River City Ransom: Underground is a game developed and published by Conatus Creative Inc. with Arc System Works as the game's licensor. It is a spin-off of the Kunio-kun franchise and the official sequel to River City Ransom, the North American version of Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari (known in PAL regions as Street Gangs). The game was released for PC on multiple digital distribution platforms including Steam and GOG.com, the game is also available on the Humble Bundle storefront. Yoshihisa Kishimoto, the director of the original Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun was involved in the game's development as a creative consultant (he was a producer for Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari).
Although it is named Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari Underground (ダウンタウン熱血物語アンダーグラウンド which roughly translates to "Downtown Hot-Blooded Story Underground") in Japan, the plot in the Japanese version is completely unrelated to Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari and its sequels.
It's been about 20 years since Alex and Ryan thwarted Simon's kidnapping of Cindy and his attempt to take control of River City with a gang of evil bosses. A new kidnapping is reported in River City, and a group of River City High students known as the Flock is framed for it. The Flock's leader also went missing at the same time as the kidnapping. They eventually wind up meeting Alex and Ryan, who find the situation familiar. They join the Flock to help them clear their name.
The game's control scheme is changed from the original, players still have separate buttons to punch and kick but now have a dedicated button to jump and block. The player can now grab enemies (both from the front and from behind, like in Shodai Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun) and has a button to use special moves. A button can be used to use any item on the player's inventory without having to access the items on the menu. The player can also taunt by doing a fist bump, which can be reciprocated by another player or humorously ignored.
Unlike the original game, which had similar gameplay to Double Dragon (though much more accessible and outlandish), this game has more in common with stylish beat 'em ups such as Streets of Rage 2, Alien Vs. Predator and Guardian Heroes, with characters having unique fighting styles and moves that can be used in a variety of combos. Special techniques can be purchased in a similar fashion to the original game by visiting different dojos, but each character needs to have a specific level in order to purchase a technique (this is similar to Shodai Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun, where Kunio and Riki learned new techniques by leveling up).
Up to four players can play the game locally and online (the latter can be done by joining another player's game or creating a private game). The game has four difficulty levels: Story, Hard Mode, New Game+ and Fungondo. Hard Mode makes enemies harder, while New Game+ has the enemy AI behavior from the end of the game from the start. Fungondo is a combination of Hard and New Game+. The game follows a linear story split into three acts, so all areas of the game aren't accessible from the beginning like in the original game.
The game's leveling system uses a combination of the stat upgrading system from the original game and the leveling system from Shodai Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun. Players level up after gaining enough experience, but this only increases the maximum cap of their stats (upon gaining a level the character's health will be restored). To increase a character's current stats the player has to consume items bought at a variety of shops just like the original game. Players can also purchase a variety of collectibles in these shops.
Another system from Shodai Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun is a day and night cycle, some events and boss fights in the game are only available at specific times of day. Additionally, various shops are only open in the day or night, though some shops are open for 24 hours. The game also includes a subway system, allowing players to travel to different areas faster. Unlike Downtown Special: Kunio-kun no Jidaigeki da yo Zen'in Shūgō! and Shodai Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun, there is no option for instant travel in the game.
Unlike the original game, which used a password system to save the player's progress, the player is able to save the game by simply pressing a button on the save option of the pause menu. This option is only available at hideouts, which are located in different areas of River City (the game will save automatically when a player enters a hideout, so if a player dies, the game will save). Dropping into hazards will not kill the player instantly like in the original game, instead they will lose some health. If the player happens to die and doesn't have enough willpower they will be returned to the last hideout they were in and lose half of their money.
The game also has an Arena Mode, accessible upon completing the game (the mode can be unlocked earlier by creating a private game and switching the Story Mode to Arena). Up to four players can fight each other (both locally and online) in the Arena, or one player can use the mode to train against various dummies. Arena mode can also be played against CPU opponents if there is a lack of players.
Players can set up friendly fire (if they decide to play a team game), a timer (up to 7 minutes), modifiers (randomly enables weapons, stage effects and enemies into the fight) and the number of rounds (best of seven is the maximum). The player also has a choice of six stages to fight in, and using three separate modes they can toggle how the stages are selected. In Manual mode, the player can switch the arena after a round ends, Round Robin has the player play in each arena in order while Marathon restricts the fight to the chosen arena. The player can also make the arena selection happen randomly.
- R.C.H.S: The original Cross Town High was refurbished and turned into a new River City High School. The player can explore many areas of the school, there are three floors with multiple classrooms, a cafeteria, the gym and the basement. Outside the school, the player can head to the left to reach the football court. The school's roof is accessible and there is a path that leads to the sewer. Abobo is the school principal and his office can be found in the third floor of the school. The player will be forced to fight Abobo if they attack any of the teachers.
