River City Ransom Review

River City Ransom is a beat ‘em up game developed by Technos Japan and released in 1990 in North America. It’s part of the Kunio-kun series which not only features beat ‘em up games, but also dabbles in the sports genre, as well - with Super Dodge Ball being a personal favourite of mine. River City Ransom escaped me in the early 90s, but I did discover it thanks to the Nesticle emulator, which was introduced to me by my fellow Grade 7 classmates. It’s always a game that I’ve come back to for a few minutes at a time, but put off playing it because I felt I needed to own a physical copy to truly enjoy it. I now realize that this is a silly way to approach gaming and that I should enjoy a game if I have the means. Thanks to being a member of the Nintendo Switch Online service, I have the means to enjoy the game. So, with that being said, let’s take a look at the joys and cons of River City Ransom.

A Fun Beat ‘em Up That Can Be Tricky to Navigate

Your objective here is to fight your way through the streets of River City to confront gang members and save Ryan’s girlfriend. You’ll do this by punching, kicking, and beating up your enemies with a variety of weapons. You can also grab your tag team partner and enjoy the game in its two-player cooperative mode. All of which is pretty standard fare for a beat ‘em up game. The beat ‘em up gameplay is somewhat basic, but it’s fun and it feels good to strike your enemies down, however, the game can be tricky if it’s your first time out.

River City is fairly open, meaning you can pretty much go wherever you want, whenever you want. The problems arise when you visit areas that are seemingly unimportant, but actually hold a critical boss fight that won’t happen unless certain conditions are met. These conditions usually mean finding another boss and beating them. Some bosses won’t appear until you clear all the enemies in the room, so it can be a little tricky to navigate this nonlinear world. You can stumble upon the correct path if you keep playing, and enemies will actually give you tips on where to find key gang members, so it’s not an impossible experience. There is also a couple of moments where platforming is necessary to progress, but this game wasn't meant for platforming. Luckily, you only need to jump on boxes and not over pits, so again, this isn't an impossible game to beat.

Hungry Boys Like to Level Up

What really sets River City Ransom apart from other beat ‘em ups are its RPG elements. Your character has a variety of stats that can be upgraded by eating food. Food is found in shops scattered around River City and is purchased with cash dropped by your enemy. There are a variety of shops each with a fairly sizable number of items to buy, with each item powering up different stats, so It can be overwhelming if you don’t know what to buy. Some items will make your punches stronger, while others will increase your willpower, an important stat that lets you fight back from being knocked unconscious. Luckily, there are resources out there that help you narrow down the items you need to buy to suit your play-style. And you will need to buy items to be able to keep up with the more powerful enemies in the game. Of course, you’ll need cash to buy these items, so there is a bit of grinding to be done, but these sessions are never more than a few minutes at a time. Other than powering up your stats, you can also buy books that give you new techniques which make the brawling a little more bearable.

One thing to keep in mind is that It’s always a good idea to spend your money as you’ll lose half of it when you die, which can halt progress, and is honestly a little annoying. You won’t lose your hard earned stats when you die, so you might as well make it rain.

Humorous Presentation

Perhaps the strongest aspect of River City Ransom is its humorous presentation. I love the character designs here, especially when their eyes bug out of their head when getting beat down. Or when watching them sway back and forth in a daze when trying to recover. There is also a sauna scene that is quite funny (and a bit tantalizing) when you encounter it. Characters will also say funny things when getting beat down, which includes things such as “MAMA” and the iconic “BARF!” This charm also extends to interactions with the many shopkeepers. Whether it be watching the hungry boys scarf down some food, or the cute interaction seen when asking for a free smile. This game isn’t afraid to dial up the cartoonish nature and it stands out for that reason.

Rocking Technos Soundtrack

I sometimes lump a game’s soundtrack in with my thoughts on its overall presentation. Sometimes, a game’s soundtrack deserves to be highlighted, as is the case with River City Ransom. It offers high energy, rock ‘n roll chiptunes featuring that unforgettable Technos Japan sound. Whether you’re pounding your enemy into oblivion, or nodding your head to the delightful rhythm of the shop theme, there is something here most gamers will enjoy. As if a great soundtrack isn’t enough, a famous beat ‘em up theme also makes a surprise appearance.


River City Ransom is a must for fans of the beat ‘em up genre. It may seem a little basic at the outset, but it has some depth with its RPG elements, a fantastic cooperative experience, memorable moments, and a rocking soundtrack. It’s one of the better beat ‘em up games on the NES, not the best, but it’s readily available to members of the Nintendo Switch Online service. So, if you haven’t fought your way through River City yet, it might be worth a look.

Final Score: +3

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