Single Dragon?! No thanks! I’ll check over in River City..

So decades ago.. in a land not too far from here a young Joshua was totally hooked on the awesomeness that was Double Dragon.  I often visited the local skating rink just because they had a copy of the arcade classic to which I would offer my last week’s lunch and/or break money which I had saved so that I could get some arcade action. Billy and Jimmy Lee (the main characters of the game) were the absolute epitomes of cool.

“Insane, violent street gang steals my girlfriend?  Obviously I will kung-fu my way through every last one of them to save her!”  They also have that 80’s and 90’s ‘tude just dripping from their sweet blue and red jumpsuits.

In comes the Nintendo Entertainment System and home gaming.  I had to wait a few years before my parents actually graced our  home with this beautiful bit of miracle but boy did we enjoy it.  I mowed yards and chopped wood and every other chore and odd job I could think of in order to hasten the process of growing my fledgling game collection.  The classics were an easy pick but others I feel were fortunate accidents, as game reviews were pretty much non-existent and the only magazine that really carried information was biased to say the least.  After exhausting every way one could play the original Legend of Zelda including a “no-sword” run before that was even “a thing” and dropping King Koopa into the lava pool more times than I could remember I heard the whisperings of Double Dragon being ported to the NES.  Could it be so?  Sadly, while this was so it was not the same game at all.  After a single rental from my local game rental store – which doubled as a gas station, mind you – I realized that the dreams were in fact too good to be true.  Single player?  How could this be?  One of the coolest aspects of Double Dragon was the fact that it was DOUBLE Dragon.  Two players!  Simultaneously!  How could they get that wrong?  And what was this disastrous “level-up” system.  Now let me take a moment to explain that years later, looking back at it the NES version of Double Dragon is actually rather interesting.  It presents some pretty unique and special qualities for its time and delves into that experimental realm that really only Nintendo games tend to do.  For my almost-teenaged heart, however, this was not sitting well.  I needed a 2-player simultaneous kung-fu filled, girlfriend-saving, high-school-gang-stomping romp!


Sure.. great last words, Barry.

I found this little gem with little hope, but it looked fun and touted some interesting “bonuses” in comparison to Double Dragon.  It was titled River City Ransom, and honestly I don’t think I ever shopped for games the same way ever again after playing it.  The game was pretty poorly marketed, had a pretty cheesy cover and the back packaging game images really didn’t give the buyer much idea of what they were getting into.  It was obviously something like my beloved Double Dragon, though, so I gave it a try.  My friend and I began our journey as Alex and his brother Ryan, setting out across River City to save Alex’s girlfriend from the evil gang leader, Slick.  On their way they will defeat the various gang-members ranging from lackeys to mini-boss sub-commanders, all of which drop their “lunch money” upon defeat.  This money must be collected so that the brothers can “power-up” by eating all kinds of food that the town has to offer, each bestowing increased stats, refilling health or giving other strange benefits.  There are also books to read, some of which teach new techniques as well as shoes that increase speed and kicking power – obviously.


Alex seems to be really happy with his meal.  Certainly he will be fueled up for miscreant punishing now.

While the game is probably just in general better than Double Dragon if only in variety, the enemies are a bit less varied.  As mentioned there are the basic low-level gang members, the mid-level commanders and of course the final boss.  With only three exceptions, the only variation the player sees on the basic opponent is whether they are armed with a weapon.  There are several of these:  sticks, pipes, tires, garbage cans, rocks, brass knuckles and chains.  While there isn’t an incredible amount of enemy variety, it seems pretty forgiving as there is little need to grind any ridiculous amount unless the player really wants to save up for a special technique to try out, as those can be rather pricey.  For the most part enough money is collected in a pretty straightforward playthrough to power-up enough to take on all of the bosses and save Alex’s girlfriend without the need for too much senseless violence.  It’s okay if you wanna commit a little senseless violence against the evil gang, though, they respawn.  No permanently hurt feelings here.  Plus the enemies “talk” to the player in a text box at the bottom of the screen.  Most of it is nonsense and goading but occasionally the mini-boss commanders actually give out information that is useful, so keep a watch for that!

Some give useful information.. some just banter playfully.. it’s a real mixed bag in River City!

I cannot talk about River City Ransom without going into two little details that I found extremely weird, funny and endearing back then and really still do now.  First, when Alex and Ryan get food or drinks in the restaurants… they eat the food/drink container and all.  It was probably done to save the trouble of doing eating and drinking animations for different food items at the time, but I loved it and still do.  It’s just amusing to seem them cram an entire glass of soda or a whole pizza into their mouths by way of apparently unhinge-able jaws.  Hey, they have taken a lot of punches to the face, after all… probably loosens the joints.  The other thing I found pretty amusing was the one shop that sells chicken.. kind of a KFC spin-off.  One of the offerings on the side menu was a “Smile” in which the lady cashier smiles at the player, making him blush.  This may seem simple but I found that to be pretty amazing that they programmers/developers thought to add little touches like that in the game.  There are a few other unique interactions in the game that makes certain places seem more memorable and not just reskinned versions of the previous section of town.


Pink shirts are a hot item in River City.

So much naughtiness to correct.  Alex’s lot is a hard one..


Think a smile can’t brighten someone’s day?  Just think, Alex might not make it to save his girl if it wasn’t for the kind smile of the nice chicken-lady.

So in today’s world of amazing games RCR may not hold most people’s attention for long, but certainly if a chance ever arises I would recommend taking Alex out for a stroll across River City and see what kind of trouble the two of you can get into.  If you have a friend handy bring his brother Ryan along for the full experience.  Oh and stay out of the pits in the construction zone.  I’m pretty sure they are bottomless.  River City is a dangerous place, after all.

Plant Powered Ratings:

Fun: 9/10 Lunch-money coins –  To this day I still can have a pretty fun 30-60 minutes roughing up the trouble-makers of River City and I have finished this game countless times.  Its peculiar uniqueness just makes it timeless to me though I do admit that nostalgia probably colors it a bit rosier than it deserves in my eyes, so I am pulling a point from it for that sake.

Grow Strong. Game On.

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