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River City Ransom (ダウンタウン熱血物語 Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari?, lit. "Tale of Downtown Nekketsu"), later released as Street Gangs in the PAL regions, is an open world action role-playing beat 'em up video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was developed by Technōs Japan and originally released in Japan on April 25, 1989. It is the third game in Technōs' Kunio-kun series released for the console, preceded by Renegade and Super Dodge Ball. Like its predecessors, River City Ransom underwent great changes in its storyline and graphical presentation during its localization in order to make the game more palatable in the Western market. It was one of the first console games published by North American subsidiary American Technos.

Remakes of the game have been released for the Sharp X68000, PC Engine Super CD-ROM² and Game Boy Advance. The NES version was re-released for the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console in 2007 as well as the Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console in October 2015. It was also released on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console in the PAL Regions in July 25, 2013 and in North America in November 14, 2013. It was released again on the Nintendo Switch Online Service on its launch day, September 18, 2018.

Plot

The plot follows high school students Alex and Ryan as they cross River City in an attempt to reach River City High and rescue Ryan's girlfriend Cyndi from the clutches of a villain called "Slick". Along the way, they battle with gangs of students (with names such as "The Generic Dudes", "The Frat Guys", "The Jocks" or "The Squids") and several gang leaders which act as bosses or sub-bosses.

Gameplay

River City Ransom is a beat 'em up game with action role-playing elements. The game is non-linear, allowing players to explore an open world in a sandbox manner. The fighting style is very similar to Double Dragon, in that the player can move freely around the screen while pressing buttons to punch, kick or jump. Objects such as brass knuckles, steel pipes and trashcans can be used as melee weapons or thrown at enemies. However, the characters' effectiveness in battle is determined by several statistics and their knowledge of fighting techniques, such as Grand Slam, Stone Hands and Dragon Feet, which are purchased as books in shops throughout the city using funds recovered from defeated gang members. This loot may also be spent on various food items and spa treatments which serve to not only revitalize the player's stats, but may also permanently increase attributes like "Punch" and "Kick" (foods and items offer varying levels of improvement).

The player can input passwords that keep track of their character's stats, skills, possessions, money and defeated bosses. There are a total of nine gangs in the original NES version (which are distinguished by the color of their t-shirts) whom the player will encounter during the course of the game, each with their own characteristics and attacking patterns.

Development

River City Ransom is an English localization of the video game Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, which is the third title starring Technōs Japan's mascot character Kunio, who previously appeared in Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun and Nekketsu Kōkō Dodgeball Bu (the Japanese versions of Renegade and Super Dodge Ball, respectively). This is the first game in the series where Kunio teams up with his rival Riki, who fought against Kunio in the previous games. The gangs the players fight in the Famicom version are all students from different high schools and many of the characters introduced in this game would reappear in subsequent Kunio-kun games (particularly those that were directed by Sekimoto and Yoshida).

In addition to anglicizing all of the characters' and locations' names, as well as the game's dialog in the English translation, the characters' sprites were also redrawn, replacing their Japanese school uniforms with t-shirts and jeans.

The number of difficulty settings was reduced from three to two (the easiest difficulty setting was removed and the Medium setting in the Famicom version became the Novice setting in the NES version) and an alternate 2-player mode (2P Play B) which disables player-against-player damage was removed too. In addition to a Password feature, the Japanese version also features support for the Turbo File, a peripheral released only in Japan that allows the player to save and load game data.

River City Ransom was the first console game localized by Technōs Japan's U.S. subsidiary, American Technos Inc. Although most of Technōs Japan's previous games (such as Renegade and Double Dragon) were released in North America as well, they were licensed out to other publishers. The second and final NES game released by American Technos was Crash 'n the Boys: Street Challenge, which was also a Kunio-kun game.

Ports

X68000

Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari was ported to the Sharp X68000, a Japanese computer platform and released in April 1990. This version of the game, which was developed by SPS and published by Sharp, features several enhancements to the Famicom original, such as displaying three enemy characters onscreen instead of just two, slightly more colorful graphics, an expanded game world and new items and special techniques for the player (including some that were only used by certain enemy characters in the Famicom version, such as the headbutt and the whirlwind kick). The new locations include several new shops (such as a dojo) and the schools of each enemy gang, each featuring two new bosses. In addition to the player's regular stats, the player also has individual stats for all the special techniques their character has acquired. The more frequently a special move is used to finish off enemies, the stronger that particular move becomes. Unlike the Famicom version, the X68000 does not feature adjustable difficulty settings. The player can save and load their progress in one of ten save files provided by the game itself.

PC Engine CD

The PC Engine Super CD-ROM² version of Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, released on December 24, 1993, was published by Naxat Soft and developed by KID, the same team that did the PC Engine versions of Nekketsu Kōkō Dodgeball Bu (Super Dodge Ball), Double Dragon II: The Revenge and Downtown Nekketsu Kōshinkyoku. This version features enhanced graphics, an arranged redbook soundtrack and fully voiced characters, with the voices of Kunio and Riki performed by Ryō Horikawa and Nobutoshi Canna, respectively. The player's progress is saved in this version on the PC Engine's backup memory. The rest of the game is almost identical to the Famicom version.

