River City Ransom falls into that category of “cult classic” Nintendo games that people remember more fondly long after its release than when it came out in the U.S. in 1990. I was neither internet savvy nor the fan of Japanese food and entertainment then that I am now, so I had no way of knowing it was a localized (i.e. converted to an American audience) version of a game called Downtown Nekketsu Story. Localization can be as simple as changing the text in the game from Japanese to English (adapting for cultural differences along the way) or as complex as completely redrawing the character sprites (Doki Doki Panic becoming Super Mario Bros. 2). River City Ransom had a little from both column A and column B, but to the young and impatient kid I was at the time those facts didn’t even exist – nor did this game! I played it a couple of times while visiting friends, quickly concluded it was a bad knockoff of Double Dragon, and since the only Nintendo games I ever got to use were when I rented a console and titles it got NO PLAY.
In the almost quarter century of time that has gone by I’ve developed a greater appreciation of what Ransom had to offer – first through emulation and then through retro game collecting. That being said it’s still not one of my favorite titles. It’s not one I go busting out when I turn on the Nintendo and flip through a pile of cartridges. I think this is one of the few major differences I have with my man Mega Ran. Most of the games he raps about or raps over I am equally affectionate about for one reason or another, but when it comes to River City Ransom we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Actually it may be that even Ran found this project harder to get into than he first anticipated, as his album page on Bandcamp notes that he started work on it in 2009, and didn’t actually finish it until 2012 because “things got a little crazy for me.” Maybe he just didn’t find it as inspiring as Mega Man games. I know I don’t.
“Now I’m all alone in the world
A friggin wreck over a girl (damn!)
Guess I got played like a fool
And even worse I gotta go to school
And face their accusing eyes
Maybe ell confusing lies
Perhaps I should hop on her Facebook
and maybe start abusing the guy
Report all his pictures as spam
Yeah that’ll get him into a jam
Send the dude a bunch a malware
and hope it some how it gets to his RAM
Or switch up his Mac’s IP So he can’t get online properly
I’m on her page and what do I see?
Nothing – she already blocked me (damn!)” – “The Dump”
As it turns out “River City Ransom” gives me a better appreciation for the game than the game itself. I couldn’t to this day tell you anything about ‘Park Beach’, but Ran’s rap over it above is a humorous albeit sad story about a guy getting kicked to the curb by his high school girl. The follow-up “A Letter to the Boss” set to the ‘Shopping’ theme is even more witty. It warns video game antagonists that kidnapping women is not the way to go – a message that Bowswer never seems to heed (nor for that matter the Ice King). Given the short number of tracks there’s not much time or opportunity to enlist Ran’s friends for contributions, but Pennywise and RoQy TyRaiD do get their shine on “3 O’Clock High” rapping to the ‘Opening’ theme.
Ran definitely sticks to the U.S. high school theme of the localized game, as do the guests on the aforementioned track. That also gives me extra respect for “River City Ransom” above and beyond the game the 8-bit raps are rhymed over – topics like “Bully” and “Sock Hop” are right in the wheelhouse for an album of high school raps with or without a video game that mirrors that setting. Even though the beats are retro, the themes are something any listener could relate to. Digital downloads of the album come with even more pleasant surprises – an original “In River City” track that gives the chiptunes a heavy boom bap and raps from MC Type, Phillip Morris and Toussaint Morrison along with a sequel to “3 O’Clock High” featuring Gary Samurai and Levi the JEDI. It’s fair to say I enjoy this album more than the game, but I give Ran his props – it makes me want to give River City another chance.