Beat 'em ups have provided arcade fun for decades so let's see which is the better retro brawler franchise from Technos Japan Corp.
Original NES games
Although both series debuted in arcades, western audiences are more familiar with Double Dragon and River City Ransom on NES. First, Double Dragon was a solid and simple beat 'em up that made beating on enemies and using a variety of found weapons a ton of fun. It also features an interesting experience system where the more points you earn, the more moves your character will be able to perform. Unfortunately, the NES version of Double Dragon doesn't feature cooperative multiplayer and only has a subpar competitive mode. Meanwhile, River City Ransom is actually the third Kunio-kun game for NES with the Famicom adaptation of Renegade and Super Dodge Ball preceding it. Anyway, it features incredibly enjoyable RPG elements, a cooperative multiplayer mode, and some of the best humour in any retro game. Watching characters say "barf" when you pummel them is so much fun. River City Ransom clearly wins here.River City Ransom Review
As I've said, the arcade versions of these series were not well known to western audiences but they do mark the origins of each franchise. For starters, the arcade version of Double Dragon debuted in 1987 and it's still quite enjoyable to play nowadays. Playing it cooperatively with a friend makes for some fun times although being able to walk effectively on uneven terrain takes a lot of practice. Accidentally falling to your death is frustrating stuff indeed. River City Ransom's arcade predecessor is known as Renegade and it released a year before in 1986. It's fun to see the stage bosses hang out in the backgrounds as you fight their underlings but it's an otherwise boring beat 'em up that certainly hasn't aged well. Heck, multiplayer even makes you and your chum take turns which just isn't fun. River City Ransom may be the superior NES game but Double Dragon definitely has more enjoyable arcade roots.Arcade Archives: Renegade Review
Both Double Dragon and River City Ransom have had their fair share of sequels and reboots over the years. Double Dragon II: The Revenge for NES allowed 2 players to play together and it's the best of the NES trilogy while Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones was an overly frustrating disappointment. The SNES games didn't continue the legacy of the originals very well as Super Double Dragon was rather average and Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls isn't a beat 'em up at all. Instead, it's just a one-on-one fighting game. All of that being said, the revivals of the series started on a good note with the super-fun Double Dragon Advance and the 3D interpretation Double Dragon Neon. However, the more recent Double Dragon IV took the series back to its 8-bit era but it's an incredibly tedious game.
Most River City Ransom sequels never released in the west which is unfortunate. I can say that Shin Nekketsu Kouha: Kunio-tachi no Banka for Super NES is an awesome beat 'em up with cool motorcycle segments. Other than that, I highly recommend a couple of 3DS revivals in the form of River City: Tokyo Rumble and River City: Rival Showdown. Tokyo Rumble is an especially fantastic game with refined gameplay and the classic humour and RPG elements that the NES game was famous for and Rival Showdown's open world is awesome to explore. This is a tough one but I think that Double Dragon has the overall better sequels by a slight margin.Double Dragon IV Review
There haven't been many but Double Dragon spin-offs can be quite fun. Billy and Jimmy starred in the very cool U.S. Championship V'Ball for NES and the simply named Double Dragon for NeoGeo is an okay fighting game. However, the most notable spin-off is Battletoads & Double Dragon which is a fantastic crossover title that makes for a great addition to any SNES library.
Meanwhile, River City Ransom's Kunio has starred in dozens of delightful spin-offs over the years. The most recognizable of which is Super Dodge Ball which is one of the best sports games on NES. Believe it or not, Nintendo World Cup is actually a Kunio-kun game and it's one fantastic 8-bit interpretation of soccer. Both of those games even had remakes for Nintendo DS. If you're looking for more variety then Crash 'n the Boys Street Challenge is a crazy collection of urban sports. More recently, River City: Knights of Justice offered a fun fantasy beat 'em up campaign, River City Super Sports Challenge featured enjoyable mini-games, and River City Melee: Battle Royal Special was a goofy multiplayer arena brawler. It goes without saying but River City Ransom clearly has the better spin-offs of these 2 series.Crash 'n the Boys Street Challenge Review
After discussing these classic beat 'em up franchises at great length, I think it's time to pick an overall winner which is...
Winner River City Ransom
Double Dragon is a timeless classic arcade game and its NES trilogy belongs in any 8-bit fan's game collection. However, River City Ransom is such a fun NES game that holds up beautifully and its sports spin-offs make for some of the best multiplayer experiences that the NES has to offer. In more recent years, Kunio-kun has been killing it with a few top-notch 3DS releases and a couple of goofy yet undeniably fun multiplayer games while Double Dragon just can't seem to catch up. In the end, the beat 'em up genre wouldn't be as enjoyable as it is without both of these iconic franchises, that's for sure.
That's just my opinion. Agree? Disagree? Vote now!