound him in his face until he fell.
What a rewarding word to read.
Controls were simple. I was punching and kicking. I was picking things up, attacking with them or throwing them. I was jumping on walls and fences and running across them. And I did it all smoothly and easily with just two buttons. Perhaps one of the most fun discoveries was realizing that a fallen enemy was also a weapon. After defeating an enemy, I was treated to a bouncing coin, increasing my total money. At the start, I didn’t know the purpose of the currency.
After a couple screens I came across the first mall. I was presented with a variety of stores and purchasable goods – coffee, bagels, sushi, books, and more. Books taught different techniques, but what was engrossing was the delicious, delicious food. A little of this and I increase my punching ability. A little of that and I’m more agile. A little of this and… I regain health or increase my maximum health or something. (I later realized that how much my maximum health increased was partly tied to how depleted my current health was.) I was more than happy to go through trial and error to understand the economy. Different enemy types drop varying amount of money, and these can be used on the items in the malls. Eating items increases your stats, although I couldn’t find out which or by how much until I tried them. I could see this being annoying if money was scarce, but there were plenty of gangs of students and evil bosses to mug.
While River City Ransom looked fairly linear, I found it to be very open. I ran from area to area defeating such gangs as the Generic Dudes, the Jocks, the Frat Guys, and more. The bottom of the screen flashed. “BARF!” “Wham!” “Mamaaa!” Occasionally a bit of helpful text pointed me in the right direction, but I mostly encountered comical one-liners. These little snips of dialogue combined with the malls and shops to fully engross me. There was plenty to discover, including Merlin’s Mystery Shop, a secret shop hidden in a tunnel. Somehow this Merlin fellow managed to collect such powerful items as Excaliber and Zeus’ Wand. Did you know Zeus used a wand? I didn’t.
In the end, I reached Slick, who turned out to go by the name of Simon.
Thanks to ALEX & RYAN that
was the end of evil Simon!
The gangs returned to class
and became honor students.
Cyndi was rescued in time
to finish her shopping.
Yes… all was once again
peaceful in River City.
Clearly the problems of Ryan’s girlfriend being held hostage and the city being full of gangs of students had been solved. Nothing turns around gangs of students like a good whoopin’, and now River City High School and Cross Town High School must have much higher average GPAs and college admissions! Truly, I solved not only my problems, but I improved education as whole in our great nation!
In Japan, River City Ransom was part of the Kunio-kun series, which also includes Renegade, Super Dodge Ball, and Crash ‘n the Boys: Street Challenge. I’ve tried Renegade, but it lacks the comedy, exploration, and food of River City Ransom, causing me to put it down shortly after starting. I’ve yet to try any of the other games in the series. There was a Game Boy Advance port, River City Ransom EX, that I enjoyed, adding more customization but removing the multiplayer. (I recommend the original NES version.) A sequel was announced for the Wii and PC, due out in 2011 or 2012, but I couldn’t find any additional information on it.
River City Ransom inspired more than just me. Scott Pilgrim makes heavy references to the game. Besides coins exploding out of defeated enemies and similar boss names and placement, “BARF!” is a bit of dialogue the two universes have in common. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game feels very heavily inspired by River City Ransom. There’s even a secret shop full of incredibly expensive items placed like Merlin’s Mystery Shop. One of the other Kunio-kun games, Crash ‘n the Boys: Street Challenge, is obviously referenced by the band Crash and the Boys in the books and movie.
As I said earlier, I started playing River City Ransom the night before I was planning on waking early to go to Disneyland. I got two hours of sleep that night because I couldn’t put River City Ransom down. If you’re familiar with Disneyland, you might know that there’s a restroom at the front of Adventureland that you reach as soon as you enter from Main Street. When the rest of the group used the restroom there, I leaned on the fake rocks outside, getting a little extra time with River City Ransom on my Palm. I jokingly refer to that place as River City Rock to this day.
River City Ransom: Mugging gangs of students and eating sushi.
Further reading: Hardcore Gaming 101: Kunio-kun / Nekketsu High School