Of all the games Arc System Works have published on Xbox One from the Double Dragon & Kunio Kun library, this one is the legitimate must-have of them all. While the other games are good and interesting, they are still dated titles that are only really worth checking out for curious fans. River City Ransom though is right up there as one of the best of the best in gaming experiences. When you think about open-world action adventure game epics like Shenmue and Yakuza, these highly immersive games can trace their origins all the way back to 1989’s River City Ransom on NES. Interestingly, this also marks the first time ever the Xbox platform has seen a port of the game.
It’s worthwhile stopping for a moment and looking at the bigger picture with these recent string of beat ‘em up releases by Arc System Works. When you think about River City Ransom and everything that it does, it is truly staggering when you realise that this game was released just two years after the very primitive Renegade. For an 8-bit technology with such severe technical limitations and restrictions, there is just something truly remarkable about how game developers would squeeze the virtual cloth for every drop of pixel just to bring their ambitions to life. Where Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones failed to implement its ideas effectively, River City Ransom manages to achieve all of its little ideas to create an epic experience far greater than the sum of its many, many moving parts.
River City Ransom is an open-world action adventure with some non-traditional RPG elements, and even now it is hard to believe that this was achieved on NES hardware, as not even the then emerging 16-bit powerhouses offered anything even close to its ambitions. Perhaps the most modern interpretation of this classic can be found in the WayForward-developed River City Girls, which really was one of the best releases of 2019. The reason why that game turned out as great as it did was because it had all of the basics and foundations already set by its 1989 predecessor.
River City Ransom takes place in a town where literally everyone is out to brawl with each other; it’s an endless gang warfare among residents, with no military intervention in sight. The game world is rich and detailed by any gaming standards, with locations including the typical schools, parks, and strip malls. At nearly every turn there are mean foes to battle, and the fighting never lets up. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the combat is just so much fun, mostly thanks to combo attacks and the many weapon pickups such as sticks, chains, and the trusty old brass knuckles. This game is anarchy at its finest.
Beating up foes allows you to pick up their change, which is where the surprisingly rich shop system of River City Ransom comes in, letting players purchase a variety of goods and groceries that tend to grant RPG-like upgrades to the character. As an open world, it’s about navigating through the many enemies to snuff out foes of interest. It’s never quite clear how the story and game progresses, but a large part of the fun is exploring and discovering things for yourself.
If Renegade was the proverbial protoype of the Kunio Kun series, then River City Ransom was the point where the franchise had hit its stride, especially the visual style which has now become instantly recognisable and iconic. This game is pixel for pixel ingeniously crafted, crammed full of addictive gameplay and has a game world that is fun to explore and figure out on your own.
River City Ransom on Xbox One is one of those games where it is still hard to believe that it’s from the primitive ‘80s era of gaming. While parts of it have understandably become a little dated, as a whole when you consider the game design, art, gameplay, and overall scope of its ambition and execution, this still manages to feel fresh and modern in any gaming era. For Xbox fans, this is their long overdue foray into the fist-crazy world of River City.