- Sticksville: The area directly to the right of River City High. After getting past a neighborhood of houses the player will reach Sticksville Mall. The player can purchase Mexican food in Carnita's Way, a variety of items on Wee-Mart (which is open for 24 hours) or purchase books at Bookface and Comics from Geoffrey's Comics. To the right of the mall the player can enter Chan Wuk Park (the original Sherman Park) which can take the player to the Forest that goes to Rollingwood. Past the park is the area that was under construction in the original game, which is still being worked on. Waterfront Mall is directly past this area and Mao's restaurant is still around. Wanna Sauna is the other shop in the area. The player also has access to a garage hideout. From there, the player can cross the bridge and eventually reach A&R Auto Shop, another hideout and the place where Alex, Ryan and Roxy work at. Prior to reaching the Auto Shop, the player can reach Adam Park (possibly named after the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers character. Inside the Park is a large egg statue with blonde hair and a pair of sunglasses; this is a nod to Twitch streamer ProtonJon). Past the shop the player can enter the old Armstrong Tunnel (Merlin's Shop is still here, but only at night and after the player gets access to the Forest). Getting past the tunnel will get the player to Flatirons.
- Flatirons: The first area of Flatirons is the old mall, though it only has one shop and an arcade. The shop, Queen of Cats, allows players to purchase cats that will appear in the hideout at Waterfront Mall. The arcade is The Nerds turf and also has a mini golf court where the player can purchase a putter. Going past the court will take the player to the another area of Flatirons that eventually takes them to a second mall which has a hotel hideout, a movie theater and Merv's Burger. To the right of the first mall before entering the arcade the player can reach Blade's Dojo, the game's first dojo where Purple Bee trains. To the right of the second mall is the abandoned warehouse which will take the player to Oak Hill.
- Oak Hill: The first area of Oak Hill is the vacant warehouse where Thor was fought in the original game and it is The Luchas turf. Purple Bee's brother Pink Bee appears to own the factory and is found in the last room, which leads to Oak Hill Mall. The mall has Le Jambon Cache and Chicken Burger, where the player can purchase food and Ryoma's Dojo. To the left of the mall the player can reach Health Ops, a gym that is The Roids turf. Past the gym the player can enter the old and abandoned River City High School.
- Old R.C.H.S.: The original River City High School was destroyed after Alex's fight with Slick... for some reason. The player can visit the same rooms as in the original game (which are also seen in the flashback prologue, which works a a tutorial). The destruction left a giant hole in the middle of the school. The school is a turf for The Bombers.
- Forest: The player gains access to the Forest second act. It can be accessed from Chan Wuk Park after a meteorite is removed from the right of the area. The forest is split into two areas, one will lead the player to Rollingwood and the other to Ocean Heights. Most of the area doesn't allow the player to move up or down (gameplay is thus similar to the platforming segments of the NES version of Double Dragon). One area is a turf for The Luchas and the player can face Pink Bee and Purple Bee together in it. The Bike Trail leads to a hideout, but The Warlocks attack the player in it. Past this hideout the player will eventually reach Ocean Heights. If the player doesn't take the Bike Trail and continues onward they will get to Rollingwood.
- Rollingwood: A completely new area of River City, Cindy's house can be found in the suburbs and works as a hideout. Past the suburb and the park the player will reach the downtown area where Bravo Fort is located (the Mercs headquarters). The screen to the right of downtown takes players to McNamara Street, which has two shops: Fine-A-Suit and Warp Zone. Adam's Nightclub is also located here. A back alley next to the night club can take the player to Ocean Heights as well.
- Ocean Heights: This area is found past the Forest hideout. The player can find a basketball court and a number of shops. They will find Newgrounds in the ghetto, which allows players to purchase a robot that will appear in their hotel hideout (the one in the second Flatirons Mall). The mall has a pawn shop that sells random weapons, their stock changes every morning. The game's third dojo, Suzu's dojo, is found here as well. The other shop is Stubash Records. Past the mall the player can traverse and jump through a number roofs to reach an alley that will lead them to Rollingwood's McNamara Street.
- Lil' Tokyo: To the right of McNamara Street the player can reach Lil'Tokyo's Machida Street. The area has a Garden and a Market. The Market has another sauna, Yakuza Sauna and Mech Tech. In the later shop, the player can purchase a robot which can be used to attack enemies (the completed robot will appear in the Waterfront Mall hideout.
- Merville: To the left of the Lil'Tokyo market, the player will reach Merville. The only shop in the area is Famous Coffee. The area is also home to Merv's Tower.