Game Boy Advance

A Game Boy Advance version of the game, titled River City Ransom EX (ダウンタウン熱血物語EX Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari EX?) was released in Japan on March 5, 2004 and in North America on May 26, 2004. This remake was developed by Million and published by Atlus. The most notable change from the original version is the loss of a true cooperative mode. Instead, the game can be played with an AI-controlled partner and players may exchange the data of their own characters to fight alongside each other. The GBA version also includes a vast number of configurable options that can adjust game play on the fly, such as changing AI behavior, the number of enemies in one map area and shop item reshuffling frequency. The password system is replaced by battery backup, which allows saving up to 12 characters. Characters' appearances, keystrokes for learned techniques, even enemy characters can be customized and saved using secret shop items. A saved game does not store story progress or reputation, but it does store the player's statistics, techniques, current items and money, player's name and customized appearances. The player can gain additional computer-controlled allies and form a "posse" who helps the player on his adventure. Some of these boss characters are from the original NES version, while others are taken from later Downtown Nekketsu games. The player can be accompanied by up to three AI-controlled partners.

Wii

The original NES version of River City Ransom was re-released on the Wii's Virtual Console service in Japan on October 23, 2007, in PAL regions on February 21, 2008 and in North America on April 21, 2008. The western NES titles, graphics and storylines for the latter two releases were left intact.

Nintendo 3DS

The original NES version of River City Ransom was also released on the 3DS Virtual Console available through the 3DS eShop in Japan on November 28, 2012, PAL region on July 25, 2013 and North America on November 14, 2013. Like other 3DS Virtual Console games, the user is able to create a restore point in the game. It also features a two player mode via download play. Only one person needs to own a copy of the game in order to play and restore points are disabled during two player mode.

Wii U

The NES version was released for a third time on the Virtual Console in 2015 for the Wii U platform.

Nintendo Switch

The original NES version of River City Ransom was also released on the NES emulator available through the Nintendo Switch monthly service. Made available worldwide September 18, 2018, it features HD graphics and the ability to create savestates.

Reception

The Japanese version, Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, was considered highly successful and would be followed by several spinoffs (including seven subsequent Famicom installments) until Technōs Japan's closure in 1996. Of these seven games, Downtown Special: Kunio-kun no Jidaigeki da yo Zen'in Shūgō! features the same gameplay system as Monogatari, with the main difference being that the characters are re-enacting a jidaigeki play.

Outside Japan, River City Ransom was not highly successful when initially released. However, due to its unique gameplay and sense of humor, it is today considered a cult classic. This cult following, combined with the game's character and humor, inspired parallel works.

It initially received mixed reviews upon release. Japanese magazine Famitsu reviewed the game under its original Japanese title of Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari and gave it a generally positive review, stating that it is a fighting game which skillfully incorporates RPG elements, scoring it 28 out of 40. French magazine Player One reviewed the game under its European localized title of Street Gangs and gave it a highly positive review, concluding that it is not to be missed and scoring it 93%. UK television programme GamesMaster generally panned Street Gangs, with one reviewer saying he "would rather sit in a vat of horse manure than play this game, give it to your worst enemies", with an overall score of 32%.

Retrospective reviews have been very positive. IGN said the "fighting mechanics are exceptionally achieved" and "the RPG-esque elements" give it "a ton of depth and replayability". They concluded that it is "a classic, cult-followed, NES brawler that's still as deep and engaging as it was in the 8-bit era", scoring it 9 out of 10. Thunderbolt scored it 10 out of 10, concluding that the "RPG elements, non-linear style of gameplay and highly fun multiplayer all set this game on a pedestal above all other fighting games in recent (and not so recent) memory."

In 2012, GamesRadar ranked it the seventh best NES game ever made. The staff felt that it was more memorable than Ghosts 'n Goblins, Legend of Kage and Double Dragon and is still influential. In 2014, GamesRadar ranked it the eleventh best NES game of all time.

Legacy

In 1994, a prequel was released for the Super NES titled Shin Nekketsu Kōha: Kunio-tachi no Banka.

In 2002, an aspiring game designer, tester for Atari and longtime fan of the game obtained the title's trademark and began work on a sequel aptly titled River City Ransom 2. The project was halted when it was announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2003 that River City Ransom EX was to be released the following year. However, a true sequel to the game was announced on March 18, 2011. Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari 2 (ダウンタウン熱血物語2?) was developed by Miracle Kidz for a Japanese release on WiiWare in 2011. An online PC version was due out in 2012. On October 22, 2012; however, the game was put on hold due to an announcement that the developers were freezing development to focus on making completely original games.

On April 22, 2013, the Canadian independent developer, Conatus Creative, announced development on an officially licensed follow-up game, named River City Ransom: Underground, scheduled for Windows in August 2014. On September 9, 2013, Conatus Creative launched a campaign on the crowdfunding site, Kickstarter, seeking CA$180,000 in funding for the game. On October 6, 2013, they successfully reached their funding goal. The campaign ended on October 9, 2013, having collected $217,643, approximately 120% of the original goal. After years of development and negotiations with Arc System Works (which, as Technōs Japan's parent company, currently own the rights for the Kunio-kun franchise), the game was released on Steam for Windows, OS X and Linux on February 27, 2017.

River City: Tokyo Rumble was released for the Nintendo 3DS on August 8, 2013 in Japan, December 29, 2015 in Korea and September 27, 2016 in the United States.

External links

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