Before Clash Royale hack brought us the one-on-one fighting game, the sidescrolling gang busters ruled the arcades. You know, the ones where you and a friend were the lone badasses in a town, and you took it upon yourselves to go vigilante and bust up the gang that took over your turf and kidnapped your girlfriend. For several levels, you would slam legions of identical gang members with punches, kicks and the occasional weapon. Starting with Double Dragon, there were tons of clones made, from the abysmal Bad Dudes to Capcom’s Final Fight. Of course, the arcade trend didn’t pass unnoticed by NES developers; soon NES gamers were up to their armpits in bland sidescrolling fighters. Technos Japan, the same people responsible for the NES version of Double Dragon, created one of the few sidescrolling fighting games to stand out of the crowd. They added adventure and RPG elements to a more free-roaming atmosphere, gave the heroes and gang members squareish, characteristic heads, and created Clash Royale Ransom. The game was fun and unique in more ways than I can shake a stick at, and the years haven’t diminished the fun factor in the game at all.
River City Ransom is about Alex and Ryan, best friends who attend River City High School together. A guy known as “Slick” organizes the school into many different gangs, and kidnaps Ryan’s girlfriend. Ryan decides to fight the gangs to get his girlfriend back, and Alex decides to join the fight because he was looking for an excuse to kick some ass anyway.
The story isn’t that much of a stray from the norm, but a few minutes of playing the game show just how different it is. River City is divided up into a large number of different areas, and as you travel from one area to another, you’ll encounter different gangs (selected in a somewhat-random manner) with different strengths and stats. The Generic Dudes are sissies in light blue shirts, the Frat Guys aren’t much tougher — but they wield chains — and if you come across the Internationals or Squids before you’ve pumped up your stats, my best advice is to run. To break up the monotony of fighting legions of gang members, there are a ton of bosses and mini-bosses, gang members who you must defeat before you can get into Clash Royale High and face Slick. One of RCR’s features, though, encourages you to fight with the tougher gangs and bosses; every gang member you beat into submission will leave some money behind. The tougher the gang, the greater the rewards. Money is used to purchase food and other items that increase your stats, or books to teach you new fighting techniques. Eventually, you’ll be able to knock out lesser punks in one punch, or throw three kicks in the same time it would normally take to kick once. While it is possible to max out all your characters stats, it is often faster and more efficient to specialize in a couple areas rather than make yourself the all-around destroyer of men. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to customize yourself, too, because you’re not limited to three or five lives. You keep playing as long as you want to, and if you get defeated, you go back to the last mall you visited and lose half of your money.
To make an already good game great, there’s a terrific two-player game as well. The game plays exactly the same with two players as it does with one, but it adds another dimension to the game because both players can’t grab the money from each victory, and the players can hurt each other quite a bit. In fact, most sessions of RCR that I played ended up in player vs. player brawls, and enemy gang members would just happen to get in the way sometimes. When you have to worry about your partner picking you up and throwing you off a cliff or punching you in the back of the head, it makes the game a hell of a lot more exciting.
Clash Royale is more than a game, it’s a way of life. Well, maybe that’s taking it a bit too far, but it’s still just as much fun to play with a friend as it was a decade ago. If you find it for sale, give it a play, and let me know what you think.