8-Bit Infantry Wars: Rambo: First Blood Part II
Okay, so I lied, last time after reviewing Commando for the NES, I stated that next up in our bag of bullets and hand grenades was Ikari Warriors. Can I be forgiven? Actually, to be honest, I was unsure of what to do for a simple reason; I wanted to make sure the focus was on American games. Ikari Warriors was actually developed in Japan before Rambo: First Blood Part II for the Master System, but Rambo was released in the United States before Ikari Warriors. That’s just a simple matter of localization, as well as a bit of history. The arcade version was created prior, in March of 1986, before the Master System was even released in America. And, of course, Sega was moving quick to prepare the SMS prior to Christmas of the same year. Knowing very well the popularity of the then-burgeoning genre of the run-and-gun, they sought to control all the guns in the world. What better character for the job than Rambo?
Rambo First Blood Part II was a big duh if there ever was one. By 1986 John Rambo was already a popular American folk hero via two films; add to that the toy line based around the movie and a cartoon series entitled “Rambo: The Force of Freedom“. Any boy growing up in the early 80s knew the character, and probably pretended they could slay a million VC with a plastic Bowie knife that was later run over by a lawnmower one fateful day. Commando had set the general standard for what the run-and-gun would become, so Sega, anticipating the future, followed suit by creating Ashura for the Mark III in Japan, which was localized as Rambo in the states with some changes. Check out a video below of Ashura and compare it to the other video later in the article:
Rambo was basically the Commando of the Master System’s library upon release, and sadly one of the few run-and-gun games made for the system. Controlling Rambo, or also Zane if you played with a friend, you move your character around firing arrow-bombs or bullets. Both apparently from your M-60. Must we explain this power of the man known as Rambo? He simply is. Commando basically had the same concept with grenades instead of arrows, but lacked a two-player simultaneous play feature. A little more plot for Rambo as well, but basically the same idea, as you’re supposed to use your “advanced guerrilla warfare tactics to rescue the captives from well-guarded concentration camps”. Sure, sounds good to me, but why in the world am I shooting at policemen and civilians in a city while blowing up police cars in the fifth level?!! That fits in with the “First Blood” theme, but then again it doesn’t follow the story given provided to us via the manual. Did they even play this before they wrote it?
Enemies come in several varieties of soldier; some with guns, some with mortars, some with knives, but only one vehicle, the tank, which you can’t ride. Sometimes you might be scratching your head at things, such as the strange rock faces near the end that shoot fireballs, announcing to you the coming of their great lord and master, the giant rock face at the end. What does this have to do with anything? Anyone know? At least Ikari Warriors made itself clearly weird from the beginning, Rambo just throws you for a loop.
The music does its job, though it of course shows the inferiority of the Master System’s sound chip in comparison to the NES. Graphically, though, Rambo was clearly ahead of its time with a wide variety of colors and much more detail to the terrain and enemies without a hint of flicker (just wait until Ikari Warriors). The Master System was known for its graphics. In fact, Sega thought at the time it would be the death blow the system could deliver against Nintendo, which I heard first-hand from a former head of Sega’s R&D as well as John Sauer, who was one of the figureheads for Sega of America back in the day. Unfortunately they were wrong, for many reasons, but just check out the incredible opening screen in this video:
Rambo: First Blood Part II is quite a difficult game – just about as difficult as wrapping your brain around that terrible title. Let’s just start by saying holy hell. It’s amazing how frikking difficult this game is, even in comparison to a blast-fest like Commando. Rambo has no mercy for your soul; it has your life essence in its grasp from the first VC bullet. One of the central difficulties is that you move so damn slow and need to anticipate many attacks ahead of time! Thankfully the enemies move at the same speed, but the control of Rambo/ Zane makes it extraordinarily difficult until you figure out that quickly moving back while shooting gives you a edge since you will fire straight ahead.
You get a few power-ups, but they’re all lost as soon as you lose a single life, and often you’re surrounded by enemies firing much faster than you in all directions, including spreading blasts from grenades and missiles. If you don’t move fast enough, some sort of demon in the sky casts missiles upon you endlessly until you start making progress again. With only three lives and no continues other than using a cheat code, it makes a man out of you rather quickly and ages you just as fast. With enough practice and memorization of enemy movements at certain points, it is feasible to complete Rambo: First Blood Part II, but it’s damn hard to get there. The challenge is somewhat welcome for a seasoned player, but if you don’t like your games coming with a huge portion of practice required, don’t bother – Rambo isn’t for the weak. It isn’t even for the strong. It was made for gods.