For plenty of people, video games of the 1980s may seem like a simple formula. For instance, they may see gameplay as sticking to a basic form. If it is a platformer, jump and hop your way through the levels until you reach the end. If it is a Beat ‘Em Up, fight through the hordes of enemies until you defeat the final boss. They would also see the narratives as basic as well. For most, they would imagine going on an adventure to rescue a distressed damsel or stop a supervillain’s scheme. However, though some may see such games as simplistic, these early days of video games offered a chance for experimentation as game development grew and found its tropes and mechanics. For instance, The Legend of Zelda proved incredible when it was released in 1986 thanks to its use of an open world space that allowed players to explore instead of locking them on a clear linear path. Dragon Quest, which was released originally in 1986 and then in Western markets in 1989 as Dragon Warrior, was revolutionary by laying down much of the foundation of roleplaying games with elements including major and minor quests along with an experience points system. Another impactful but lesser-known title is the 1989 release River City Ransom, which took the Beat ‘Em Up genre and mixed in a dash of roleplaying games.
Alex and Ryan are a pair of high school students who decide to skip school one day. They have plans for hitting up the mall and all sorts of 1980s antics. However, their plans for a fun and school-free day are shattered when their high school is taken over by a gang of criminals. River City High now finds itself threatened by this gang, while Ryan’s girlfriend Cyndi is being held hostage the gang leader known as Slick. When word of this hits Alex and Ryan, the two friends decide to journey across town, free the school, and rescue Cyndi. However, the journey will not be an easy one. It will be one that forces them to cross paths with all sorts of gangs, such as the Jocks, the Frat Guys, and even the Generic Dudes. Though they are definitely outnumbered by so many gangs and crooks and delinquints, Alex and Ryan are ready to fight their way through them all, with kick, punches, and whatever they can get their hands on.
This particular game for the Nintendo Entertainment System is a fun little title. Its core gameplay is pretty familiar for those who have played Beat ‘Em Up games. Players work their way through the areas of the game, having to fight the various gang members along the way. They battle with kicks and punches, and can also jump to move onto higher ground if need be. Players can also make use of weapons to take on their opponents, from obvious weapons like baseball bats and brass knuckles to ordinary objects like boxes and tires. Also, enemies drop coins when they are defeated. However, that is not the extent of the gameplay. The coins can be spent at stores throughout the game, allowing you to purchase food that can help to regain health or items that help to improve the playable character. In fact, the player has stats which can be increased over time like defense and strength. The player can also learn new, more powerful moves, which will be helpful against the more challenging bosses. As for the level structure, it is not simply the case of moving through one level to the next. Instead, the player explores an open world as they work their way back to River City High. In fact, there is even room for dialogue during the adventure, such as enemies letting out one last quote as they are defeated. This is what is so striking about River City Ransom. Essentially, it is a precursor to modern action games with RPG elements.
In modern video games, a few trends have been appearing in the world of action games. One trend is that of leveling up, that RPG element of gaining experience as the player battles enemies or accomplishes missions. Another is that of the open world map, a wide expanse for the player to explore and journey through at their own pace. Both trends allow an action game player to experience the game at their own pace with their own play style. For instance, the inFAMOUS series offers a wide world to explore along with a Karma system that, depending upon how one plays, affects the sort of powers that they can unlock. The Far Cry franchise has made a turn towards offering plenty of adventures in its open world space, whether within the core missions or through side missions like freeing towns from enemies or gathering key ingredients for an item. These games take the potential from customized stats and open world to offer the player a gaming experience that not only feels more personal to them, but also offers definite replayability. Of course, developments like these have to start somewhere. Someone had to explore the idea of breaking free from the locked character types and level layouts. The seeds for these modern trends were planted before, and River City Ransom is one such title that holds up to prove their power.
Though River City Ransom was originally released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, modern gamers can play the game through the Virtual Console component of the Nintendo WiiU and the Nintendo 3DS.