In theory it ought to be possible to make a pretty decent game based on the Rambo series. I didn’t think Sega’s 2008 arcade rail shooter was too bad, I played it all the way to the end at my local arcade, taking out the final boss (a Russian chopper) relatively easily. After that I needed an at home alternative. Which brings me to Rambo: First Blood Part 2 for the Master System. Not initially developed as a Rambo game, it was originally titled ‘Ashura’ but someone saw the potential to make a few extra bucks and the game was given a facelift to cash in on theRambo license (thanks Wikipedia).
Many of you will know it already. It’s a top down shooter. You control Rambo (naturally) running around a jungle setting which is literally crawling with piss ant enemy combatants. You’re supposedly armed with an M60, but if Rambo and his team had really been packing equipment like this back in ‘nam it’s no wonder he was the only one from his team who made it out alive (apart from Delmore Barrie, who got himself killed in ‘nam and didn’t even know it). The gun’s next to useless, a fucking pathetic pea shooter, with crap range and a piss more rate of fire. Fortunately, you also have a supply of explosive arrows which are more effective, although it can take up to all five just to blow up a single enemy hut if you don’t hit the bastard in quite the right spot. The supply of extra arrows is relatively plentiful throughout the game though.
The enemies are damned aggressive and seem to have better fire power. Occasionally you meet these flamethrower dudes and their firing range is fucking ridiculous. I thought flame throwers didn’t have much range, but these guys can fire way further than you, so watch out or you’re toast, literally. It’s best to take them out from the side, since the poor, dumb bastards can’t turn around. You also die instantly if you come into contact with an enemy soldier, which is a little frustrating. You’d have thought Rambo would be able to take out any of these guys pretty swiftly at close range, maybe by using his combat knife (see the wonderfully violent and bloody Shock Troopers on the Neo Geo) or by ripping their throats out with his bare hands. Oh, if that’s not enough there are also guys who lob Molotov cocktails at you (did they run out of grenades?) and there are other guys with bazookas, although bizarrely they fire the same projectiles as the regular soldiers. Take cover in the jungle for a second and Molotov cocktails fly at you from off screen – well what did you expect? – It’s a war not a dinner party.
But I digress – “frustrating” is the key word in this review. The game’s a real mother-fucker at times. Remember that scene in The Thing where Kurt Russell tips his drink into his computer when it beats him at chess? That’s what this game is like. It’s hard, so hard I’ve still not got past the second stage. Maybe I’m just crap. In the first stage you’re mostly facing off against bog standard grunts from the Viet Cong (and the odd tank), whereas the enemies in the second stage look more like the elite Russian troops from Rambo III and they fight even harder. You want some level variety? The environment in the second stage is also different, the jungle is a brighter green and there’s a bunch or rivers that you need to cross by way of some well guarded bridges.
The key to getting though it is speed – the faster you cut your way through the bush the less likely you are to get yourself killed and you can also avoid a lot of enemies. They re-spawn into infinity anyway, so you’ll never kill em all.
It may sound like I don’t like this game, but actually I fucking love it. It’s addictive as hell. And for 1986 I can’t criticize the graphics, just think how shit the average game looked back then. Replay value is great, I get pissed off and swear a lot, but I never get bored of it. The music’s alright too. According to Wikipedia it’s supposed to sound like Jerry Goldsmith’s theme from the movie. I can’t recognize it as such, but like I said it’s okay.
This game ought to be enjoyable even to non-Rambo fans (I guess there are some of those out there) but the 8 bit rendition of Sylvester Stallone in the classic bazooka totting pose on the title screen is reassuring to fans like me that they’re playing a bona fide Rambo game, and the character’s black hair, red bandanna and explosive arrows round off the experience.