Review: River City Ransom EX (Game Boy Advance)

Man. Man o’ man. I have been waiting for this game forever. Ever since Atlus had Super Dodge Ball as a launch title for the GBA I have been waiting for this. I’m commented in numerous columns how much I’ve been waiting for the day this game would be out. I’ve giggled like a schoolgirl at the screenshots Altus gave us. It looked perfect. Like I was back playing the NES again.

The original River City Ransom was my favorite NES game of all time. I still own it. I have countless memories about playing it with my friends and having fun chucking them down pits or into rivers. Buying nifty attacks to enhance the beating of my enemies and laughing at the classic dialogue like “BARF!” It was a classic game and I can’t think of a better one out there for the NES. Not Mario. Not Zelda. Not Castlevania. Nothing. RCR was as good as it got for me.

And so finally, FINALLY Atlus agreed to do a release. And even better, they got Tecmos to do it. The original company that produced the classic 8 bit version. Now called Million, this game was assured to be a super seller making every gamer with a GBA stand up and see why Retrogaming rocks, and how good ugly games really are.

But then they decided to “update” the game. And I have to admit, I’m not sure what bothers me more: The fact I was so excited about this game and what I received was a traumatic letdown, or little tweaks made to the game to basically ruin it. Okay, ruin is a strong word. But the changes to the game are certainly for the worse.

Let’s review

1. Story

Well, the story of River City remains untouched. A guy named Slick has taken over the school or River City High with the help of his hoodlums, the Dragon Twins. Now gangs have taken over the entire city, from Cross Town High to River City High and gang warfare rules the streets. Slick has even kidnapped Cyndi, who is the girlfriend of a teenager named Ryan. This of course has prompted revenge from Ryan. At the same time, the only member of River City High to escape the Columbine-esque attack of the Dragon Twins and Slick was a man named Alex. Both Alex and Ryan, although athletic Rivals, decide to team up to take out Slick and the gangs controlling River City once and for all.

It’s a simple story because the only plot that occurs is a beginning cut scene and then Roxy’s massively long tale that you have to hear EVERY TIME you start up the game, which is annoying as all get out. But then River City Ransom never needed more than a shallow plot, because like most Side Scrolling 2D beat ’em ups, it’s all about gameplay.

The story hasn’t changed a lick from the original 8 bit version, but it is nice to point out that bosses can and will come back for revenge. And of course there is the infamous Dialogue, the most beloved of all being “BARF!”

In addition to the classic dialogue, they have some new stuff added like, “BizArf” or “East/West siiiiide.” Million and Atlus even stuck in a character named 6Pac in the game who goes “Suck it!” That should amuse all you wrestling fans out there.

Overall it’s a decent story that was never meant to be a gripping plot or tell a tale that will last for ages. But it has. Not because of the simple plot, but the dialogue. Even with the updates made here, the game still feels like it did so many years ago.

Story Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

It’s a remake of an 8 bit game. The characters all still look as if they were plucked out of an NES cart and shoved into a tiny GBA cart. Although the characters are still blocky, that was the intent. The game is meant to look like it did back when it was fresh and new and original. Nostalgia and all that rot. And it certainly achieves that affect. In fact the only difference to any of the characters are that in RCR EX they are wearing the Japanese outfits that we never saw in the American NES game. For over here Tecmos gave everyone collared shirts and different colored pants.

The backgrounds have changed and take advantage of the graphics power of the GBA. It’s a subtle improvement, but those are the best kinds. After you’ve killed a bunch of gangs member and are walking to the next location, look and see how different the characters are from the background. That’s all I’m saying.

In all, the graphics are heavily outdated, but again, that’s the point. This is not meant to be a game for people that can only enjoy a game if it is pretty. RCR is still fun to look at and play.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

I love the music on this game. It gets stuck in my head and I find myself humming it while at work or in the car. The main RCR theme that plays while you are fighting and traveling through the city is the best bit of music I ever heard on the NES. Sorry Castlevania fans, it’s true.

Sound effects? Well it’s the whoosh or kicking and hitting and that’s it. RCR is a game that keeps things simple. Besides, all you need is the music for the game anyway.

