River City Ransom EX
I have many fond memories of playing the original River City Ransom on the NES back at the turn of the '90s, and jumped at the chance to snag the GBA remake as quickly as possible in the hopes that the game would still be as fun to play now as it was all those years ago. Thankfully, that ended up being the case more often than not, but some small flubs in the remake take some of the joy out of the original, while at the same time, some new additions help to make up for it as much as possible.
The gameplay in RCR EX is best described as side-scrolling fighting with RPG elements sprinkled into the mix, genre mixing for side-scrolling fighting hasn't been done much since this game, and probably wasn't done before, the only other time I can think of it being done to a sizable degree was Final Fight 3 adding super moves in the game, in the style of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, and later, the Alpha/Vs. games. The former offers probably the most robust version of that style of fighting, thanks to the wide variety of attacks at your disposal. While the latter adds some depth that hasnt been seen in any other game in the genre. Being able to build up your stats through all sorts of things (burgers, fries, milkshakes, magic potions, even saunas!) is a blast to actually do, and give the game more life than it would have without them. At the end of the day though, I play the game to beat the holy Hell out of things, so the RPG elements are just the dessert to the main course offered up from the fighting.
Million took some steps with this remake to add more meat to both the fighting and RPG portions, furthering the ability to treat this as an RPG with fighting elements, or as a fighting game with RPG elements. A plethora of new techniques have been thrown into the fighting stuff, with new weapons being added as well. On the RPG side of things, the money system, which is used to buy things to increase your abilities, has been changed to make things more expensive. Ive seen this particular change get a lot of flack from folks, but I rather enjoy this change, as it encourages you to improve your fighting skills to make the most money possible.
As great as the positive changes are, perhaps the biggest change between this version and the original, the exclusion of multiplayer play, is the most disappointing aspect of the game. Most of my memories of the original revolve around playing through the game with my best friend time and time again, something that cant really be done here unless we just alternate between playing every so often. While this is certainly better than nothing, it would have been great to see the co-op play carried over from the original, especially with it being mentioned on the box and all. Luckily, they didnt muck with the controls. Theyre just as responsive and intuitive as ever, and even the new moves are easy to execute, which was the key thing I thought would hold the controls back. Thankfully, that isnt the case.
Million also made some changes to the visuals, on top of the gameplay ones. Most of the changes have been for the better, such as adding much more color to the game, which I thought would harm the visuals. To my glee, they make the world come alive with many more background details, and adding some more emotion to the characters. However, the classic jeans and T-shirt look from the NES original has been omitted in favor of one that puts the characters in Japanese garb. Sure, its just a different set of palette swapping, but its still a rather major change to the visuals, so folks expecting the visuals of the original with a little beefing up should be aware that this wont be the case.
The music and sound effects may have been given a boost in quality from the original, my memorys too hazy in this regard to say with any certainly. Whether they have or havent been boosted, theyre of a pretty high level of quality. The sound effects are clear, and in many cases, rather humorous. The music has a nice rock beat to it, and while it doesnt hold up compared to the genre-favorite Streets of Rage series, it works well given the action in the game, and doesnt hurt the game in any way.
The mood and feel of this game is rather unique, and everything here keeps the game as special now as it was then. Million has made some fantastic additions to the game, on top of the ones Ive already mentioned, that extend the life of the game, and allow you to put a personal touch to the game as you play through it. Even now, the ability to either take your time with the game or plow through it in an hour is appreciated, as it allows you to either savor the little touches, or just get through it quickly in a pseudo-time attack mode. Being able to go at your own pace is something that many games today would benefit from, and is appreciated here, in a modern-day revision of an all-time great. If youve never played the original game, but have heard great things about it, snatch this up, as it should show you what all the fuss is about.
River City Ransom lives up to the hype that has surrounded it for the better part of two decades, and is something that can be played for any length of time and still be fun. It masterfully blends action, humor, and RPG elements seamlessly, allowing you to tackle things in a nearly infinite amount of ways. If this sounds like your cup of tea, get this game post haste. If it doesnt, try picking up the original game. Without a doubt, if you dig the NES classic, you'll fall in love with the handheld edition. Kudos to Million and Atlus for giving folks a legal way of playing this game without having to resort to chanting in order for the cart to work.