Kickstarter has recently become a haven for video game genres that mainstream publishers just don’t want to touch. Fans are able to fund projects that otherwise may never see the light of day. Games such as Elite Dangerous, Yooka Laylee and Mighty Number 9 are all examples of successful Kickstarters that have been delivered but vary in quality. The latest game to emerge from the crowd-funding oven is the side scrolling beat ’em up River City Ransom: Underground developed by Conatus Creative. Notably the development of River City Ransom: Underground has been overseen by the creator of the original River City Ransom and Double Dragon series Yoshihisa Kishimoto. After three years in development, and some legal wrangling with developer Arc System Works, River City Ransom is back and better than ever.
River City Ransom: Underground is a direct sequel to the original River City Ransom, which was released on the NES back in 1989. The story takes place 25 years after the events that unfolded in the original game. Once again, the streets are being overrun by vicious street gangs and it is up to a new generation of heroes to take back the streets using their fists and feet. Fans and newcomers alike will appreciate the opening section of the game as it plays like an abridged version of the original game whilst teaching players the controls. This is a nice touch and shows that a great deal of thought has been put into the development of the game. The story is the usual fare for a side-scrolling beat ’em up but has some great callbacks and little Easter eggs for series fans. There are some genuinely funny moments in the game with some great in-jokes about geek culture and beat ’em up tropes.
River City Ransom: Underground is an open world scrolling beat ‘em up with role-playing elements. The gameplay involves exploring River City, pummelling the rival gangs, levelling your stats and unlocking new moves. Visiting shops allows you to buy new items and equipment to increase your stats. A number of dojos are also located around River City which enables you to train and buy new special moves, adding to your arsenal of devastating attacks. Initially, there are four characters to choose from each with their own unique set of moves and abilities. A further six characters are unlocked as you progress through the game resulting in a total of 10 playable characters to choose from. Each character has a unique fighting style and a range of moves that would put many 2d fighting games to shame. For example, Paul is a boxer, that resembles a certain Nintendo character, and his attacks are all punches with no kicks. Provie is a break dancer that specialises in kicks whilst Bruno is a Luchador Wrestler specialising in over the top grappling moves like moonsaults, suplexes, and atomic drops. Learning new moves and dishing out punishing combos is a joyous experience. The variety of characters on offer is excellent, encouraging experimentation, adding lots of replayability.
Unlike previous entries in the series, the whole game takes place in one large open world allowing players to seamlessly explore rather than travelling between a series of hub areas. There is also a new day and night cycle, which affects the placement of certain boss characters. Sadly, this mechanic is not explained very well and results in some unnecessary trial and error in order to progress. A new wanted system has also been added to the game. Attacking civilians, police or objects such as parking meters will raise your wanted level resulting in a brawl with the police. Escaping to the nearest hideout or hiding in a bin is the only way to get rid of all the unwanted attention. This can lead to moments of frustration as passers-by can stumble into the middle of a large brawl raising the wanted level needlessly. This is certainly an odd design choice and doesn’t suit the beat ’em up genre.
The game also features online and local cooperative play for up to four players along with an arena mode similar to Guardian Heroes. Teaming up with friends to take back the streets is great fun and each of the characters’ individual move sets compliments each other well. This is a well-designed multiplayer experience and will provide hours of hilarity pummelling the various denizens of River City. Initially, there have been some issues with controller input lag and online latency problems. Thankfully, the latest patches have resolved these issues and Conatus Creative are actively listening to player feedback and patching the game regularly. This is a refreshing approach and shows that the developers actually care about their game.
Visually River City Ransom: Underground is very faithful to the original NES classic. The pixel art style is as charming as ever and has its own unique style. However, on closer inspection, the animation really shines and shows that this is actually a game of the modern age. The fluidity of the combinations and smooth chaining together of individual moves is a joy to behold. Stylish special moves such as fireballs and devastating dragon punches add some nice visual flair to the combat. The excellent animation and smooth transitions combine to create a seamless combat experience not often seen in this genre.
The chiptune soundtrack composed by Rich (Disasterpeace) Vreeland is an interesting mix of nostalgic 8bit themes and modern composition. It is the perfect blend of blood pumping themes combined with slower funk based compositions. The hotel hideout theme is a particular standout and will certainly be making an appearance on many playlists.
River City Ransom: Underground is a challenging game that encourages experimentation and rewards skilful play. The deep combat system and excellent variety of characters provide a level of depth rarely seen in the genre. Unfortunately, the wanted system, minor technical issues combined with the strange day and night mechanics do detract from the overall experience. However, in the pantheon of great side scrolling beat ’em ups, River City Ransom: Underground can easily be considered one of the best.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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