Sound Rating: 9/10

4. Controls

The original RCR had some of the tightest controls on the planet. The update? Not so much. It’s still one button to punch, one button to kick, one button to jump, which is nice. The problem comes with the fact Million increased the amount of skills you can learn for your fighter in addition to the unlimited ways you can customize your character. There were original six main skills: Stone Hands, Dragon Feet, Aero Circus, Fatal Steps, Grand Slam, and Javelin. The new skills are unbalanced at best and aren’t as much fun to Now there are 34 to learn! Ugh.

Why do I say ugh? Because they are unbalanced and because you will only use the A and B buttons in the game for 34 moves in addition to the fact you have 13 moves you can do anyway without learning any new techniques from books, and things get confusing and controls get wanky fast. Because of a few other factor I will touch on later, I just used the skill they gave my character at the beginning of the game (Another change. You used to have to buy EVERYTHING) and only focused on maxing out stats.

It’s sad that one of the big changes they tried to do for RCR EX actually hurt the game in comparison to the original, but it’s also not the only time in the game this happened. Alas. Just remember not to go overboard with techniques, or to ignore them altogether and you will be fine.

Control Rating: 6/10

5. Balance

And here is where the remake sucks donkey balls. The original was perfect. Literally perfect in regards to balance. But now the game is a steaming pile of crap compared to the original and makes me so bloody angry I want to send hate mail to Atlus and Million asking how they could possibly screw the game up!

First off. Inflation has hit River City and everything is way too expensive now. Let’s got back in time to the 8-bit RCR, Let’s say you wanted to buy Aero Circus. It cost you $26.95. Now? THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS. You read that right. Of course you are surely thinking, “Alex, this is okay. Obviously if they have increased the amount things cost, they must have increased how much you get for killing baddies, right?”

……….

WRONG. You’re still netting between 30 cents and a dollar per baddie taken out. On the average I find you have earned 50 cents per thug you make go “BARF.” This little change right here is by far the worst change anyone has done to an update of a video game that I have ever played. So bad to the point where Atlus and Million should be writing apology letters to everyone who bought this game. It doesn’t make the game harder or more of a challenge, I just bought food that maxed out my punch, kick, and weapon and never bothered spending the assloads of cash they wanted for you to buy what is supposed to be the most fun aspect of the game.

And guess what? That’s not the only horrible update they did to the game in terms of balance.

New weapons! Really really long weapons. You have Mr. Links, the bike chain, and now a double length Mr. Links! So long you really can’t get hit once you get one and enemies that have it are cheesing as hell as well. There are ladders and kendo sticks added, all which dwarf the original weapons and just make the game boring because there is no stopping you once you get one asides from someone throwing a rock at the back of your head. Even more patheticness that I really want someone to explain to me why they ruined one of the best games ever by adding this.

Finally, we have a new version of two player mode where you are Alex, and the computer is Ryan. The game is unbalanced here in two major ways. The first is that CPU Ryan can’t die and his stats are all but maxed out. From the beginning of the game. This means cakewalk right?

The other problem is the man can’t aim. When he throws a weapon 7 times out of ten it will hit you, and because his stats are maxed out, you will either die at the beginning of the game, or just lose a lot of health. And remember health restoration costs MONEY in this game! Even if you go to AI controls that the game supposedly has and turn Ryan’s ability to use weapons off, HE STILL WILL. And he will continue to miss bad guys and chuck brass knuckles into your groin! Don’t believe a word of the manual or the in game crap about being able to set Ryan’s AI. There is no change whatever you do and two player mode is practically worthless thanks to the double whammy of having a god character who might as well be blind and retarded fighting alongside you.

The worst balance I have ever seen in a game since writing for 411, and I have never been angrier at a game company for ruining a classic title like I am right now. For these aspects alone in this category, run and get an old NES copy over the RCR EX remake. Because these guys don’t deserve your money for all the crap they’ve done to drag RCR’s wonderful name through the mud like this.

Balance Rating: 1/10

6. Replayability

Two things made me basically forsake all other NES games save for TMNT the Arcade game and Castlevania 3 for this one: The total and utter customization of your character. RCR could easily be considered an action RPG due to the nature of the game. You collect money from fallen foes like experience, and uses that money to increase stats by buying food or books. Very nice. In terms of customization, no game on the NES, SMS, SNES, TG-16, or Genesis even came close to what you could do in RCR. Hell even playing the remake, it is far and away beyond what we normally find in games today. The fact you can do a countless number of things to improve your character makes you want to come back for more.

