Rambo: First Blood Part II is a defining moment in action cinema. Whenever anyone thinks of an American action hero, one of the first that comes to mind is John Rambo, psychologically scarred Vietnam vet and all around war machine. Considering that many classics 80s games were influenced by action movies of the era, you'd think that Rambo would've gotten a decent video game adaptation. There are numerous games based on the second and third Rambo movies - some of them awful, some of them okay, none of them particularly great - and nearly all of them are merely ripoffs of other, better titles. There are some notably bizarre ones though - the Japanese company Pack-In video decided to forgo the action-based gameplay one would expect and instead add RPG elements. Even if there's nothing particularly standout amongst the Rambo games, there's still some interesting stuff.
At first glance, this looks a little like the SMS version of Rambo, which in turn looked a bit like Commando. The idea is similar, except instead of a forward scrolling stage, you get to run around in all directions. You start with knives, but wander around a little bit and you'll find a machine gun and a bazooka. Your goal is to break into the enemy camp, rescue one of the POWs, escape to the field north of the camp, jump into a helicopter, fly back to the same POW camp, save the rest of the POWs, escape again, and outmaneuver an enemy chopper. It's pretty short, and blowing up scenery with the bazooka is fun, but Rambo has a tendency to get caught up in every little bit of scenery, leaving him an easy target for enemy fire. The chiptune rendition of the Rambo theme is excellent though.
Rambo: First Blood Part II / Ashura (阿修羅) / Secret Command - Sega Master System, Wii Virtual Console (1986)
The Sega Master System game is more or less a clone of Commando and/or Ikari Warriors - move through the jungles, shoot bad guys, and rescue hostages by blowing up their prison tents. Player One plays as Rambo, but Player Two takes on the role of "Zane", a character made up specifically for this game, who looks exactly like Rambo but wears a yellow headband. Your primary weapon is a tiny little pea shooter with barely any strength or distance, but rescued POWs will award you with items that will let your bullets tear through multiple bad guys or extend its range. Your secondary weapons are explosive arrows, which are actually quite hard to use - it only damages bad guys when it explodes, after traveling a short distance. You can also find power-ups that make its explosion much bigger, but it's pretty rare. Compared to other overhead shooters, your characters move really slowly. Furthermore, you can't turn around to attack something - instead, you'll still face and shoot forwards while walking backwards. Due to the shortcomings of your weapons, it winds up becoming a very methodical shooter - which makes for a challenging game, although not a particularly fun one.
The game is six stages long - the first four stages take place in the jungle, but hilariously enough, the fifth stage takes place in a city. Perhaps this was unintentional, but it makes it seem like this level is based on the original First Blood movie, as you tear through the city streets, killing cops and destroying their cars. The reality is, this was not originally meant to be a Rambo game. Rather, when it was originally released in Japan, it was called Ashura (meaning "The God of War".) The player characters look slightly different - the first player has a pony tail, and the second characters is bald. The title screen is obviously different, and instead of showing pictures of Rambo in the score screen between levels, it shows pictures of various Asian locations. Sega probably realized how closely the game seem to rip off Rambo, purchased the rights for the movie, changed some sprites, added the Rambo music to the title screen, and published it in North America under its new name.
Sega didn't bother with the license for Europe, so the game went through another revision and was released under the name Secret Commando. It uses an alternate version of the title screen from Ashura, and all of the cinema photos are also from Ashura, but the in-game graphics are identical to Rambo.
Who in their right mind would think that that Rambo - a movie all about action - would work as a text adventure game? Mindscape did, apparently. It follows the general plot of the movie, including the capture and torturing of Rambo, and a brief helicopter piloting sequence. There aren't any graphics, of course, and the writing is little more than amateurish, but it's hard to capture the excitement of the Rambo movies through words anyway. A bulk of the "puzzles" simply involve typing "shoot gun at X" or "use knife on Y". In order to give some sense of challenge, death is practically around every corner. If you don't know exactly what to do, you'll get sniped, blown up, or otherwise murdered at every step. Right at the beginning of the game, if you don't deduce that you need to remove your parachute and stick it in the nearby log - all within about three turns - you'll get gunned to death almost immediately. There's also a "survey" command which allows you to detect hidden stuff, rather than simply typing "look". It's fun for hilarity's sake, as long as you bring a walkthrough.
