River City Ransom
I’ve gushed about this game before, but it is really hard to stop myself. This game just hits a perfect spot for me. It has just enough complexity to be interesting, but still simple enough to be ever playable. It is a solid advancement of the beat-em-up genre. The usual ‘move right, hit all the things’ gameplay has added a rudimentary level up system. And it works.
The story isn’t anything better than most NES games, your rival has kidnapped your girlfriend, now you must fight your way through his lackey’s to save her. It doesn’t really matter. Where the game excels is in its simple world. There are hints of a lot more going on than the game has room for, with meetings with Simon’s girlfriend Roxy and tons of jabbering from all of the bosses. Then there are the fictional stores, which honestly just charmed me with stuff like free smiles at Merv’s. Plus, the kind of cutesy graphics make the world seem fun.
As far as I’m concerned, River City Ransom is the best co-op game on the NES. Sure, you could play versus in Double Dragon and I’m sure there is a bunch of other games I’m forgetting, but RCR is just perfect. It balances cooperation and competition. You have to work together to really make progress, but you don’t share money or items, so there is a lot in fighting to get a hold of money. Having a good partner really makes the game. Me, I may be the worst partner. I’m not going to attack my ally, but I will steal all the change I can get my hands on. I will leave you getting pounded by a mob of enemies and go get items and money.
Still, once you get a book of special skills, the game really gets going. Getting machine guns punches or kicks is awesome. It makes things that were darn near impossible now kind of easy. That is what makes the game great. There is a level of customization that is not usually present in beat-em-ups. It is great.
The final assault on the high school is one of my favorite gaming levels. You fight your way through the school to reach the roof. Just before the roof, you fight the Dragon twins, who are almost exactly the Double Dragon brothers. It even plays their music. My favorite gaming moment is from there, when my cousin got knocked out early, and it was just me versus these two bosses. They quickly knocked me down to about two bars of health, but somehow I managed to fight my way out, backing into the corner and kicking until I could kick no more. It was amazing. After it the last boss is kind of an anticlimax.
There are a lot of games that could be claimed to distill the essence of 80’s gaming, especially on the NES. River City Ransom may not be the absolute best example, but it is close. It is like the best Karate Kid game possible. And the ending is perfect. I just love this game.