Release Date: May 25, 2004
Buy 'RIVER CITY RANSOM': Game Boy Advance
River City Ransom was one of the best NES games found on the system that no-one seems to have ever heard of. The game was essentially a clone of Double Dragon expanded with RPG elements, an advanced combat system, and a currency system used to purchase items and upgrades for your character. The game’s plot as a serious one, the kidnapping of one of the main character’s girlfriends by an evil gang leader but the games presentation was one of a more light-hearted fare, like the some of the combat scenes in a Jackie Chan movie. The game as a whole was nearly flawless, and the co-operative play that allowed each player build their character in their own way cemented River City Ransoms status as an instant classic. Developer Million has taken River City Ransom and expanded, modernized, and improved upon the title in nearly every conceivable way, but also dropped the ball completely by leaving out any form of co-operative play.
River City Ransom EX’s plot is a mirror of the original, in which River City and River City High have been taken over by various bands of gang members. Slick, the leader of them all, has taken Ryan’s girlfriend Cyndi hostage inside River City High. Alex, an accomplished brawler, student of River City High, and competitor of Ryan, happened to be absent the day the school was taken over. Ryan realizes he cannot rescue Cyndi alone and teams up with Alex, who together set off to rescue Ryan’s girlfriend and eliminate the gangs that infest River City.
Combat in River City Ransom EX is very simple and similar to the original at a glance, with the A button performing a punch, the B button performing a kick, and pressing both buttons simultaneously causing the character to leap into the air. The A button also allows you to pick up and swing weapons such as sticks, pipes, ladders, buckets, and chains, and the B button allows you to throw them left or right as a ranged weapon, straight up, or down to the ground. In the original you could gain special fighting techniques such as Stone Hands or Dragon Feet which caused your character to punch or kick in rapid succession. In River City Ransom EX there are many, many more techniques to utilize in combat, such as bicycle kicks, special weapon-specific attacks, and situational or timed techniques. It must be noted how well River City Ransom EX’s combat flows together, much like it did in the original title. In mere seconds of combat you could kick someone down, swing them around and throw them into another enemy, turn around and kick a bucket at a third adversary, then proceed to pick up that bucket and slam it into the head of a fourth foe. Weapon attacks are fleshed out a bit more than they were in the original, such as the ability to not only hit an enemy with a trashcan but also slam it down over their head to blind them, or use a chain not only as an impromptu whip but also as a thrown weapon to tie up opponents.
There are many varieties of gang members in River City Ransom EX, with equally varying difficulties. Generic Dudes, Frat Boys, and Jocks are easy to mop up but leave little money when defeated, while the Mob, the Plague, or the Eagles take much more fighting skill to defeat but also leave sizeable amounts of cash when they finally go down. To aid you in combat you can recruit up to 3 AI-controlled fighters to assist you which are there solely to help you out, leaving you to collect the rewards. Unlike the original though, Million has left out co-operative play, the addition of which would make the game a much better title overall and the inclusion of which is what made the original so fun to play.
Your character has a variety of statistics, such as punch power, agility, stamina, willpower, and toughness. Stamina and Willpower make up your characters total vitality. Stamina is your base health, and Willpower is your will to fight, higher willpower means less time to get up after being knocked down, etc. When you lose all of your stamina you lose some willpower to gain a bit back, but if you lose all of both you are defeated and lose half of your current money reserves. To increase the maximum amount of or simply restore lost stamina or willpower you buy food or items at the shops in the various shopping districts in the game. Some items solely restore stamina or willpower, other raise the maximum levels of those traits or increase others such as kick power or defense, while others such as books teach your character new techniques to use in combat. This system allows you to kind of tailor your character as you see fit, such as only bulking up stats you use or stats that you really need.
A neat feature of River City Ransom EX is the ability to adjust some of the core gameplay mechanics on the fly, such as game speed, gravity, weapon attack damage, obstacle bounding boxes, and your AI teammate’s behaviors. If you feel the game is too fast, gravity it too light, or melee attacks don’t pack enough punch, simply adjust them. If you want your AI teammates to tag team your current foe, attack others, stay close or stay far from your position, only throw weapons, or kick enemies while they’re down, so be it. Nothing can beat the inclusion of a second human player, a feature that is sorely missed in River City Ransom EX, but at least this degree of control over your teammates allows you to set how you want them to act.
Graphically River City Ransom EX is leaps, bounds, and jump-kicks away from the original title. The characters all still have their trademark look but now are much more detailed and come complete with shading effects on their clothing and many more frames of animation. Even mere punching or kicking attacks have various animations, which don’t necessarily deal more damage but do look cool and do well to break up the “punch punch kick” graphical monotony the combat could have been. The areas themselves are laid out in the exact same fashion as the original title, but like the characters the backgrounds, walls, and storefronts have all received a significant upgrade in their looks.
River City Ransom EXs sound ensemble hasn’t changed much from the original. Most of the sound effects seem to have come directly from the original game, and while the music has been re-sampled and polished it is still the same title and battle themes, which give the game a nostalgic sound and still invoke the same heroic brawling mood as the original. If you’re not familiar with the original title the sound effects are decent but do come across as a bit repetitive, being as there is about a total of 5 sound effects for every form of combat in the game. Still, the quality of the game as a whole vastly overshadows any potential repetition in the sound effects department, as you’ll likely be concentrating more on sending an enemy into a flying pirouette rather than the sound effects made in doing so.
All in all River City Ransom EX is a fantastic remake of an equally-fantastic game. The lack of any form of co-operative play is a major downer, as the original title benefited greatly from it, but even without it River City Ransom EX is a great title to pick up and play. The combat system is not only intuitive and very fluid but is chock-full of “Did you see that?!” moments, and not only takes the hardcore feel of the original title but expands upon it with additional weapons, attacks, and techniques. The save system is a bit limited (You save your characters data, but not his progress) which can be irksome, but River City Ransom EX is a game that has high replayability and can be completed in a rather short timeframe, both decent qualities for a handheld-based game. If you enjoy titles such as the Double Dragon or Final Fight series, River City Ransom EX is likely to be right up your alley. Regardless of if you’ve played the original River City Ransom or are new to the series, River City Ransom EX is a nearly-perfect remake of the title that raised the bar for generations of the brawler genre.
Score : 9.1/10