Rambo for the MSX - created by Pack-In Video - looks and plays suspiciously like the horrifically infamous Japanese computer/NES RPG Hydlide. The cover describes it as a "Real Time Roleplaying Game." You start off in the middle of the battlefield wielding only a knife, which you use by running into enemies and jamming the attack button, hoping they die before you do. If you explore around, you can find other weapons like arrows and machine guns, which can be used a limited amount of times. It's really the only way to kill bad guys armed with weapons, but they're completely useless in close quarters combat. Given the spastic, erratic ways that the characters move - nothing in this game is technically animated - most of the game just seems to come down to luck. Although you regenerate health by standing still for a few seconds, you'll constantly be running out of food if you dawdle, and you can only take a few hits anyway. The game world isn't very big, but you get to hop into a canoe, find keys, avoid snakes, and generally rummage around to find whatever items you need to beat the game.
Super Rambo Special (super special indeed) is another strange action-RPG hybrid, but this one is a little closer to Metal Gear. You "sneak" around the jungle, looking for keys to open huts, which contain a variety of weapons. I use "sneak" in quotes because the enemy AI is completely and totally nonsensical. Sometimes you can walk right in front of them and they won't bat an eye. Other times, one of them will randomly notice you and start firing their guns or littering the screen with grenades. At one point, Co joins your party, who will also randomly start shooting at things, but she tends to die pretty quickly. The graphics are higher resolution than the previous game, but they still look pretty bad, it doesn't really control any better, and it's still hard to kill anything.
The Nintendo version of Rambo - published by those quality-loving bastards over at LJN/Acclaim - was originally created by Pack-In Video, the same guys responsible for the MSX Rambo games. And once again, they totally missed the point by scaling down the action and replacing them with roleplaying elements. However, this one is a side-scrolling game that bears a suspicious resemblance to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. The game actually kinda sorta follows the plot to the movie, which is a bit admirable. When you first begin, Colonel Trautman gives you the option to take on the mission or stay in prison - if you choose to stay in prison, he'll just say, over and over, that the game won't begin until you accept. Once you walk around the base and meet all of the major characters, you're sent out in the jungle with just a knife. At first, the only enemies you'll face are bees, snakes, more snakes, spiders, bats, flying skulls (!!), piranhas, and demonic flamingoes. Occasionally they'll drop weapons like throwing knives, arrows, and grenades. These come in limited quantities, but are almost mandatory if you want to survive. Your standard hunting knife is slow, weak, and incredibly unwieldy, and it's quite difficult to escape an encounter without taking at least one hit. You do have medicine that will replenish your health, but that's also in short supply. Late in the game, you'll finally get a machine gun, which sure takes long enough. Killing enemies will give you experience, and you can occasionally find little hearts to expand your health.
Although the plot is linear, you'll still need to wander around the backwoods of Vietnam to find your next objective. You get vague clues from the people you meet, which have some hilariously awful portraits, especially Rambo. In a sense, these exploration elements are a bit like Castlevania II or The Goonies II. However, the layouts don't always make sense - sometimes if you keep walking in a direction, you'll end up looping around. Other times, you'll read a dead end. These dead ends aren't even walls, really, they're just blank space that you can't walk through. On a few occasions, you can walk right onto one screen, double back to the left, and end up in a completely different area. There are also little blocks with "N" and "S" on them, transporting you to different parts of the map. Sometimes, these pathways are one-way, which is maddening. There's no in-game map, and the repetitive environments don't make navigation any easier.
Eventually, you'll run into Co, take a boat down the river, and run a little subquest by saving a boy from a giant spider. When you reach the camp, you can actually opt to complete your mission as planned by just taking a picture of them...but then you need to go back and save them anyway for the game to continue properly. At any rate, you end up getting kidnapped yourself. At this point, the viewpoint switches to Co, where you "sneak" into the base by simply walking through it. Once you take control of Rambo again, you eventually need to fighting a helicopter, which requires that you have no less than fifty grenades, and have a ton of health replenishment items, because missiles completely rain down from the sky. You eventually get to fly the helicopter - but not before running a fetch quest to find the key - but you don't get to blow up anything with it. You just save another POW and head back to base for the ending. In this segment, you attack Murdock - the guy who betrayed you - by firing a kanji meaning "anger", which then turns him into a frog. Hmmm.
The Japanese version has a hilarious Engrish quote on the title screen that says "Rend the feeling the heat with painful feelings." The color palette of the character portraits is messed up, so it looks like Rambo has green hair. Also, "EXP" is called "Anger" for some reason. The box of the game exclaims, in Japanese, "A hellish battle game where man's anger explodes."
