Genre: Beat ’em Up
Year: 1989
Developed by: Technōs Japan
Published by: Technōs
Platforms: NES, Game Boy Advance, Super CD-ROM
Feeling Like: BARF!

The NES hasn’t aged well. While many hold a fond reverence for the console that pulled the video game industry out of a death hole that was 1983, the dated graphics and punishing difficult have failed to capture a new audience. I mean, choosing between new games and something made nearly 30 years ago isn’t a difficult choice, you can hardly blame anybody for doing otherwise. “Back in my day! (you may say) Back in MY day, we had games where you couldn’t tell what things were on the screen, and they could be beaten in 20 minutes, or not at all! And we …well, we didn’t like it, but it was all we had!

A few titles in the library have sidestepped the criticism of time. I maintain that the original Contra is the best in the series. You can hardly fault anybody for still loving the first six Mega Man titles. Super Mario Bros. 3 is still considered an all-time classic that can go toe-to-toe with any new 2-D platformer. What do these titles have in common?

I’d argue a few things; a fair difficulty curve (hey, there’s always the Konami Code), memorable songs, simple gameplay and good graphics.

“Good” graphics

Hear me out.

Bad NES games typically will have a ton of crap flying all over the screen. You can’t really tell what’s coming at you. Sometimes the backgrounds blend with the foreground, or the developers only used a few unappealing shades of blech. I can’t humor you with a discussion about palettes, or color combinations but, to quote Mr. Burns, “I’m no art critic, but I know what I hate! And I don’t hate this!” River City Ransom still stands out because of how clean, fun and goofy it is. The above screenshot, to me, still shows a good looking game. It’s easy to discern what everything this, the sprites are huge,there’s a ton of different colors present, the faces on the characters are hilarious and expressive, and it’s clear where you’re going. That all sounds super basic, but in the late 1980s it was the Wild West when it came to video game design. Nobody really knew what the hell was going on…save for Nintendo, seemingly.

To be fair, Nintendo didn’t make River City Ransom….

How it looks isn’t the only reason River City Ransom remains fun, even today. The jovial soundtrack and almost open-world design keeps you interested as you beat up bad guys with your fist, feet and weapons. Co-op play is a highlight, and allowed Steve and I to go through the entire game together. It’s always more fun when you’re grinding up your stats by eating sushi and prawns with a pal by your side.

I’m not sure why defeated enemies will frequently yell “BARF!” and other ridiculous exclamations shown at the bottom of the screen, but it didn’t get old. Modern techniques in this sort of genre, such as double tapping a direction to dash or jumping into a somersault, seem ahead of their time. It feels polished.

Hitting bad guys with garbage cans on a cruise ship? Also ahead of its time.

There are many Beat ’em Ups on the NES, but very few hold a candle to River City Ransom. It’s garnered a bit of a cult following recently, with fan tributesspiritual successors coming out of the woodwork and long dormant sequels emerging. What it boils down is beating up enemies with your friends was great 30 years ago and it’s great today, particularly when the experience is funny, involves exploration, has a great sense of humor and still looks sublime decades later.

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