Sometime in the early 1990s, when it was still a thing to rent Nintendo Entertainment System cartridges from a video store, a friend and I came upon this game, “River City Ransom” which, to our understanding was supposed to be similar to “Double Dragon II”. It was but FAR better. “River City Ransom” is referred to as an “RPG Beat ’em up”. The roll playing bit of it is to power up your character with new abilities and upgrade stats by making purchases using the money you “earn” from the antagonists you beat up.
I started to reassemble all of my vintage tech about a year ago and in that time, I introduced my oldest boy to the colorful, fun-packed wonders of the Nintendo Entertainment System and one of those games was “River City Ransom.” We both had loads of fun. In my idol searching around for information about “River City Ransom”, I learned of the sequels that weren’t released in the US and more importantly, the Sequel to this game on Steam by a Canadian company, Conatus Creative.
I was very excited to see there was a Linux version of this game on Steam and when I saw this promotional video of it, I jumping out of my seat in excitement.
If you notice, toward the end, you will see that delightfully, semi-pompous-looking penguin toward the end that made my heart skip a little with excitement. Up to this moment, there haven’t been any new games ported to Linux of which I was interested.
I now had a real, true and burning reason to install Steam on openSUSE. I had to play this game, so it was time to get on the “Steam Wagon”. Installing it is as straightforward as most anything else on openSUSE. Either do the direct one-click install here:
Or install it through the terminal as it is available in the main repository:
sudo zypper in steam
I think Steam has a very decent interface. There is no need to dig into any help sections to understand how to use it. I did the search, found the game and went through the purchase process.
After purchasing and downloading the game, I realized, I didn’t know anything about Steam gaming in Linux, or any form of gaming that didn’t use the keyboard or analog joystick. I didn’t know anything about “modern” controllers to use in Linux and so forth. That forced me into a mode of doing some research quite rapidly on what controllers would be compatible with Linux and I was impatient, unwilling to order and wait for their arrival. I decided to reduce my options and I went to a local store and looked up each model of controller and the challenges of using them on Linux. There is SO MUCH conflicting information out there… I settled on two wireless, PS3 Rock Candy controllers at about $15 each.
After plugging the wireless dongles in, they weren’t immediately usable and I couldn’t figure out why. They were recognized properly as an input. I could check that all the buttons and joysticks were working from the KDE Plasma System Setting for input devices window. They didn’t have any odd behavior so I went digging through the forums and the settings in hopes of finding the problem.
What it boiled down to was ensuring there was generic controller support in the Steam Settings.
Steam > Settings > Controller
Select, GENERAL CONTROLLER SETTINGS
Just make sure that Generic Gamepad Configuration Support is selected.
After that, everything should work tip-top.
If you look above, you will see that Wii U – Generic Gamepad is the detected controller. After trying a few controllers, I ended up liking the and preferring the Wii U Pro Controller for gaming. It it quite literally the best feeling gamepad controller I have used to date. My fingers comfortably wrap around the controller and it fills my hands quite nicely. Also note, there are several controllers I haven’t yet tried.
Playing on Linux
Had this game not been released for Linux, I probably would not have purchased it but for some fantastic reason the fine developers at Conatus Creative chose to release it on Linux and for that, I am quite grateful.
Some tips on playing this game on Linux. I use KDE Plasma Desktop and I have noticed one little, teeny, tiny issue. If you use Xrender as the Rendering backend, even if you disable it for gameplay, does cause some frame-rate issues. If I use OpenGL for the rendering backend, I have a better, smoother experience. Your results may vary.
I blame the fact that my gaming has basically stagnated and I don’t do much of it that I became unfamiliar with control schemes and much of what I had to do was dig around and piece information together and just become familiar with these newer controllers.
This is a reference for me, mostly as I will likely forget again.
River City Ransom: Underground Default Control Scheme
I had some issues really understanding, while playing, what all these buttons did so I laid it out visually like this.
I would have died a lot less in the beginning had I done this from day one. Once you get used to it, as it is far different to the original Nintendo’s “River City Ransom”, it can become quite natural, even for those raised in the 1980s and 1990s era of gaming.
The premise is simple and could almost be ancient in the ideas of video gaming since, arguably, 1987 when “Double Dragon” was introduced in the arcades and the following year on the Nintendo Entertainment System. You walk around and beat up the bad guys, pick up weapons and use them. In case this style of game play is completely foreign to you, no need to fret, as “River City Ransom Underground” starts off with a kind of tutorial. The Game starts off near the end of the original “River City Ransom”, right before entering River City High School.
Once you complete this portion where you become acquainted with the updated game play, you will jump ahead some years with the option to select your character of choice. Each character has a different fighting style.
What is also quite fun is that you can have four players at once. Admittedly, it can get a little crazy with so many characters on the screen at once, it is also incredibly fun and makes the cartoony violence very, very funny.
Throughout the game, you meet new friends of which you can change to those new found characters. It adds to the many layers of fun in this game.
You also meet up with Alex and Ryan, the characters from the original game but 20 years or so older.
As you progress through the game, your character becomes more capable through eXperience Points (XP), gained from beating up the enemy and powering up by using the money you earn from your fallen opponents for purchases.
The map also helps with navigating and guiding you to your next “mission” in the game. Outside of a few confusing points in the game, perhaps intentionally, the map is a welcome addition over its progenitor.
