Brawler of the Year – 1990

This time around I’m only going to highlight one game per year. While that may not seem very inclusive the fact is there are some years where there aren’t any officially licensed brawlers at all. Remember that the box pictures have vids embedded if you want to see them in action. The definition of a brawler has become somewhat vague, so as it stands, here’s my running definition, subject to change at any time:

– A brawler is NOT a fighting game. A fighting game is usually something along the lines of Virtua Fighter, Tekken, or Mortal Kombat.
– A brawler must have the basic scenario of having one or more heroes vs. SEVERAL enemies at a time.
– While there are action elements in most brawlers, an action game is NOT a brawler. An action game is better categorized as an action/adventure. In other words, an action game isn’t just about the brawl, but also usually platforming, solving puzzles, exploring landscapes, etc. This doesn’t mean a brawler cannot have SOME elements of these, but the more elements it has, the more it detracts from being a brawler.
– The top pick is always a game that BEST represents what a brawler is and is the most fun to play. As a result, it may not always be the one with the best graphics, sound, or even level design.
– If the game is a hybrid (such as Bayou Billy, Bully, The Warriors, The Shadow, Batman Returns, or Splatterhouse 3), it may still be counted, provided the brawling sections still qualify.

One more thing. I got all my info from Wikipedia which, again, may have been a bad choice. It’s taken me a while to discern what’s ACTUALLY a brawler and which versions technically qualify.

River City Ransom (NES)

Graphically, this game is the weakest. However, it rules in virtually every other aspect and yes, some of them have little to do with brawling, but certainly increase the awesomeness factor. First off, there are multiple combos you have access to right from the beginning with either punch or kick and you can run. Second, there are a wide variety of weapons you can use and they DON’T break. Ever.

You can also pick up enemies and use them as weapons or throw them into other enemies! It’s 2 player capable also. You can also expand and change around your moveset by reading books…and here’s where the game gets especially interesting. Most console games from back then aren’t really…”self aware.” What I mean is they’re still designed to be like arcade games even though they’re meant to appeal to a home audience.

So a lot of games back then still had a point system, bad or no checkpoints, brutal difficulty, etc. Well, I will say the password system is a BITCH…but there are a crapload of checkpoints, no stupid time limit, several types of gangs (yes they’re just recolors, but the AI changes depending on the gang type), lots of open exploration, an actual plot, and a really awesome shop/stat system.

See, much like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – The Game, River City Ransom allowed you to beat the crap out of enemies, take their money, then spend it on crap. Now some of it just recovered your HP and that’s it…but everything else improved stats, taught you new abilities, and more. This is also a game you’d be hard pressed to beat in a day, unless you were an absolute master at it.

This is a game designed to be an epic journey. So in a way, it’s almost more RPG than brawler, but at its raw core, it is an undeniably strong brawler. River City Ransom was, and still is, one of my favorite console brawlers. It wasn’t until much later when I played Guardian Heroes, Castle Crashers, then Scott Pilgrim that I had a similar experience.

Runner Ups

Alien Storm (Arcade)
Combatribes (Arcade)
Double Dragon 3 – The Rosetta Stone (Arcade)
Ninja Kids (Arcade)
Mug Smashers (Arcade)
Wild Streets (PC)

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Filed under GotY Series, NES, Nintendo, Retro, Videogames

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