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Playing catch up – River City Ransom

posted on June 19th, 2008 by jay
Now Playing: My Life as a King

In my attempt to rectify my mostly Nintendo-less childhood I have been purchasing Virtual Console games at an unhealthy rate. Chrono Trigger and Super Mario World both lived up to their legendary reputations so I was excited to finally try River City Ransom (ignore that it’s slightly less popular and on a different console from the other two).

River City Ransom’s similarities to Double Dragon are obvious and I am proud to say it took about a second for me to figure out how to jump kick. (A and B at the same time for all you losers who haven’t played the exact same games as I have). The move set does seem somewhat pared down, though – is it actually possible to headbutt or elbow in River City Ransom? The action is ultimately very similar to earlier Technos games (such as Renegade) if a little less exciting. Chubby squat characters can’t be expected to move like the Lee brothers, can they? It is the RPG mechanics that make RCR more than simply “Double Dragon only crappier.”

Murdering school kids in street fights yields cents and, from the slightly better off kids, dollars that can be spent on tea, crumpets, books, sushi and spas. Consuming these purchasables (besides the spa, that would be difficult to eat) increases your character’s stats. It’s somewhat of a problem that after playing the entire game I still wasn’t sure what some of the stats did, but the feeling of constant progress drove me to play River City Ransom obsessively. As I have mentioned before, I would probably like cancer if you could level up your tumors, so it’s hard to tell how much credit to give Technos beyond saying I really enjoyed it.

The biggest letdown of River City Ransom is its brevity. The short game time not only means there’s not much of it to enjoy but it prevents the game mechanics from building into anything grand. So much more could have been done, from more moves, more crap to buy, deeper stat development, more involving plot line, better gang dynamics (the children you murder are supposedly gang members though it’s apparent they’re still in high school), and a more elaborate world map.

This game demands a well done sequel. Not a Japanese only NES sequel (which apparently exists) but a new, souped up iteration. Imagine a 50 hour narrative with Streets of Rage 2 quality beat ’em up play and holographic HD graphics that respond to your odor and you understand half of what I envision River City Ransom Z should be.

If there is anything to be learned from a design perspective it is that quite often the best games are meldings of genres. Adding RPG elements to other types of gameplay is a recipe for success – Geometry Wars combined point collecting and weapon leveling with shmupping, Symphony of the Night combined experience and equipment with action platforming, Panzer Dragoon Saga combined the RPG with dragoon shooting, X-Com combined experience and items management with turn based strategy, and Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing combined stat building with boxing (I may not have played a boxing game since 1992).

Great games happen when role playing elements are introduced into already good games and even mediocre games can become cult hits when enriched with a little story, gear to purchase and spas to strip nude in.


  1. christian said on June 19, 2008:

    And bad games can be made worse when they lean on RPG leveling like a crutch.

  2. jay said on June 19, 2008:

    With no examples or explanations as to why RPG elements make these games worse all I can say is it’s likely that I’d have more fun with them because of the mechanics you feel make them worse.

  3. christian said on June 19, 2008:

    A few good examples:

    GTA San Andreas’ stats meant you had to be careful about your food intake and spend time in the gym in order to make a good character, when none of those things were entirely interesting.

    Soul Calibur 3’s Chronicles of the Sword mode was unnecessary and should have been replaced with a more robust mission mode.

    I still feel the Hero system in Warcraft 3 made it less of a strategy game than it should have. The fact that DOTA was spawned from it with little modification says as much.

  4. TrueTallus said on June 23, 2008:

    I certainly agree with you that leaning on RPG leveling can make developers unrealistic or lazy about the game they are working on, Christian, but I’m not so sure about the idea that they actually make a game worse by themselves. You might say that was the case with San Andreas, but I’d wager that if the stats did nothing but continually increase with time and effort (a treatment of stats that seems more earnestly RPG-like in my opinion) instead of relying on balance and readjustment to achieve maximum success (a way of using stats that I’d say is more akin to a simulation model) we wouldn’t have any genuine qualms with seeing CJ gradual become the best gang leader/ladykilla/bicyclist he could be.

  5. pat said on June 23, 2008:

    this was one of my favorite games growing up, even though i was too inexperienced to understand what all those stats were for. im glad to hear the game can be fun even for a player whose judgement is not clouded by nostalgia as mine certainly has been as ive replayed it on VC.

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