This is much like an open world type game where you are free to explore as you wish. You can go to an objective to progress the story or work on building up your characters capabilities through XP, purchases from vendors in the malls and gaining new fighting abilities by visiting the dojos.
In order to learn new moves, you have to have sufficient XP to be able to acquire it. Unlike the first “River City Ransom”, there are built in controls to limit how quick you can power up your character.
The limits of your “max” on these stats is driven by your characters XP level. You can buy all the consumables to power up your character but you will hit those limits based on your characters XP level. This will force many hours of beating up rival gangs but it is really quite fun and not tedious at all.
In short, here are what the Stats mean:
ATK – Attack, How much damage you deal with special attacks, not the standard punch and kick but what is considered “special”.
WPN – Weapon, damage inflicted by a strike from a weapon.
THR – Throw, damage from throwing a weapon and presumably throwing an opponent.
AGI – Agility, Effects your character’s stun time (when knocked down, frozen by nerd grenades, etc). Also effects jump attack damage.
DEF – Defense, How much damage you can withstand blocking.
STR – Strength, How much damage you deal hand to hand, punching and kicking.
WLP – Willpower, this can be thought of as a stamina reserve, once you exhaust your stamina, you get a bit of a boost from willpower. This is a good stat to keep full.
STA – Stamina, like many other games, this is your life. Run out of this and you are “dead” which means you lose half of your money and return to the last visited hangout or story element end point.
ENG – Energy, this is not as clear as the other stats but this has to do with how much you can defend yourself before you are no longer able.
SPC – Special, this is another form of energy you have for doing special moves. Special moves are of a greater violence of action and generally do more damage than regular strikes. It is best to use Special moves in conjunction with standard attacks for maximum effectiveness
Visit this Steam Community site for a guide on all the shop items and their stat boosts and meanings of the stats.
What I like
This game is fun and quite funny. I spent several hours laughing at the absurdity of the 8-bit-like cartoony violence. The variety of characters from which to play is also a fine element that adds another depth of enjoyment. At first I wasn’t keen on the idea because, I didn’t have such variety in 1989 so why do I need it now? This game really does the original “River City Ransom” justice with nods to it all throughout the game. It pokes fun at itself and at the charming ridiculousness of the original. “River City Ransom Underground” is everything that the original game was with so many added elements.
I appreciate how this game starts out at near the end of the original game as a kind of tutorial and walks you through how to use the controls. They kind of rewrite the end of the story a bit to feed into this new adventure. As you start out with the game, there are on screen dialog boxes that will stop the game to give you hints about stamina, willpower and so forth. Many of the screen backdrops are similar enough to the original game that it has a very welcoming familiarity to it but yet adds some additional flare for enjoyment as well as showing neglect. The backdrops are also more interactive than the original. There are things you can break, cars driving, wrecking balls swinging… and much more. The over-world map and subway system is a welcome addition over the original too. I am very much a fan of the “level up” system and how to earn new abilities through the dojos.
The music in the game is also really great. It is similar enough to the sounds of gaming past yet different enough from the original with additional musical elements to not get tiresome to hear for long periods of time.
What I don’t like
Not much, there is not much I don’t like about this game but there are a few nitnoids. The number one is, if the wireless controllers fall asleep because you take a break they can be reassigned to different characters. Not really a big deal if you are playing by yourself but if you have a kid that is VERY particular about using HIS controller. This is enough cause to save and exit the game, come back and re-add players in the desired order. It would be nice if there was a way to associate controllers to player numbers, much like how the Wii U does it.
This game gets Nintendo Hard at times. This isn’t all bad and wouldn’t be as much of an issue if my hand-eye coordination hadn’t degraded over time coupled with the need to learn this new controller scheme. Certainly not the fault of the game.
When you couple the increasing difficulty of the game with some of the story elements that are a bit confusing, I had some frustrating moments. Thankfully there was the Steam forums where that could guide me through these roadblocks.
I am a huge fan of the original “River City Ransom” game on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Although I was excited to see this new game based on the original, I was a bit hesitant to buy a re-imagined sequel as I hold the original in such high esteem. I also have been out of “modern gaming” for some time.
I enjoy the new characters with their unique fighting styles, the more interactive environment as well as the “shopping” aspect of the game for powering up. The city map that shows your location as well as the location of your objectives and hideouts is extremely valuable. The subway and car traffic is also a great game play addition. The fact that there is a DeLorean driving by, really made my day too.
I am very glad that Conatus Creative built this game to run in Linux. I run Steam within openSUSE Tumbleweed and I don’t have a real high end gaming machine but this game doesn’t tax my system at all. It will easily run using on an 4th generation Intel Graphics chipset proving that you don’t have to have amazing, high-end graphics to have fun with Video Games. My thanks to the developers for time and care of making this run so efficiently.
“River City Ransom Underground” is a great game that pays great respect to the original. The 8-bit-like graphics and music gives that vintage feel and bits of humor scattered about makes this a fun game for the whole family. The outlandish fighting leaves me belly laughing and just doesn’t get old. This is a GREAT game. I have no buyers remorse, whatsoever. I highly, highly recommend it.
I do hope that this game was lucrative enough that there will be either a sequel or an expansion pack for the game. I would imagine that the hard work is done, most of the elements are there, it’s just a matter of wrapping it around another story, some additional game elements and further refinements.
One can hope.
River City Ransom on Steam
Steam Install for openSUSE
All Shop Items and their Stat Boosts
River City Ransom on the NES