Retro Review: River City Ransom (Wii Virtual Console)

River City Ransom

Quick Version: A fool and his money are soon parted, or so the saying goes. I just dropped five bucks on River City Ransom for the Wii Virtual Console. Foolish? Or near-endless retro fun?

Spoiler: Totally worth it.

Long Version: If you played River City Ransom on the Nintendo Entertainment System, it’s been faithfully recreated here on the Wii’s Virtual Console with one shiny extra: automatic save points. The passcodes used in the NES version of the game stretched into the miles-long zone; I remember as a kid double- and triple-checking that I’d written down the code correctly so I wouldn’t load it up next time only to find that I was off by a single letter or number. Game over, indeed. This time around, your progress is saved automatically when you exit from the game back to the Wii’s main menu.

If you’ve never played River City Ransom, let me be the first to tell you that it’s an old-school game that still offers hours of entertainment today. It’s a side-scrolling fighting game with a really polished and entertaining infusion of RPG elements. That alone makes it far more replayable than standard fighting games.

The premise is pretty straightforward. You play as one of two brothers: Alex or Ryan. Ryan’s girlfriend Cyndi has been kidnapped by cross-town rival “Slick”, who’s somehow managed to convince all of the gangs in River City to stand in your way as you attempt to make it to River City High School in order to save Cyndi.

As for movement and combat, you’ve got the ability to kick, punch, run, and jump. You’ll travel through various neighborhoods, each of them the “turf” belonging to one of the area gangs. The gangs have super intimidating names: The Generic Dudes, The Frat Guys, The Jocks, The Home Boys, The Mob, The Squids, The Internationals, The Cowboys, The Plague. Real scary stuff there, right?

Along the way, you’ll fight mini-bosses and come upon various malls, which act as safe havens and allow you to buy food and other items. These items increase various powers, RPG-style. You can also buy books that teach you new punching and kicking techniques. And how do you make money? Well let’s just say that fighting is your business. Every time you knock out a goon, you take his money. If you get knocked out, you wake up in the last mall you visited to find that half of your money’s been stolen. Such is the never-ending cycle known as the life of a gang member — not that your character’s actually in a gang. He just fights them.

I always make sure to grab “Stone Hands” first, which turns your standard single punch into a quick-and-deadly turbo punch. It’s able to knock most enemies out in a single blow. There’s also Dragon Feet, Acro Circus (for jumping attacks), Fatal Steps (stomp on enemies while they’re on the ground), and more.

While the actual combat could otherwise get a bit repetitive, the ability to up your characters speed, agility, defense, strength, stamina, max power, will power, punch, kick, and weapon points keeps things interesting. You’ll find it more and more fun to go fight bad guys as the game progresses. Plus, you can pick up a veritable cornucopia of weapons in the middle of a brawl: pipes, sticks, chains, brass knuckles, garbage cans, tires — you name it.

All in all, River City Ransom takes the idea of a side-scrolling fighter and adds multiple layers of depth thanks to the infusion of all the various RPG elements. And for five bucks (500 Wii Points), it’ll provide more than enough entertainment for a weekend or two while making it fun to go back a few months later and do it all over again.

River City Ransom [Wii Virtual Console]