The plot follows high school students Alex and Ryan as they cross River City in an attempt to reach River City High and rescue Ryan’s girlfriend Cyndi from the clutches of a villain called “Slick”. Along the way, they battle with gangs of students (with names such as “The Generic Dudes”, “The Frat Guys”, “The Jocks” or “The Squids”) and several gang leaders which act as bosses or sub-bosses.
River City Ransom is a beat ’em up game with action role-playing elements.
The player can move freely around the screen while pressing buttons to punch, kick, or jump. Objects such as brass knuckles, steel pipes, and trashcans can be used as melee weapons or thrown at enemies.
There are a total of nine gangs in the original NES version whom the player will encounter during the course of the game, each with their own characteristics and attacking patterns.