River City Ransom has been described as a cross between a beat 'em up and a role-playing game. The game follows a more or less linear path from start to finish, and fights take place in the style of Double Dragon (another Technos hit), with the player moving Alex (Kunio) or Ryan (Riki) around the screen using the directional pad, and pressing buttons to punch, kick, or jump. However, the characters' effectiveness in battle is determined by several statistics and their knowledge of fighting techniques, such as Acro Circus, Stone Hands, and Dragon Feet, which are purchased like items in shops throughout the city using funds recovered from defeated gang members. This loot may also be spent on various food items and spa treatments which serve to revitalize the player's stats while displaying a funny animation.