Taito's arcade game is an over-the-shoulder shooter similar to Cabal and Nam 75. Two players can take on the role of either Rambo or Colonel Trautman, using either machine guns or explosive arrows, both of which can be powered up. Unlike other, similar games, there's no way to aim your gun without moving your character. The first stage just scrolls left to right, but all of the later stages feature 3D scrolling graphics using some simple scaling effects. It's not nearly as impressive as Konami's G.I. Joe, which used something similar for a more exciting effect. There's no cover to hind behind, so all you can do is run back and forth, hoping to not get hit. Admittedly, it is pretty cool when the screen warns you with the text "MAKE PRECATIONS!!! ENEMY'S AREA", and then you see a whole army of soldiers, tanks, and helicopters charge at you from over the horizon. But they toss so much stuff at you that it's nearly impossible to dodge. It's kinda fun, but far from spectacular. Strangely, the European version includes different stages and altered enemy sprites - nothing too notable, it's just weird that it was changed at all. Instead of a credit roll, you'll see various digitized cutscene pictures.
The home computer version of Rambo III is broken up into three segments. The first is an overhead exploration sequence where you need to infiltrate a prison, shuffling through many empty rooms to find the Colonel. The second stage is another overhead level, where you need to plant bombs. These two stages are superficially similar to Metal Gear, in that there are a bunch of nifty items and weapons to find. You start with a set of throwing knives, but eventually get machine guns, arrows, mine detectors, silencers, infared goggles, and the like. It's not anything complicated, although there are some notably stupid "puzzles" - one particularly innocent looking door will electrocute you, instantly killing you, unless you know to hit a specific switch. The stages are huge, but also pretty boring and empty. Plus the guards are monstrously stupid. For the most part, they just walk back and forth on their patrolled routes, and fire at you if you cross their line of sight. Your life meter is a bit scary, as it slowly morphs from Rambo's face into a skull as you take damage. After you complete the first two stages, the third stage is a first person shooter gallery that takes place in a tank. Fairly uninvolving, but fun.
Rambo III was published by Ocean on most of the major PC platforms at the time. The Commodore 64 and Amiga versions are the best one, notable for its music. The Atari ST version is very similar to the Amiga version, and the Spectrum and MSX versions are also very similar to each other. Strangely, certain versions show as published by Taito, implying that it's a port of the arcade game. In reality, all versions are more or less the same.
Unlike the previous Rambo game for the Sega Master System, this is a shooting gallery-style game that requires the Light Phaser. You have a limited supply of machine gun bullets, so you can just hold down the trigger to mow down bad guys. Once you run out, you need to resort to single fire shots. You also have a single grenade to kill everything on the screen (including civilians) and a power drink (which looks like a beer bottle) to replenish your health - both are activated by shooting at the icons at the bottom of the screen. It's a really frustratingly designed game, because multiple enemies will pop up at once, all draining your life meter at the same time. It's impossible to completely escape damage, it's just a matter of reducing it as much as possible. The digitized graphics used in the intro and intermissions cinemas are the only thing that seem to tie this into Rambo - otherwise, it just looks like an Operation Wolf clone.
Take this analogy - Rambo: First Blood Part II for the SMS is to Commando as Rambo III for the Genesis is to Mercs. It's a much faster paced game with multi-directional scrolling and more weapons. Your rapid fire machine gun can either be fired straight forward when moving or sprayed out by standing still. You also have a knife, a limited supply of arrows, and some C4. The weapon selection is a bit awkward - the C button will always use the machine gun, while A selects between the three subweapons, and B uses it. Since the knife is useless, why not just assign A to the arrows and B to the bombs?
There are six levels in total - some of them simply require getting to the end of the stage, while others have a specific goal. In these levels, you need to wander around maze-like stages, freeing prisoners or destroying enemy munitions. These levels end up being long and boring, because you'll usually need to backtrack through areas multiple times unless you know exactly where you're going. There are a handful of boss encounters, where the viewpoint changes to behind Rambo, as he uses arrows to destroy tanks, choppers, and other large vehicles. These segments are brief, and seem to really only show off the graphical prowess of the Genesis. If nothing else, it makes up for the rest of the game, which has fairly uninteresting visuals. The two player simultaneous mode has also been ditched in favor of alternating play. For a first year Genesis title, it's not too bad, but Mercs ultimately blows it out of the water.
In some ways, it's admirable that Pack-In Video tried to do different things with the Rambo license. The thing is, with Rambo, people expect a standard action game, which is naturally why the NES and MSX games feel so weird. Considering the mediocre attempts at straight action games from Ocean, Sega, and Taito, though, it's cool to see some alternate takes on the formula. Thanks to ReyVGM for the heads-up on the different version of the arcade Rambo III.