Stats are split into current stats and maximum stats. The character's current stats are increased by consuming items while their maximum stats are increased as they gain levels (the maximum level is 40). The only exceptions are Stamina, Energy and Special, their maximum cap can be increased by consuming items.
- ATK (Attack): Determines how much damage the character makes with their special attacks. This also determines damage made with grapple attacks.
- WPN (Weapon): Determines how much damage character's do with weapons.
- THR (Throwing): Determines how much damage characters make when throwing weapons or enemies.
- AGI (Agility): This stat affects how much time the character is stunned, how long it takes them to get up from the ground and how fast they recover from attacks that stun them. It also determines the damage of jumping attacks. When this stat reaches 27, characters are able to perform an evasive roll to get up from the ground (pressing the jump button multiple times while holding either left or right on the control pad).
- DEF (Defense): Determines how much damage a character can take.
- STR (Strength): This stat determines the damage dealt with normal attacks. If high enough, attacks will also knock opponents back.
- WLP (Willpower): This stat works in the same way as the original game. If the character runs out of stamina, they will stand back up by using their willpower and regain a little stamina. If they have no willpower and are knocked out the player will be knocked out for good. This stat is shown in the game's HUD below the Stamina meter (the green meter next to the character's face) as a red meter.
- STA (Stamina): The character's current health. This is shown on the game's HUD as a green meter next to the character's face. If empty and the character is knocked out with no willpower they will lose half of their money and be sent to the last hideout they were in.
- ENG (Energy): This stat is the character's guard meter. Characters can manually block attacks in this game, if they block enough attacks their guard will break and they will be unable to block. This meter is shown in the game's HUD directly below the character's face.
- SPC (Special): The characters ki level, which is used to perform special moves. This is the blue meter below the Stamina and Willpower meters in the HUD.
The game has ten playable characters, with four being playable from the start. Two of these characters can be unlocked by finding them in River City High, while the other four are unlocked as the story progresses. Enemy characters and bosses are also playable in the game's Arena Mode once they are defeated.
- Glen: A member of The Flock, his fighting style is Shotokan, a style of karate. In popular culture, this is the fighting style of the Street Fighter characters Ryu, Ken Masters and Akuma, and most of Glen's moves are similar to the ones they perform.
- Bruno: Another member of The Flock, his fighting style is Lucha Libre, though he uses other wrestling and improvised moves (such as mimicking the "King of Pop", Michael Jackson). Some of his moves include using poison mist breath, a suplex and a DDT.
- Provie: One of The Flock's female members, she uses break dancing as a fighting style. She mimics characters like Elena from Street Fighter and Christie Monteiro from Tekken, her moves resemble those used in Capoeira.
- Paul: A member of The Flock who uses an elegant style of boxing, similar to Dudley from the Street Fighter series. His character resembles Little Mac from Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (probably as a reference to Abobo's Big Adventure, Paul's final palette makes him look exactly like Little Mac).
- Mike: Though his fighting style is listed as Grappler, Mike also uses Jeet Kune Do moves, a system created by Bruce Lee (who inspired the character of Kunio). Mike's fighting style is similar to Rufus from the Street Fighter series due to his use of Chinese martial-arts. He can be found in the cafeteria of River City High.
- Rudy: A wrestler that can be found in the gym of River City High. The inspiration from most of his moves come from Zangief of the Street Fighter series. He is prone to crying (another nod to Abobo's Big Adventure).
- Alex: The hero of the original game, his fighting style is listed as Brawler. Most of his moves reference other games in the Kunio-kun series, such as the hyper knee and the ability to kick enemies behind him while grabbing an enemy. He joins The Flock after they successfully escape from River City High and sneak into his auto shop. In the game's Japanese version, he is named アレックス (Alex).
- Ryan: The other hero from the original game, who works with Alex at the A&R Auto Shop. His fighting style is dubbed as "Classic", and all of his moves are enhanced versions from the original game. He joins The Flock at the same time as Alex. When the in-game language is set to Japanese, he is named ライアン (Ryan).
- Wes: An employee and bodyguard of Merv, his fighting style is Muay Thai. He is also the leader of the Mercs (who are really Kickstarter backers that received the honor of appearing in the game). As shown by his name, Wes bears a resemblance to actor Wesley Snipes (a combination of two characters he portrayed, Blade from the eponymous films and Simon Phoenix from Demolition Man).
- Chris: The leader of the Flock, her fighting style is also listed as brawler like Alex. However, her style is completely different, Alex's fighting style is about taking people out as quick as possible while Chris takes advantage of the environment around her. Chris can also reach a "Rage" state when her health is low, and charge her normal attacks to make more damage. This makes Chris similar to another character from a Capcom fighting game: The Incredible Hulk from the Marvel Vs. Capcom series.
