It’s finally here.
The long-awaited sequel to River City Ransom. A coming-of-age story about two high school students, Alex and Ryan, hell-bent on rescuing River City High School, and Ryans super hot girlfriend, from the sinfully sleazy scoundrel, "Slick." If you haven’t experienced River City Ransom, or its predecessors in the Kunio-Kun franchise (including such titles as Renegade and Super Dodgeball), then get yourself an NES Classic, or find some emulators, because you, sir or madam, are missing out!
River City Ransom: Underground took Kickstarter by storm back in Sept. 2013 when developer and publisher Conatus Creative Inc. decided to focus on resurrecting the game. It was evident from the success of their campaign, the campaign hit 120% of its goal, that fans of the franchise wanted another installment. Twenty-eight years since the release of River City Ransom, and three and a half years since the successful Kickstarter campaign, the game is finally in the hands of fans around the world. The crew at Conatus Creative put together legendary talent with new blood to create a game that does not disappoint. The director of the almost mythical title Double Dragon, as well as the original creator of Kunio-Kun, Yoshihisa Kishimoto, was brought on as a creative consultant to ensure the title held faithful to the original series.
Many games have tried to emulate these iconic beat-em-up games, but when you think about the genre, few come to mind. These games were fun, challenging, and tested the limits of your patience, but always kept you coming back for another round. Playing River City Ransom: Underground is like smelling the exact recipe of cookies your grandma used to make, bringing back memories of days long past. It captures the spirit of the originals and sprinkles in some good 80’s-early 90’s fun while adding some new flair, characters, and moves for replayability. You’ll spend your time walking by a traffic jam of Volkswagen vans and Deloreans, or beat down a gang of nerds who's leader cracks open the box on his brand new POWER LOADER, which I spent way too much time trying to climb in after defeating him.
I'm not a huge fan of retro games, and apparently, I've gotten soft in my old age.
I spent many hours yelling at my monitor, wanting to chuck my controller across the room in a rage. However, I did this knowing that, the whole time, this is exactly how I spent my childhood, being punished by Abobo in Double Dragon, or the even more troubling crossover Battletoads and Double Dragon, who smashes his way into a cameo in River City Ransom: Underground and with his only Flash game that’s still available, Abobo’s Big Adventure.
As you navigate the unforgiving streets of River City, you’ll play as one of ten characters with completely different fighting styles and unique moves that you can unlock by purchasing them at dojos across the city. As you fight, you’ll begin to level up, increasing the maximum points for each attribute. Just as in the original, these are increased through purchasing items and food, or spending your time in the sauna – side note, that was the first time I’ve seen a naked butt in a video game, and it was no less hilarious in my thirties than when I was seven. Again, staying true to the retro game feel, much of the game isn't readily apparent and requires some trial and error. For example, when you purchase your items, such as a Cali roll from a sushi restaurant, or a hot dog, you won’t know the effect it will have on your attributes, such as increased weapon damage, defense, or stamina. It’s the same way for some gameplay elements, such as events that only trigger at certain points in the day/night cycle - overall, the effect felt largely unnecessary.
The game isn’t a side scroller like the originals but an open environment allowing you to travel back and forth between vendors and dojos. You can even head to one of your hideouts where you will put collectibles and can save your game and change your characters mid game if you so desire. You better enjoy the sight of these hideouts because if you’re playing alone, you’ll spend a lot of time here. Any time you die, you will be sent back to the last hideout you went into with about half the amount of money you’ve picked up, and this will OFTEN happen especially if you play alone. When playing a co-op game which is either local or online even if you die as long as the others reach a zone you will respawn with full health. It’s also incredibly fun playing with others, especially if they’re leveled up because skilled higher level players can juggle enemies and perform some cool combos which make the game all the more entertaining. However, when playing solo, you can’t just fight every group of enemies especially early on until your move lists get better and your health increases.
River City Ransom: Underground is fantastic in how it truly captures the feel of retro games, and it’s clear from the experience that Conatus Creative provides the desire and requisite talent. On top of the original beat-em-up feel, additional features round out the title quite nicely, such as RPG leveling aspects and a fighting engine that packs a punch. The art style, sound, and humor capture the look, feel, and nostalgia of the franchise. Though River City may not have enough to warrant many hours on the game, it’s worth a playthrough, and all but guarantees enjoyment to newcomers and fond memories to franchise veterans.