The legendary hype surrounding this game has haunted me since bygone days of yore. It was a Double Dragon RPG that combined everything you loved about scrolling fighting games and everything you loved about Final Fantasy. People used to talk about it at school like it was the ultimate game. Yet I never got a chance to play it in its original era. It wasn’t until I was an adult gamer that I managed to track down a copy to finally find out what all the 30 year old buzz was about. And I couldn’t have been less impressed. Sure it played like a really great Double Dragon game, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of what I was supposed to do, how I was supposed to level up, or what I was supposed to buy at the mall. It doesn’t help that I didn’t have an instruction manual, but that is easily remedied these days with the internet, so that’s not a valid excuse. Despite numerous attempts to immerse myself in the world, I just couldn’t get River City Ransom to click, which makes it a perfect candidate for The Learning Curve! So let’s spend 5 good hours with River City Ransom and see if I can recapture the magic I heard so much about all those years ago…
Having played this before, I know the general gist: You roam the neighborhood fighting gang (the late 80’s high school kind, not the scary late 90’s LBC kind) members and taking their lunch money (who’s the bully now?!). You can then go to the mall and buy stuff to help you be a better fighter. A quick run through of the instruction manual confirms all of this, gives some insight to what you might want to buy at the mall, and provides a litany of moves to learn with the promise of more possibilities in the game. Most importantly it outlines the objective of the game: defeat the gang bosses, gain access to River City High School and rescue your girlfriend from Slick. Things are always so much clearer when you read the manual…
That said, the first hour of game play still feels rather pointless. Every street or area is occupied by a random gang, steadily increasing in difficulty as you progress. Mini-boss battles are announced only by a change in music and an increased chattiness of the characters. But ALL battles in this game are COMPLETELY optional. Don’t want to fight Moose right now? No big deal, just walk past him and exit the area. On the one hand, this is kind of great. You must beat all of the bosses to progress, so you can skip all you want, you’re not getting to the end of the game until you fight them. One the other hand, this makes it really hard to know where you need to go and what you need to do next.
The game is also very frustrating out of the gate. Prepare to “die” a lot. And your pocket money is cut in half every time you die. So everything in the game is prohibitively expensive. One of the keys to success is buying books and gear to improve your fighting stats, but when beating a bad guy nets you 25 cents and the book costs $25 and you die pretty regularly, amassing $25 is a monumental task. It’s hard enough scraping up enough dough to buy some food to stay alive. This means that for my first hour I am spending most of my time beating up bad guys, getting my butt kicked, and using all of my savings to eat enough to stay alive. Sadly, due to the penalty for dying, this is a process of diminishing returns.
Since your stats only improve by eating the right foods, reading the right books or equipping the right gear, “leveling up” is very slow and very tedious. I spent a great deal of my first hour grinding with very little pay off.
On the up side, the game really is the Double Dragon RPG you always wanted. The game plays silky smooth and while the combat, at least for now, feels like a lot of button mashing, there are a lot of moves to learn and execute. I like the design and feel of the game quite a bit, I’m just very frustrated at an hour spent with not much progress. I managed to defeat the first boss and buy the Arc Circus jump attack, but that’s about it. Let’s hope Hour 2 brings more progress.
Considering my frustration at the lack of progress in Hour 1, I decided to spend all of Hour 2 grinding. Just good ol’ fashioned, slow and monotonous grinding to try and get enough money to improve my stats, learn some new moves, and get some gear. It was slow going, but I was able to eat enough stuff to boost a few stats. This is not as easy as it sounds either, because eating certain food will boost your stats, but since it doesn’t happen on the stats screen you don’t really get an appreciation for what improved right away. Considering the number of food options it is also tricky to remember exactly what food boosts which stat, so I spent a lot of time just eating everything and trying to boost whatever I could. Eventually I noticed that my weapon stat was getting pretty high, as was my kick stat. Whatever food I was eating to stay alive was giving me strong upgrades in those departments.
I also bought the Dragon Feet technique which essentially gives you Chun-Li kicking powers. This is MUCH better than the Arc Circus move and should have been my first purchase. It makes grinding much, much easier. As you fight better enemies you make more money, so your buying power increases dramatically, but getting to that point takes a lot of work. I think I’ve pinpointed this as the Learning Curve for this game, but we shall see. I’m still only barely covering my food expenses, but slowly I am getting better at combat and improving my cash flow. I did buy some sneakers and that has improved by kick power.