Gangs and other enemies
While moving through River City, the player will be attacked by various gangs just like in the original game. Unlike the original game, each gang member has a unique fighting style, much like the characters used by the player. The player will be attacked by a combination of gang members working together, though in some areas the player will be attacked exclusively by a single enemy type (the gang as whole, just like in the original game).
There are civilian NPCs around River City, just like Shodai Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun. They will not get involved in fights, but can get in the way of one. If the player happens to accidentally hit a civilian, the River City Police Department will be on alert. The RCPD will also go on alert if the player attempts to vandalize city property (attacking vending machines or parking meters). Once the RCPD shows up, the player can engage in battle against them, but they will only receive experience from them, no money is dropped. The RCPD will stop accosting the player once they return to a hideout or hide inside a trash container.
- The Bombers: A group of disgruntled greasers who fight dirty, they use brass knuckles and throw sand at the player to stun them. They can be found in the abandoned River City High School and are led by Slick.
- The Luchas: Masked luchadors that use high flying fighting moves. They are led by Purple Bee, who took control of the old abandoned factory.
- The Nerds: The Nerds make up for their lack of fighting ability by throwing multiple chemical vials that can freeze the opponent or place or burn them with fire or acid. The Nerds are always found on their own in the arcade and are led by Calvin.
- The Rich Kids: A gang of bored rich boys led by Adam, who has his own night club. These kids have used their money to learn powerful fighting techniques, though they only fight using punches. They only attack as a gang together on the night club's roof.
- The Roids: Big jocks who have used medical drugs to strengthen themselves. They have multiple grappling moves. They can be found in the River City High Football Court and in front of Health Ops. They are lead by Coach Otis.
- The Vixens: A female gang of roller skaters, their fighting style is centered around speed and outrunning their opponents. They are not local to any specific area and are only fought as gang twice. They are led by Alexis.
- The Generic Dudes: A gang identified by the beanies in their head. They complement other gang members and attack the player when they least expect it (mostly when the player is busy fighting other enemies). They don't have their own special moves.
- The Warlocks: A gang made of goth wizards loyal to Ether, a devout fanatic of Slick. Their attacks include magic projectiles.
- River City Police Department: The law enforcement of River City, they are equipped with electric batons and tear gas. They only attack the player if they attack civilians or city property. The player will also find them in Merv Tower since they are technically breaking and entering. Since Abobo is also the Mayor of River City, he is the leader of the RCPD.
- Abobo: One of the enemies from Double Dragon, he is both the mayor and the school principal of River City High. He appears randomly in some areas of the game to attack the player. The player can also fight him in his office at the school if they attack any of the teachers.
- Agents: Mysterious soldiers under Dr. D's employ, they are the most difficult enemy in the game. Other than using strong attacks, they can also electrocute players by using a pistol. When they are low on health, they begin flashing red and if they are not knocked down during that time they will create a double of themselves.
- Zombie: An hazard in one of the arena stages, it attacks by BARFing or attempting to grab enemies.
- The Squids / The Cowboys / The Plague: These gangs show up during the game's prologue, a flashback sequence re-telling the final events of the original game (players take control of Alex and Ryan as they looked in the original game). The Squids are fought outside of River City High while the other gangs are found inside. They fight similarly to the Generic Dudes in the present timeline.
During the game, the player will find bosses in specific areas of River City like in the original game. Some bosses will only spawn at specific times of day. Bosses will spawn in an area after all enemies in the area are defeated first.
- Purple Bee: A masked luchador who trains at Blade's dojo, he is the brother Pink Bee. The player first meets him near the arcade and chases him to Blade's dojo along with Alex and Ryan. After defeating him, he can be fought alongside his brother in the forest.
- Pink Bee: The other masked luchador, who is found in the final room of the vacant factory after his brother is defeated. He can be fought again alongside his brother in the forest. The Luchas are his followers.
- Calvin: The leader of the Nerds, he can be found inside the arcade during the day. He uses a giant mech suit to fight, but if knocked out of it his only means of defense is to fart his way out of a fight. He is the son of Conan, the leader of the original Generic Dudes.
- Coach Otis: Once the leader of the Zombies, Otis has now aged (much like Alex and Ryan) and acts as the football coach of River City High. He is the second boss fought in the prologue, where he is located in the gym like in the original game.
- Ether: Other than being the leader of the Warlocks and a religious fanatic of Slick, Ether is also the janitor of River City High. He uses powerful runes and magic, with his mop as his magic wand.
