River City Ransom EX Review: I’m reviewing a GBA game!

This story is part of my One Week in River City series.

River City Ransom EX hit the Game Boy Advance in 2004. I never played it back then, but I’ve played it now and I’m reviewing it.

It’s a very different-feeling thing than the original NES game. You can do better if you want to play an RCR game in 2017, but it’s still a cool curiosity that’s worth a look.

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This thing is the cover art they went with. Ugh. It’s…it’s a thing. Just like this game.

As already discussed, River City Ransom is one of the greatest games ever made. It blends exceptional brawler gameplay with humor, bright graphics, and a fun RPG progression system.

River City Ransom EX is a complete remake of the NES classic, and the changes made are extensive. And sometimes bizarre!

The combat system has been beefed up, with new moves, combos, and animations added. However, it still uses the standard two-button control system from the NES game. The two shoulder buttons on the GBA go completely unused, for reasons. The combat gameplay doesn’t feel as tight and polished as the fighting in the original, but it’s still fun once you get the hang of it. It’s a little bit harder to hit things than I would like. It’s caught in this weird middle ground between new and old. The two modern RCR games, Tokyo Rumble and Underground, both do a better job of modernizing RCR’s classic combat.

The design of RCR EX is a delightful mess. All of the powerups are changed from the original, so if you had a go-to combo of foods you liked to buy on the NES, everything here is new and different and you’ll have to re-learn it. It costs a lot more money to buy most of the items in the game, which artificially extends the overall playtime. You start out the game with the Dragon Kick powerup because I don’t know why.

You can’t get a free smile any more. Lame!

However, in an odd move, the game contains a number of user-adjustable options that seem like they were originally made for developer debugging. At the start of the game, you have to pick a bunch of options. You can adjust how many bad guys will appear on screen at once. You can opt to take a computer-controlled ally with you, or not. You can turn friendly fire on or off.

And then it gets nuts.

Once you’re playing, a whole second menu of options opens. You can change the speed of the combat. You can adjust the balance of different attacks. You can turn gravity up or down. It’s crazy. Some of these options are really fun to play around with, and you can change them at any time during the game. I’m not sure why this was included. It’s almost like they were worried you’d be bored with the game so they threw in a bunch of cheat-like options to keep you having fun.

Unlike the mostly-new shops and items, the layout of the world is more or less the same as the original, which lends the game a nice sense of familiarity. Graphics received a light coat of paint over the original sprites, bringing the whole thing up to GBA level, just barely. Animations have a few more frames of animation, and there are several new ones. The color palette is larger. Basic visual designs, locales, and art are faithful to the original. I like the new graphics.

Sound also received some improvements, through the use of digital samples. They didn’t go overboard, and as a result it’s a good-sounding game.

River City Ransom EX is a weird thing. It’s a better-looking, better-sounding, different-feeling game. It’s a bit more loose and squirrelly than the original game. It has a huge debug-style menu where you can really mess with the game.

If we ever get a cool compendium-style re-release of old RCR games, I hope this one is included. Is it the definitive take on River City Rampage? No. That’s probably still the original game. But it’s a fascinating alternate take on that classic, with gameplay that’s maybe 90 percent as fun to control.

Are you looking for an RCR game to play now that’s more modern than the original? Start with Tokyo Rumble, and then Underground. And then, EX would be third. It’s still a fun game. It’s just not the best in the franchise.

Written by

I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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