River City Ransom: Underground Review — A reimagining of the classic franchise

This is part of my One Week in River City series!

I never thought RCR: Underground would actually release.

It was funded through Kickstarter approximately 8 thousand years ago, then faced delays, the rights to the brand changing hands, and other difficulties. But now it’s out on Steam for $20.

It’s very good. It’s not quite the same thing as the classic RCR games, but it is a good new thing.

Also Abobo is in it. If that means something to you, you’ll probably at least like this.

River City Ransom: Underground is a side-scrolling open world 2D brawler for up to four players. It has a colon in its title but no colon in its logo. It’s a direct sequel to the original NES River City Ransom game, to the point where its first few minutes are actually a recreation of the ending of that game to bring you up to speed.

You can pick from a bunch of new characters, or Alex and Ryan, the stars of the original game. Then you run around the city and punch stuff. The story places different objectives around the map you have to go and complete. You upgrade your character by eating foods that you purchase, by buying new moves from dojos, and by leveling up through combat.

The game is hard. It’s harder than the older games, which could annoy some players. The combat is fun, but way more animation heavy and, as a result, a bit less satisfying. The animation fidelity here is incredible, don’t get me wrong. But the extra frames mean that the whole thing feels just a touch slower and more bouncy than the other games in the RCR series.

The move list is way more expansive than in earlier games, and each character has a vastly different moveset, so that’s kind of cool. The physics system from the old game is back, so throwable objects can bounce semi-realistically around the screen and cause damage when they hit enemies…or you.

But again, the whole thing feels a fair bit different than RCR, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that to be honest. Some of the story missions are really annoying, too, requiring precise platforming. In fact, several missions in the middle of the game require you to chase a fleeing character very quickly through an area, catching them before they escape. These can be pretty frustrating unless you’re really proficient with the controls, and I had to repeat a couple of these several times.

River City Ransom is not supposed to be about precise platforming. It’s about running around a city at your leisure, hitting things with satisfying combat, and leveling up. The attempts to expand the combat gameplay turn those mechanics into a mostly fun complex new thing, but the platforming is a huge misstep.

I can’t fault the graphics or sound of this game at all. They’re completely fantastic. It’s clear that presentation was the focus of the game’s lengthy development time. The characters retain the classic art style of RCR, but with way more expression, design, and detail in the animation. It’s like the jump between Street Fighter II and Street Fighter III, if you remember that. Sound is also wonderful, evoking a modern take on NES hardware. I love the presentation of this game, and it’s what carried me through the frustrating jumping bits. It will probably make my best graphics of the year list, should I actually get around to making one this year, hah.

So. Underground has a combat system that builds so much on classic RCR that it almost feels like a different game. It has platforming that’s not good at all. It has a presentation that’s amazing, and even more impressive given the relatively low-budget nature of the game. Is it worth buying? If you’re down for this sort of thing, yes, absolutely. Just be aware of the annoying jumping business you’re about to face before you take the plunge.

Also Abobo is in it. So that part is good.

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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