- Slick: The antagonist of the original game, he was sent to prison after being defeated by Alex. Slick fights using a brawling style similar to Alex and Ryan while also using telekinetic powers and illusions. His moves are nod to Tetsuo from the manga Akira. The Bombers are his followers.
- Alexis: The leader of The Vixens, who wants to see what being an evil boss is like. She fights using an unorthodox style that uses cats as weapons.
- The Backers: A group of mercenaries hired by Merv and led by Wes (possibly a reference to The Expendables films). As the gang's name implies, they are Kickstarter backers. They are (in the order that they appear in the Arena Character Select Screen) Danny "Seizui" Henderson, Chris "CeoKid" Ogbah, John Michalik, Dan "0style" Lawrence, Kevin Clark, Mel Mel (the sole female member) and Derrick "DQ" Quijano (the leader). Their fighting style mostly resembles Guile's from the Street Fighter series.
- Adam: The owner of a night club, Adam fights using a power glove that gives him access to multiple weapons such as a satellite and the ability to manipulate time. The Rich Kids are his followers. His fighting style is listed as Brawler, just like Alex and Chris, but his moves come out faster and he appears to have some martial arts training. He mentions that his father hired the Mercs, so he is Merv's son.
- Me: A character from the Flash-based game Dad 'n Me. His moves tend to reference various movies and pop culture, such as his Avenging Slam, which is how Hulk smashes Loki in The Avengers film from 2012.
- Proto: The first of Dr. D's many clones. He transforms into other characters during his attacks.
- Dr. D: The game's final boss. Other than having martial arts skills that rival the heroes, Dr. D can use a device that will reverse the player's controls, has teleportation and a variety of projectiles.
- Sentinel: Sentinel is actually William, Cyndi's current boyfriend. He turns out to be one of Dr. D's many clones. His design is the same as the one Billy Lee has in the North American Double Dragon arcade flyer and his fighting style not only pays homage to the Lee brothers, but uses the exact control scheme as Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun (Renegade in the west) and Double Dragon II: The Revenge.
- Ivan: The leader of The Internationals from the original River City Ransom. He is the first enemy and boss fought in the game during the prologue. In the present timeline he is loyal to Slick and has returned to River City after he escaped prison.
- Tex: The leader of The Cowboys, Tex is fought during the prologue in the second floor of River City High (this time, it is mandatory to proceed through the game). He returns to River City in the present timeline after Slick escapes out of prison.
- Randy & Andy: The Dragon Twins, who kidnapped Cyndi on orders from Slick. They are fought in the prologue before facing Slick, but Cyndi can be rescued before facing them. They do not appear in the present timeline.
- Simon: Alias Slick, the last boss fought in the prologue, an old friend of Alex and Roxy's boyfriend who orchestrated Cyndi's kidnapping. He returns in the present timeline as one of the main antagonists..
- Roxy: Slick's ex-girlfriend and an old friend of Alex. She now works as the receptionist in A&R Auto.
- Rocko: The old boss of The Mob gang that used to work for Slick. Like Tex and Ivan, he returned to River City after Slick came out of prison.
- Cyndi: Ryan's ex-girlfriend, they broke up at some point after the events of the original game. She now lives in Rollingwood with William and has a daughter. Her break up with Ryan was amicable and the two are still friends.
- Merv: Merv sets up the events of the game after Angel is kidnapped and he decides to offer a reward for her rescue, though The Flock are the ones blamed for the kidnapping. He is named after the popular burger chain in which the smiles are free.
- The Japanese cover art was drawn by Nina Matsumoto. She also designed the title logo of the western and Japanese versions of the game.
- The Japanese version uses the names from River City Ransom in katakana (i. e., Alex is still named Alex in the Japanese version as opposed to his original name, Kunio).
- Bruno bears a resemblance to Bannon Rudis, the game's art director and designer. Bruno is named Bannon Belmont in the school yearbook.
- Paul, Provie, Glen and Mike are all based on friends and acquaintances of Bannon Rudis, while Rudy is based on his brother.
- Misuzu appears in the game has two separate characters. A character using her design from Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun is named Ms. Kim (the name given to her in the NES version of Renegade), the other character appears in the Ocean Heights dojo and is named Suzu.
- Ottawa-based game developer creating sequel to NES classic River City Ransom
- TorchFork Mob's interview with Conatus Creative | Dev Duels
- Hardcore Gamer interviews the game's developers
- Built To Play interviews Conatus Creative
- 1 More Castle interviews Daniel Crenna
- Waypoint's interview with Bannon Rudis and Daniel Crenna
- Bannon Rudis, part of the inspiration for the game's characters