River City Ransom EX is a remake of the original
River City Ransom, which was released for the NES
way back in 1989. The charm of the original River City was its trademark visual style and humor, straight-forward
yet addictive Double Dragon-esque gameplay, and RPG-inspired character building, all of which led to a strong cult following.
With EX, publisher Atlus and developer Million (previously known as Technos) deliver an old school action-packed
side-scroller with RPG elements to the Game Boy Advance.
The story for River City Ransom is simple: the player controls either Alex or Ryan, two high-schoolers who are on a mission
to rescue Ryan's girlfriend, Cydni, and their classmates from River City's premiere gang leader, Slick. It's not much, just enough to force these
two brawlers to the streets to beat up some bad guys! The GBA remake features a few slight enhancements from the NES
version, including a new Dynamic Story mode which lets the player make certain decisions to control the flow
of the story. Two player cooperative mode is also available with the help of a link cable, as well as 2 player battle mode where
two players can battle their customized characters to the pixelated death.
The fun and addictive combat of the first River City Ransom was what made the title so endearing. Controls for the GBA
remake have not been altered from the original. The player has one button to punch and one button to kick. These same two buttons
allow players to jump when pressed simultaneously, block when pressed in response to an enemy attack, and will pick up weapons or bodies from the
ground. Many different weapons are available including sticks, garbage cans, ladders, chains, brass knuckles, and rocks. When carrying a weapon, players can attack with the
punch button, and the kick button will send the weapon flying towards an enemy. If that wasn't enough, combat in EX has also been enhanced
to include a larger array of punch and kick animations, longer combo attacks, and the ability to charge up to do stronger attacks like
rising uppercuts and jump kicks.
The majority of River City Ransom EX takes place in gang land as the player wanders around, chucking rocks at gangsters and generally
being a nuisance. Occasionally, the player will come across a strip mall where they can spend their
hard-earned gansta-fightin' cash. Items can be purchased to increase a character's stats, which include things like punch, kick, defense,
speed, and vitality, while others enable a character to learn new attack techniques.
During the course of River City Ransom EX the player can start their own gang by recruiting a maximum of three allies. New gang members
can be recruited if the main character's reputation, a hidden stat, is high enough.
Actions that will raise a character's reputation include beating a boss, making an ally, and taking hits from enemies. Hitting
a boss before they finish talking, hitting or killing an ally, or hitting an enemy while they are on the ground will lower your reputation.
Some characters have specific requirements needed to recruit them in addition to a high reputation, such as speaking to certain NPCs or
having another character already recruited.
The graphics for River City Ransom EX have been updated since its NES release. Background and character animations are more colorful
and detailed, and shading effects add a greater sense of depth to the characters and their environment. There is also a wider array of attack
animations corresponding to the new techniques that are available. Also new to EX, the appearance of
the main character can be customized by using a special item which is available after first completion of the game. Admittedly the graphics
don't look spectacular when compared to other GBA titles like Sword of
Mana, but they are an improvement over the original release.
The music and sound effects are no longer limited by an 8-bit console, but the GBA offers little in the realm of improvement. All the tracks
from the original River City Ransom are present, but with an improved sound quality and more instrument layers. The main theme is
catchy, but gets a little old due to its presence through a large portion of the game. Some of the sound effects are satisfying and humorous,
with cracking sounds accompanying a stick to the head and loud smackings when a character runs into a wall.
Will River City Ransom EX appeal to a new generation of RPGamers? If the title stays as true to the original as it appears, it should
definately be a fun addition to any GBA collection. With slapstick inspired combat, quirky graphics, and addictive character building potential,
RCR EX should help while away those lonely summer nights when it's released on May 25.