River City Ransom EX Review
River City Ransom wound up being one of the greatest games on the classic NES console, but scores of NES junkies never got a chance to try it out. Its simplistic, cartoony graphics provided a comedy value to the fighting, and the excellent two-player action was unrivalled. The real innovative stuff in RCR was the RPG system that allowed you to build up stats by buying food and items at the various malls throughout the game. Add in special moves you could buy, and it turned into a unique game that other fighting titles are only starting to really borrow from.
Million has recognized the appeal that even this sleeper NES title has, and went ahead with a GBA port and enhancement of the original game. While the "Kunio" games have had a long history in Japan, only a few have made it to the US, but Million decided to keep the original Japanese theme going - this means that the t-shirts and jeans in the US version of the original game are gone, and in their place is the more traditional Japanese garb. But this is RCR all the way, and Million has done a great job carefully expanding the original formula with tons of new options, moves, enemies, and other features.
River City Ransom EX is one of those games whose controls are really easy to get into, and there are now extra moves you can do in certain situations. Some moves are done by a charge up, and others feel similar to moves you'd do in a Street Fighter-style fighting game.
Even though the game supplies quite a few moves to start and even more that you can buy, it still only uses the A and B buttons - just like the NES classic - and jumping is still done by pressing both at once. Unlike Atlus' recent GBA revival of Double Dragon, the original controls have been maintained and only subtly added to. I think this is quite a bit better, as it makes the experience feel more like the original game.
River City Ransom didn't have the best graphics on the NES, but it was able to draw plenty of flying objects and players at once. The GBA port just about doubles the capabilities of the NES original, with up to four enemies instead of two at once and a couple more weapons can be thrown around as well. On top of this, many of the scrolling backgrounds now have multiple layers. Replace all the original art with new stuff that's a bit higher quality, and it adds up to a game that looks much more like it's from the SNES than from the NES.
Pretty much all of the original game's areas have been reproduced, but a few of the game's spots have been expanded or reworked. Anyone looking for a retro experience will likely be plenty impressed with the changes rather than annoyed.
The fighting in River City Ransom EX is just plain fun as hell, and the ability to change around so many options, buy all kinds of stuff to power up with, and adjust an AI friend's behavior all add a ton of replay value.
Unlike the classic beat-em-up titles like Final Fight or Streets of Rage, RCR EX allows you to backtrack and fight anywhere in the game you want. And you'll need to backtrack and kill lots of enemies if you want to buy even half of the game's major upgrades.
Even 15 years after the original RCR, most beat-em-up games still use a very simplistic fighting system where you simply have to survive from one level, through the boss, and to the next level. You'll get a limited number of lives and/or continues, and after that, it's game over. But with this game, a death simply means you lose half of your saved cash - and you get sent back to the shopping center located before the place you died. It means that you can make multiple attempts at the same thing, and you can even spend up your cash in order to die repeatedly without a care in the world.
Atlus' expanded port includes many new moves - some of them are available from the start, while others must be bought. The cost of these upgrades are much higher than the NES version of the game, but they're generally still worth working to get. I've seen some complaints that the overall cost of everything is too much, causing the player to get stuck in a rut of being too broke to buy anything and having to spend all the cash on food to heal with. I simply haven't had near this much trouble, and beating the game allows you to restart with your tougher character.
You can even collect up a gang in this game, which can mean 4 on 4 battles. This gets really hectic if you leave friendly fire on, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. The game even tracks statistics on your fighting, and will even change the game based on your behavior. For example, some encounters only happen if you play the game like a "good guy" - that is, don't hit people when they're down and don't interrupt their speeches by hitting them. Again, it makes the game a bit more fun for multiple runs through, and these small efforts add up pretty quickly.
It's the game's many extra features and options that make the game much more enjoyable to play around with, and it really adds some value for those who are real RCR junkies. Just about the only feature I really miss is two-player action, which is completely missing. In the NES original, the cooperative gameplay was an absolute blast, and it usually would wind up with the players beating each other up instead of the enemies. Otherwise, this game is an excellent beat-em-up that'll really make the RCR fans happy.
I've come to expect little in the way of sound out of the GBA, as it just isn't technically capable of much while delivering a complex game at the same time. The best I could hope for here is something that's true to the classic NES game, and that was delivered well enough. The original music and many of the old sound effects are back, and the characters speak through text at the bottom of the screen just like the original as well. I can't really say I'd appreciate anything more ambitious than this, so I'm quite happy.
River City Ransom EX is a hilarious, complex beat-em-up with a ton of options and plenty of options for fun combat. Those looking for an authentic revival of the classic NES game won't be disappointed either. I would have loved to see some two-player over a GBA or GameCube connection, but it's still a great game with plenty to offer.