Ah, the memories I have playing River City Ransom on the NES so long ago. For those of you who’ve never heard of the game, River City Ransom was at its core an Action/RPG side-scroller beat-em-up. What made it so unusual was that you’d use the cash your opponents would drop to purchase food stuffs and other accessories, making your character run faster, punch harder, and gain special moves like the ability to rapid punch or fly through the air.


The best part about this NES classic was the rocking (for the time) musical soundtrack, humorous one-liners by the gangs you beat up (BARF!), and two-player simultaneous action. And two-player mode was where all the fun was at, as you could not only help your partner, but attack him as well.


Some ten years later, Atlus/Million has realized just how popular this game is, and has ported over the game for the new century. How faithful of a port is this game? Does it hold up against the test of time? Read the rest of the review to find out.

Thankfully, River City Ransom EX isn’t a direct port of the NES version. Instead, Atlus/Million has taken the NES graphics and upgraded them to liven up the city you fight in. Two layer parallax scrolling is visible on most of the areas you do battle in, and the cities look far more alive and detailed than the NES original.


The characters are tiny, but they hold lots of detail and animation. The two heroes have many standard moves, ranging from simple punches and kicks, to moves like a roundhouse kick to a spinning uppercut. As far as your opponents go, you’ll rarely ever face the exact same two, as there are over 100 head models, 15 skin tones, and dozens of clothing colors. Although you’ll have to look very closely to notice the differences.


For those of you who’ve played the NES classic, yes, you still get to watch your character eat the plate/drink/bag of whatever foodstuff you purchase while playing. And the slight nudity scene in one store is there as well.

Take the classic NES rock/techno theme, upgrade it a bit, and you have the music that’s in River City Ransom EX. The music still fits the game as perfectly as it did before, even though it’s essentially one continuous looping soundtrack. You have the main theme that plays during most of the game, a theme for the high school you charge through, a peaceful park theme, a theme for when you purchase goods, and a rocking boss track.


In the sound effects line, you’ll hear a range of biffs, pows, and other noises of your hands and feet connecting with somebody else. Thankfully, there’s enough variety in the hand-to-hand combat to not get tired of hearing the same noises over and over again.

For a such simple side-scroller at its core, the controls are anything but. Like in the NES version, the A punches, B kicks, and hitting both at the same time allows you to jump into the air. From there, it gets much more complex. Pressing and holding the two buttons for different durations allow you to do multi-hit punches, advanced kicking moves, and uppercuts.


Unfortunately, because of the lengthy button presses required to do these moves, odds are you’ll never actually pull them off in combat, short of doing them accidentally. It’s too bad, as these moves look rather cool when you pull them off. Why the company couldn’t have mapped a modifier button to the L and R buttons (as these buttons are completely unused during the course of the game) is a question I’d love to have answered.

Oh no, the gangs of River City High have made off with your girlfriend! As Ryan (and/or Alex), it’s your job to charge through the school halls, beating up everybody that gets in your way. Only a dozen gangs, multiple bosses, and more Generic Dudes than you can shake a stick at lie between you and your goal.


Sounds like the perfect generic formula to a side-scroller beat-em-up, right? Well, RCR EX goes one step further and introduces a detailed RPG-like aspect into the game. The many thugs all drop pocket change (or their lunch money), which you can scoop up and use to purchase all kinds of food stuffs, increasing stats like your punching strength, your jumping height, and how well you resist damage.


In addition, you’ll be able to purchase technique scrolls, each teaching you a different way to slaughter your opponents. One will allow you to kick at the speed of sound, another will enable you to unleash a deadly jump kick, while another turns your unconscious enemies into human torpedoes when you throw them.


You’ll need these powers when you face the game’s bosses. They have their own set of incredible moves, each more deadly than the last. You’ll have to defend yourself against the fearsome Boomerang (toss one’s weapon like a boomerang), the Dragon Knee (a jumping knee strike), the Flip Throw (toss an opponent back and forth on the ground), and the devastating Flying Kick (sorta like Guile’s backflip attack from Street Fighter II).


In addition, once you’ve finished the game the first time, you’ll be able to play through it again and find that a few things have changed. For starters, the gang bosses are perfectly willing to join your posse depending on your reputation. Also, you’ll find a few additional battles and conversations depending on how you progress through the game.


What else does this game have to offer? Unfortunately, quite a few problems. For starters, this game is short. Just like the NES version was before it, odds are you’ll be able to run through the game from start to finish (including powering up) in about an hour. If you have a saved character, even less. It’s a great length for a GBA game, allowing you to pick it up and put it down whenever you have a chance, but most people will see it as very short.


Which brings me to the second issue – the game’s save system. When you save your character, the game saves nothing but your stats and your cash on hand. What does this mean? In short, you’ll have to start over each and every time you turn off your GBA. Then again, this was exactly how the NES version behaved as well, except that the NES version required extremely long passwords to save your stats.


One last complaint. And the rather large one in the end. Unlike the NES version, this game does not support system-link multiplayer at all. The closest you can get is to connect to GBA’s together and transfer your character data back and forth, allowing one to have in a pseudo-partner directed by the AI. Unfortunately, the AI is pretty poor for your teammates.


Is this a good game in the end? While this title has quite a few little issues, its saving grace is that it’s simply fun to play, no matter how many times you give it a whirl. Very few games can say that.

This game is as timeless as the NES original was, allowing you to play the game time and time again. Unfortunately, without a two player mode, half of the reason to play the NES version is simply gone. If it wasn’t for the fact that this game is a lot of fun to play, you’d have little reason to play by yourself.

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