By Alex Westphal
The late 1980’s and early 90’s in gaming were ruled by street-action beat-em-ups like Final Fight, TMNT 2 (and “Turtles in Time”), Double Dragon, and Streets of Rage, to name a few. One, however, stood out for myself and many other gamers due to its inherent quirky nature - a classic known as River City Ransom (NES, 1989).
Why RCR? Because, for younger, more impressionable Western gamers, RCR not only stood out among its peers for perfecting a deep combat formula, it was also a very small window into the Japanese gaming culture. Originally titled “Dauntaun Nekketsu Monogatari,” which literally translates to “Hot-Blooded Downtown Story,” RCR was known just as much for the street fighting as it was for it’s strange plethora of side-activities.
As for the plot, well, let’s just say that Japanese game developers of the 1980’s know how to weave a compelling tale. You see, the plot involves two hard-hitting boys from River City High - Alex and Ryan - who set out on a quest to save Ryan girl, Cyndi, from a rival gang. Along the way, you get to explore an open, sandbox world, and teach a lesson to every punk and rival gang member in the city… hell, maybe even in the whole state.
Refilling one’s health meant making a special trip to one of the game’s restaurants (or shopping malls) to purchase from an eclectic range of menus containing everything from sushi to hot cocoa. You could also buy stat-boosting items from shops that, as an adult, I now realize were basically steroids.
Combat was somewhat akin to Double Dragon, and involved disarming foes, and then beating them to death with their own weapons… And when weapons were scarce, it was always an option to beat your enemies to death with other paralyzed enemies. In a sick and twisted way, this made perfect sense in a game where you could refill your stamina by visiting questionable back-alley “Health Spa” establishments (which coincidentally, also involved one of the only gratuitous male ‘butt-shots’ from the NES era).
This game was one of kind, even in a sea of beat-em-up clones, and deserves your attention, even today. Unlike games today, it was a game that had it all, and in spades - combat, exploration, rpg elements, and Co-op play - all of this, mixed with unmistakeable Japanese quirkiness makes the game irresistable. I highly recommend looking it up online; or, if you’re anything like me, bust out the NES and track a copy down online. You won’t be sorry you did.