The other option is 2 player mode. Although harder to do with the GBA since both people will need a copy of the same cart, playing RCR with a friend is one of the most fun multiplayer games all of time, not just for the teamwork aspect, but because you could beat the crap out of each other, chuck each other into water or down bottomless pits. A lot of fun.

Of course if you don’t have another friend with the game …you can always play some more with the computer controlled character. Ick.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

7.Originality

It’s a remake of one of the most original games ever. RCR deserves its cult status and deserved a better, more authentic remake that this that merely looks like the original but has the insides of a rotting putrid corpse. Still, it’s unlike most anything newer gamers have ever played, and will remind people that the original was a decade ahead of its time.

Originality Rating: 6/10

8. Appeal

One of the most beloved and greatest video games ever, right? Sadly I can see the gameplay and balance issues of the GBA remake making gamers new to this classic question why the original was so great, and even long time gamers like myself wondering we weren’t just seeing the past through rose tinted classics.

However, I can also see a lot of gamers not getting the timeless appeal of RCR. The hilarious dialogue, the wonderful 2D beat em up aspects, and the fact it blends an RPG and a Beat Em Up together almost flawlessly. And this remake rather spits on the flawless fusion of the two styles of gaming and made it more into a patchwork quilt where the two almost seem at odds with each other.

God I’m torn here. Everyone can love and appreciate the original 8 bit version, but this remake has so many things against it, from the balance issues to the fact my beloved Atlus just doesn’t market over here like they do in Japan, to the fact the game will put off even hardcore RCR fanatics like myself that all I can think of is to say that RCR EX is going to create some interesting discussions in regards to updating vs leaving things alone.

I think a decent amount of gamers will enjoy the game, but for everyone that does, another gamer will scratch his head and wonder why made the original so appealing and beloved.
Appeal Rating: 5/10

9. Addictiveness

When you get into the game, you really get into the game. But it’s not so much as getting addicted as it is wanting to prove yourself to the game. You WANT to be able to afford Aero Circus. You want to be able to actually BUY one of the techniques. You’re only 50 dollars away. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you realize it’s 100 or so enemies to go, it adds up. More often than not I couldn’t put the original down. With the remake I just wanted to get enough money to experience once of the special skills, even though to do that took an entire evening when I could have been doing something a lot more fun.

Yes, the game is addicting, but it’s not the good kind of addiction.

Addictiveness: 6/10

10. Miscellaneous

Again, I’m torn. Atlus used to be my favorite company ever. They gave me Megaten for crying out loud. They published Disgaea and Persona and Thousand Arms and Ogre Tactics. But lately, I have been severely disappointed with them. Shining Soul 2’s translation was horrid. They allowed Million to wreck the greatest NES game ever, and I’m ever so thankful I got THQ’s copy of Shining Force GBA because I am hesitant to pick up Atlus’ version.

Some things are totally inexcusable, from the fact when you save a game, you can’t overwrite the original save and then you have to manually delete the first save you had. When you load character data, all you get back is stats and you have to then play the game from the beginning. Every time you have to hear Roxie’s monologue. There are so many petty issues with this game that show that RCR EX was either flawed or they just didn’t bother to playtest the game and get rid of the annoyances that plague this remake. This game will serve to do nothing but annoy the crap out of all but the most loyal of RCR fans, a group I would have placed myself in before playing this remake.

RCR EX is a decent game. It’s an average game who had its length doubled from the original due to the cost to buy new things. It may be enjoyable to some, but to me, this is a classic case where updating a game generally causes more harm then good. If you want a great remake, get Double Dragon or Shining Force GBA. Not this. Certainly not this.

I never thought it was possible to ruin RCR. And in truth, they haven’t ruined it per say. They’ve just made a classic game merely mediocre.

Miscellaneous Rating: 3/10

Short Attention Span Summary
I have been salivating over this game for a year and waiting with anticipation for it to bring me back to the goodness of the original. Instead I’m left feeling hollow, bitter and betrayed. But in the end, it’s not a bad game we are left with, but a fair one. However compared to the classic original game, I can’t help but feel cold to this remake and want to go blow in my old NES and stick in the cart, even if it does involve having to use a password.