Top 100 Retro Games: River City Ransom

River City Ransom
Nintendo Entertainment System

Of all the games I keep returning to over the years, perhaps the one that I do the most is River City Ransom. This is one of my favorite games ever. I love its combination of side scrolling fighting games like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage and RPG elements of visiting malls instead of towns and needing to grind a bit to beat more difficult bosses at the end of the game. It is a very clever and interesting blend of a number of genres that I have come back to over and over.

I am fairly certain that River City Ransom was the first used game I ever purchased. I played it all the time with various friends once we moved to a new town. I had a few friends who loved playing multiplayer games like this with me. We would even play terrible games like NARC!. I loved playing solo though.

A silly thing we loved to do was play baseball. One of us would grab a bat, the other a baseball, and then pitch it. We amused ourselves a lot doing that.

I loved how you had to grind in this case, which I had done in a bunch of RPGs by then, but never in an action game. The system I came up with eventually was pretty simple: I would get to a boss, beat him, then run all the way back to the beginning of the game, then make it through to the next boss. Repeat as many times as needed.

The first time I got to the end of the game, I marked out so much for the Double Dragon theme playing before you fight the final boss. That was a cool little add on to the game that I wish happened in more games.

So, the plot of River City Ransom goes something like this: Alex and Ryan are high schoolers trying to claim their town from gangs, who have also kidnapped Ryan’s girlfriend Cyndi.

The January 1990 issue of Nintendo Power had a feature on the game. This look at the game focused heavily on items you could buy in malls with a special emphasis on the books that could teach Alex or Ryan special moves like Dragon Feet and Stone Hands. Nintendo Power suggests kicking Benny and Clyde into the river, but I am pretty sure that does not “count” as a victory again them.

The cover of this game immediately reminded me of Double Dragon back in the day. I had loved playing that game at a friend’s house, and probably rented it a few times, so I was drawn to the game right away. It also has a pretty solid soundtrack.

This time around, I played River City Ransom on the 3DS. I had a fun time going through the game over about a week of playing each night for a little bit. Save states are super helpful in this game because it had a very complicated password system that was hard to replicate correctly. I mostly kept to my tried and true method of grinding and only really had trouble with a few bosses near the end of the game. This is the rare game where grinding does not seem like such a tedious chore from this era.

I am not a huge fan of brawlers, but River City Ransom hits the mark. It is fun, but still challenging enough. The play control is excellent and once you have some of the books that give you new fighting attributes, the game gets even funner.

One of my favorite things to do in the game is jump on the top of gang members of something they are carrying as they run around aimlessly trying to get rid of you.

That method allows you to really truly explore the game. There is a lot of cool stuff in here that you can find. The various gangs have interesting personalities. I love how many nerdy guys are in them.

The sauna scene is hilarious, and I have to wonder how that got by Nintendo’s censors.

This is such a great game and worth checking out. I wish it had been included in the NES Classic, but it is available on the virtual console for cheap. There are some new games in this series, including more recent ones for the 3DS. They are fine, but this is my favorite one by far.


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