Not much actual progress towards the goal, though. I think I may have gone one screen farther than I had in the last hour…
Do NOT save your money. Every time you get to a mall, spend it ALL. When you die you get to keep your items, but your cash is cut in half. Considering how often I die in this game, trying to save up money, when not actually grinding, is always a losing proposition. So when you make it to the next mall, buy whatever you need. Buy take-out food, because you can keep it and use it, even if you die. That is Lesson #1 from Hour 3.
Lesson #2: Spam Dragon Feet. And spam it like crazy. Even the toughest foes who block it constantly will eventually fall to its rapid barrage. Also, because my weapon stat is so high: spam weapon attacks. Basically my strategy during Hour 3 has been to enter a screen, fend off as many bad guys as I can with a bat or whip, then, should one get close enough to knock the weapon free, spam with Dragon Feet until all are dead or I can retrieve my weapon. This strategy has made the game infinitely easier.
Employing this new cheesy technique I was able to make enough money to buy the Army Boots dramatically improving my kick skill. I was also able to fight my way to the gates of River City High School, however, I clearly have missed several bosses along the way because the gates remain locked. Bosses seem to appear after you have cleared all the regular goons from a screen, so I need to go back and clear all the screens to uncover the bosses I have missed.
Also, I went to the sauna, paid $3.50 and got to see Alex’s bare ass.
The Boss fights all start with a long winded speech by the boss during which they are immobile. Use that time to wail on them, pin them against a wall, and blammo! instant win. At least mostly.
This combined with the spamming strategy from Hour 3 allowed me to beat this game in about 15 minutes during Hour 4. I tracked down each boss (when you beat a boss, they will tell you where to find the next one), pounced on them as soon as they appeared and started yakking. Weapons kept the earlier, slower foes at bay, Dragon Feet handled the rest. Once I got in to the school things got dramatically tougher, but I was still able to take out all three (four really) bosses on two tries with little difficulty. The increased strength and speed of the foes inside the school took me by surprise the first time, but I went back in with plenty of food to keep me going and pretty much walked to the end on the back of spamming Dragon Feet.
With River City Ransom beaten I decided to use my extra hour to play a little Adventure of Link. It’s been a few years and I’m WAY rustier than I used to be at this game. Once upon a time I could beat it in a single sitting and usually with only one, maybe two continues. Now I find myself exploring the palaces like it’s the first time and I’m already 7 continues deep. With my 5th hour I was able to take out the fourth palace and get the general exploration of the Eastern Continent completed. Love this game!
|Brave New World!|
|Dating in Hyrule is super easy!|
|I like to pretend this guy is the Evil Magician from story in the Instruction Manual|
I totally get it. I can totally see the charm of this game. It truly is a Double Dragon RPG and once you understand how to progress against the bosses and how to grind for money, it’s a lot of fun. However, it is also EXTREMELY short. Knowing what I know now, I’m willing to bet I could beat it in under 2 hours. Buy Dragon Feet, grind while spamming DF to amass enough money to buy the army boots and boost kick stat, beat all bosses, THE END. But I now completely understand the charm of the game and why so many people like it.
Even though it took me 3 hours to really get a feel for what’s going on, I’m going to cut that in half and say that you can get over the learning curve in this game in 1.5 hours. I feel it would take the uninitiated that long to get used to the way the combat works, grind their way up to a level of competency, and get a feel for how to best use trips to the mall. Just make sure you read the instruction manual first. Once you get over the learning curve, this game won’t take long to beat.
(Editor's Note: As a mini-proof, I was able to beat all of the bosses and the game in about 10 minutes while taking screenshots for this article, so add about an hour of grinding, and I think it's an easy beat)
Will I Finish It?
Already did. Will I play it again? Most definitely. I can easily see River City Ransom being a fun afternoon’s diversion in much the same way I play through something like Castlevania or Legend of Zelda. Great game. Although I will say it’s worth finishing in a single sitting because it has a ridiculously long password for saving your game…
|And this password doesn't even include the ridiculous punctuation some of the letters have!|