River City Ransom: Underground

Game review by
David Wolinsky, Common Sense Media
River City Ransom: Underground Game Poster Image
Long-awaited sequel is repetitive, too hard without friends.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

No positive messages.

Positive Role Models & Representations

No positive role models, players fight every character on-screen.

Ease of Play

Brutal difficulty, with simple controls; nearly impossible to make much progress if playing solo.


Cartoony brawls break out nearly every second you're playing, though no blood, gore.


Based off River City Ransom franchise, an old console fighting game.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that River City Ransom: Underground is a downloadable action-brawler game for the computer. The difficulty is intentionally demanding and unforgiving, as this is the direct sequel to 1989's River City Ransom for the Nintendo Entertainment System. This long-awaited sequel is heavy on twitchy beat-'em-up-style gameplay, meaning players will be attacking nearly every character that enters the screen. While combat is constant, it's cartoonish and there's no blood or gore shown.

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What's it about?

RIVER CITY RANSOM: UNDERGROUND extends the story of its direct 1989 predecessor by casting previous protagonists Alex and Ryan as mentor figures to a new crew of misfits currently attending their alma mater, River City High. The new squad of high schoolers are framed for kidnapping the mayor's daughter, and they must evade the police and dish out street justice until their names can be cleared and the real culprit can be apprehended. It's all really an excuse to punch, kick, and pummel everybody who crosses your path.

Is it any good?

Even though it's clear this brawler is banking on loyal devotees to the classic NES game flocking to this, the gameplay is a bit too shallow to keep everyone's attention. It's unfair to knock the action just because tastes have changed, but the simple fact is that doing the same thing (punch, punch, kick, jump, etc.) over and over gets repetitive very fast. RCR:U tries to circumvent this with an unforgiving difficulty, and to a certain extent it helps. Even though you don't have too much strategy at your disposal, the enemies you face are more aggressive in their attacks and will keep you on your toes. In other words, you won't be able to blindly jab away at buttons. Overall, though, this is at odds with other choices the game makes to apparently stay true to its retro aesthetics. Even though you can play as 10 different characters (unlocking 44 total), and will spend time and cash upgrading their skills, much of your experience is trial and error. For example, you have to manage stamina, life, and a number of other attributes that can be boosted or impeded by the wide variety of expensive items and foods you can consume. But there's no way to know what item will change what stat until after you've sunk that hard-earned cash into it and given it a whirl.

Other parts of the game simply feel a little undercooked, like a day and night cycle seemingly included to pad play time -- depending on the time of day, bosses will come back or other events will be triggered. This game is highly recommended to be played with friends, because not only will it help foster an environment of camaraderie against the considerable challenge, but also because going alone is nearly impossible. You'll die too frequently, which causes you to lose half your money. Just like the original, this is a game meant to be played with friends to blow off steam. Don't expect much more than that.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about violence in video games. If this game is a follow-up to a 1989 title, what does it say about our nature that this more visceral, even primal type of gameplay is appealing? Is it "bad" to be nostalgic for something that's violent?

  • The main characters in this game are framed for a crime they didn't commit. If that happened to you, what would you do? Who would you tell? Who do you think you could trust, and why?

Game details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love action

Themes & Topics

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