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.