Also known as: Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari
System: Nintendo Famicom / Nintendo Entertainment System
Developer: Technos Japan
Year: 1989 / 1990
Completed: September 11, 2014 / October 28, 2014
If I had to pick one game as my absolute favorite, this would be a serious contender. When I say we played this game to death, I mean that quite literally: the original cartridge we had growing up will not start unless you work with it for about a half hour, fidgeting the cartridge in the console until the connector lines up perfectly. When it does work, it is gaming bliss.
River City Ransom is a beat ‘em up game from the same company that made Double Dragon, so they are no slouches in that genre. Alex and Ryan are rival students in different high schools; Cross Town High and River City High, respectively. One day, the evil Slick kidnaps Ryan’s girlfriend, Cyndi, and takes control of the minds of students at River City. Hopelessly outnumbered, Ryan is forced to team up with Alex to fight Slick and his gangs. The plot is pretty straightforward and includes a ransom letter detailing Slick’s plan. The problem I have is you can change the names of the protagonists, but the letter does not reflect this. The bosses change their dialogue based on the new names, so the capacity in the game is there. Maybe Slick doesn’t know my name and just calls everyone ‘Alex’ or ‘Ryan,’ hoping he’ll eventually be right. Frankly, I find it rude that he didn’t learn the name of the fist that will cave in his face. That can be hurtful…
Speaking of which, my brothers and I would often change the names to get the characters to say different things. Lines such as, “What’s up, SEXY?,” and “Thanks to GOOD & PLENTY, …” are classics. That second line is from the ending, which means we would play the entire game for one lousy joke. We didn’t care; to us, it was worth it!
On each screen, Alex and Ryan may encounter a different gang where each of its members wears a certain shirt color. Unlike Double Dragon, you can proceed through each screen before defeating everyone in the area, which is a nice touch for a quick playthrough. If you stay to defeat the gang members, they make an awesome ‘bagoo’ sound and drop money, shouting lines like ‘Mamaaaaaa!!,’ ‘Lighten up, Rambo!,’ and everyone’s favorite, ‘BARF!’ I’m sure my brothers tried replicating this on each other using real violence, but we would emit a loud scream of anguish instead of saying bagoo, and we would have to sit on the ugly chair instead of getting money. That’s a lesson for the kiddies out there: only fight people that color coordinate their wardrobe.
Using the money gained through dubious means, you can buy food to refill health and boost certain stats such as Punch and Kick. Alex and Ryan also have the opportunity to pick up a book to permanently learn a new ability; such as Acro Circus, a jumping attack; Javelin Man, the most hilarious ability ever; and Fatal Steps, a way to emulate Super Mario. Again, the lessons here are split: it teaches me to beat people up so I can get a good education, majoring in pain.
As we all know, the best method of education is through application. Once Alex and Ryan power up and do some book-learnin’, they must face the gang leaders. Gang leaders appear on certain screens, where most of them are necessary to complete the game. Some bosses, like Benny and Clyde at the bridge, are superfluous and unnecessary for the final bout, but they drop $3.50 each! That can buy so many Egg Rolls!
Fists and feet are not the only method of attack, though. Gangs will often have weapons like brass knuckles and sticks to help bludgeon Alex and Ryan. My brothers and I would often try to find the Frat Boys, known for carrying chains, to become the lethal Choppa Gang! Standard practice would involve surrounding the gang leader to destroy them with the chains, all whilst yelling, “Choppa choppa choppa!!” This was a pretty solid strategy since a boss attempting to block one attack would end up getting hit in the back by the other. The only one that gave us an issue was Otis, since his back was to the wall. That’s when one Choppa takes care of business while the other is look out. A Choppa looks out for Choppas.
Sometimes, mistakes are made. As great and as often as my brothers would play this game, there was always a huge issue: the game allows friendly fire. This cannot be turned off in the North American version, though the Famicom release allows the player to toggle between the modes. What starts as an accidental hit escalates into retaliation, which in turn creates an all-out brawl with every screen and no progression. This was all pre-Choppa Gang, though, so I believe the gang’s creation ushered in an age of, “Sorry, bro,” when playing. Might also have to do with the fact that our age was a double digit by that point.
As mentioned before, I have a Famicom system. While building up my library, I purchased a few different games from the Kunio-kun series, of which this game is a part (the original names for Alex and Ryan are Kunio and Riki, respectively). I debated getting the Japanese version of this game since I did not know of any game-changing differences. There were some graphical changes, such as traditional school uniforms instead of jeans and a shirt, and some of the prices were different. Oh, yeah, and the dialogue was in Japanese. That should have been obvious. Makes buying a Mondo Burger that much harder.
I ended up caving when I saw it complete-in-box at a reasonable price. As mentioned, I was unable to understand a lick of text, but I was able to go through based on memory. Ultimately, my strategy boiled down to the following bullet points:
-Get a chain
-Fight some dudes
-Beat up Benny and Clyde for a while
-Upgrade to a pipe when the opportunity presents
-Eat Carrot Cake at the café behind the green door late in the game
Luckily, I knew Carrot Cake was the second to last item offered at that café, and the Japanese word for Weapon is ぶき (buki). Games are totally educational! Just remember, kids at home: Carrot cake will not make you more proficient in you weapon skills. On the contrary, it can be a particularly nasty food that should only be used to wash out other less desirable tastes out of your mouth, like the worst chili dog in the world. True story.
I choose to accept it as the magnificent game that it is. I feel that even without the years of nostalgia, the game stands as a gem that not enough people have played. Honestly, speaking with others that grew up in the NES era, I have yet to come across one that played the game at all!
I cannot recommend this game enough.
Choppa 4 lyfe.
Didn’t you read what I said?! There is no real difference between the two versions aside from minor aesthetics, prices, and the fact that all dialogue is in Japanese. Save yourself the shipping costs and buy local.
As an aside, an official sequel is coming out soon. Keep your eyes open for it here!
My arbitrary scored based on nothing is 1 out of 1.