The city streets are dangerous, full of fighting, and usually there’s a gal involved

River City Ransom (1990)

You can tell from my pipe cleaner arms that I’m not very well equipped for a fight. If Tyson Fury were to take one look at me, I doubt he’d even give me enough credit to call me a dosser. Then he might put me on my bum in less than a second, and I hardly think I’d come back from the dead like he famously did in the fight against Wilder.

But, and this might only be a British and Irish thing, when you’ve had a skinful of drink and get into a drunken stupor, that’s when the trouble starts. The line becomes very thing, and it’s easy to feel that someone else has wronged you and your fragile ego. It isn’t long before you start getting, as my behavioural psychologist calls it, slit-eyed and shirty.

It happened to me once on exiting a ropey nightclub. Well, only ropey insofar as it was full of goths, but at two quid a drink you couldn’t say no. The missus – and she has a habit of this – started striking up conversations with anyone and everyone she could see, which eventually resulted in her being told to eff off, by a man no less. Well, what could I do? I had to get involved then, hadn’t I? I told the guy that he couldn’t say that, which I thought was gallant enough. But instead of being a white knight, he gave me a right bit of cheek back, telling me, “well, I just did”.

Talk about red to a bull – what happened next, as it usually is when a fight starts, was a lightning quick blur. I started things off with my usual scrapping technique, which is to grab my opponent by the scruff of the neck without any idea about what to do after that.

This is when the commotion started, and also when things threatened to take a turn for the worse – my victim stood up, and I’m not joking you, he had to be one of the tallest guys I’d ever seen. I wasn’t very compos mentis at that point anyway, and when that happens I tend to understand perspective as well as Father Dougal. But this fella was striking.

He wasn’t built like a brick shithouse, luckily enough for me, but my arm was already getting sore just trying to keep him held by the Adam’s apple. And I knew that if I wanted to clump him, I’d have to jump up in the air in order to do it. This represented a problem because, given the amount of drink I’d had, I couldn’t be altogether sure that I’d land on my feet and not my sopping wet arse.

I honestly don’t remember the next few crucial seconds, but I didn’t get a slap in any case. I think I was extricated from the situation pretty quickly before stringbean could do any damage to me, although I later caused even more consternation by pretending to calm down, only to try going for him again.

When that didn’t work, I finally started feeling bad about it all and wanted to go back and shake his hand, at which I was the one being told to eff off. Thankfully, I didn’t kick off at hearing that one, although at least I had defended the missus’ honour. And ultimately, that’s what it was all about.

I know you’ve just read all this and concluded that I’m an ignorant ape, a wannabe hardman, the type of person who shouldn’t be allowed to drink etc etc,  and I’m certainly not proud of being the one to cause aggro on a night out. Yes, well, it’s all well and good saying violence isn’t the answer, but what was I supposed to do? Tell him he wasn’t very nice, or do what the main said and effed off? If you let your missus get talked to like that, then you’re the weakling, and you can’t allow that to happen, can you? That would have made me feel even more guilty.

I’m eager to blame everyone for this non-fight but myself, of course, but I would have to suggest that stretch learns a bit more manners instead. I was happy to try and put manners on him that night, although given that I’ve never even thrown a proper punch in my life I’m not sure if I was the best placed man to do that. I wonder where he is now?

Whether it’s verbals or aggro, if you’re not man enough to stand up for your woman when it counts, then you may find other parties taking diabolical liberties with her, maybe even kidnapping her if you’ve let your guard down. That’s exactly what happens in River City Ransom, one of the quintessential third party games on the NES that offers a lot more charm than a lot of the other dirge out there on that flat grey console.

And at immediate glance, River City Ransom has a lot more going for it than the likes of Bad Street Brawler or Bad Dudes. I know, I know, that’s quite a bold claim. After all, this game doesn’t ask you if you’re a bad enough dude to rescue your girlfriend, which can only ever be a negative point. But some things don’t need to be said, right?

They localised this game as Street Gangs in Europe for some bizarre reason, a name that, though it sounds more sinister, is far too generic. River City Ransom rolls off your tongue way better, especially compared to the original Japanese title Downtown Nekketsu Story. A title which, incidentally, places this game firmly within its own, very Japanese series.

Yes, it all gets completely lost in localisation, but you may recognise the player sprites in River City Ransom as being very similar to those in Nintendo World Cup, or Super Dodge Ball – that’s because those games are also heavily localised versions of games in the Kunio-kun series, a game franchise as Japanese as paper swans and having a bath while standing up.

RCR is a cartoonish brawler, quite a bit less serious than Double Dragon which has a similar premise, but this one is far larger in scope – you can go where you want in this quirky city, and while you won’t run into Abobo, there are RPG elements, dialogue, a killer soundtrack, the lot.

It’s a unique experience alright, and while it’s true that a lot of aspects and dialogue changed while localising River City Ransom, some of the things you’ll see in this game are still bizarre, and quite unlike anything else you’ll see on the NES. For example, there’s a sequence where you’ll visit a “health club”, replete with a sauna that you can avail of – this will make your character less uptight, and moreover it’ll give you a nice, hairy, male 8-bit ass to take to bed with you that night.

My favourite strange occurrence in the game comes after you batter enemies to get some coin out of them. The sprites and looks on their faces are funny enough by themselves, but when you knock them out you see their dialogue at the bottom of the screen, and they seem to always yell “Barf!”.I don’t know if this is just a cry of agony, or if they’re actually vomming before they hit the floor – I imagine I’d have done both if lurch had hit me that night.

It might look all cute and quirky and accessible, but River City Ransom is not an easy game, I’d better mention that. Or at least, it ain’t easy unless you really know what you’re doing. You’ll need to keep on your toes, because you’ll get beaten up and cleaned out in a hurry if you don’t know what you’re doing.

It’s not just a case of swinging punches until you’re the last man standing. Well, it is, but there’s a bit of preparation involved. You can purchase items to improve your stats, which is where those early and much vaunted RPG elements come into play.

But because you won’t know what a single one of the many items even does, let alone what your stats actually mean, you’ll definitely want the use of a guide here, as I’m assuming you won’t have the manual. After all, when you’re out there throwing hands, perhaps with a guy several times your size, you hardly have time to stop and get out the old Marquess of Queensberry rules do you?

Maybe everyone should get into a fight at least once in their lives, just for the unique experience. Although I’m not so sure, since I’ve heard of people dying in literally one punch, which isn’t a fighting record to shout about. So perhaps I’ll edit that slightly and say that everyone should play River City Ransom at least once, just to see what it’s all about, and get a bit of good, clean fun that way. You might not be dedicated enough to see it through to the end, but that’s OK – I’m a fighting expert now, and I can tell you that most fights don’t last more than a minute anyway.

16 July 2021

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