River City Ransom is one the best games on the NES. It is scrolling brawler, a genre even at its best has always felt somewhat flat, but River City Ransom combined that with a little bit of a Metroid like open world and some light RPG elements, along with a healthy dose of humor, to create one of the most memorable and endlessly replayable NES games. Thanks to consistently inconsistent localization choices, the greater series that River City Ransom was part of never really became a thing and it largely disappeared from western shores after the NES faded until a recent resurgence on the DS and 3DS.
That resurgence has been both welcome and somewhat disappointing. Last year gave us River City: Tokyo Rumble, which I enjoyed. However, it was more like Ransom’s predecessor Renegade than the game it gets its title from. It was fun, but it was not that River City Ransom experience that I was craving. Earlier this year we got River City: Knights of Justice, which replaced the usual Tokyo setting with a fantasy one, but bafflingly removed many of the rpg elements from the game. I have yet to finish it, but I’ve found it to be a great disappointment. While I was still excited to play the game, I was worried that it be another shadow of the game I really wanted to play. Thankfully, with Rival Showdown they have finally gotten things right.
The game is more of a reimagining of the NES classic, not a simple remake. It takes the same basic set up, that someone has set the ruffians of all the high schools against Kunio and kidnapped Riki’s girlfriend, and turns it into a time limited open world adventure. It takes the original game and adds in a dash of Majora’s Mask as well as some alternate endings, making the replayability of it a central part of the experience.
It starts with a few events to set up the game, then let’s the player loose for the rest of the three days in game to do whatever they want. There is a right path, one that leads to the actual showdown with the guy responsible, there is more than enough stuff to keep the player busy even if they ignore all the main story stuff. On my first path I missed a few plotlines entirely. Most of the events are reimaginings of events from the first game, only played out multiple times with increasing difficulty, like the repeated run ins with Benny & Clyde.
One of my favorite moments in any video game is when my cousin and I first got to the top of the school in the original River City Ransom and faced the Dragon twins. It was a hard fought battle. First, they knocked me down to one sliver of health on my health bar. So I moved away from the fight, taking quick shots and running away. Left fighting a two on one, my cousin didn’t last long. By the time I rushed back in, they had already knocked him out. That left me versus both Dragon twins, that epic Double Dragon music, with almost no health. Somehow, though grit and luck and a small amount of skill, I pulled through. I took out both of them, leaving us free to take on the last boss. It was amazing. River City Rival Showdown gave me a few a of those moments. The best one was when an army of delinquents attacks Kunio’s school and must stand alone to stop them. They don’t stop coming for almost ten real world minutes. It is epic and exhausting. I loved it.
I don’t know that I like Rival Showdown as much as River City Ransom, but for the first time one of its follow ups feels like it attempts to improve on the stuff I liked about River City Ransom. Most of them lose things like the rpg character building stuff or the free roaming elements. That delicate mix is what made the original game work so well and this is the first follow that really captures it.