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Retro Game of the Month – River City Ransom (NES)

River City Ransom Box

This month marks the 1990 US release of one of the greatest 8-bit titles ever conceived on the venerable NES.  We’ve got some classic gaming magazine ads to offer for your enjoyment as we celebrate River City Ransom’s twenty-third birthday!

American Technos’ sequel to the mediocre Renegade took everything fun about the beat ‘em-up genre, ratcheted up the already-cartoonish violence to absurd levels, and added in the kind of stat tracking and item collection enjoyed by RPG enthusiasts.  What should have been a mess instead worked like a charm–River City Ransom became a classic of the genre, with its gameplay, humor and design inspiring developers to this day.

That it received an absurd localization on top of an even more absurd storyline doesn’t matter.  The point of River City Ransom isn’t to rescue some princess, it’s to rescue your girlfriend, which isn’t the same thing at all!  They don’t have police in River City, a fact which allows the maniacal student known as “Slick” to take the entire school hostage while his underling gangs throw the rest of the place into disorder.  Slick’s flunkies take over every street, alley, factory, park, construction site, underpass and outhouse they can find leaving the populace cowering behind closed doors or out shopping (Malls being neutral zones in Slick’s grand scheme–no use terrorizing the city if you ruin its economy in the process, I guess).

Having failed to read any of the available literature on being an Evil Overlord, Slick makes two mistakes.  First, he orders the city to comply with his demands but then fails to outline what those demands are, leaving perplexed citizens to wonder if all he wants is a really good Chicago-style pizza or McDonalds to bring back the McRib for an extended period of time.  Second, he underestimates a pair of all-American martial arts masters named Alex and Ryan.  Alex and Ryan aren’t nice guys–they’re a pair of juvenile delinquents who cut class (probably to smoke, hang out at the local arcade, and listen to Motley Crue tapes) and have no problems mercilessly beating everyone they meet for their pocket change.  Like all kidnappers, Slick orders the teenagers to stay home and not interfere despite the fact he’s got Ryan’s girlfriend Cindy held hostage in River City High.  “I guess we better do what he says, otherwise we’ll be in for the fight of our lives!”  Said no video game protagonist ever.

If it’s been too long since you played River City Ransom (and if you spent more than 10 minutes reading this article, it’s been entirely too long), you’re out of excuses.  Dust off your NES, blow out your River City Ransom cartridge, plug in your RCA cables, and visit the sauna.  Because you’re entirely too tense, and the sauna is so relaxing.

While you’re relaxing in your sauna after a hard day of Acro Circus and Stone Hands, check out these vintage magazine ads touting River City Ransom as the game you must play in 1990.  And 2013.

River City Ransom ad.

River City Ransom teaser ad. It's designed this way on purpose.

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