Released: May 1988
US Cartridge ID: NES-RV-USA
Genre: Action Adventure
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 1 megabit
Mapper: UNROM (128k PRG)
The second game on the NES to be based on the successful 1985 movie Rambo: First Blood Part II (the first being SNK’s 1986 release, Ikari Warriors), Acclaim’s Rambo follows the exploits of the eponymous Green Beret, closely mimicking the film’s plot. Colonel Trautman, Rambo’s once trusted commander, visits the former war hero in a military prison where he is being detained as a result of his actions in 1982’s film First Blood. For Rambo, still haunted by memories of Vietnam, the war never truly ended. Knowing this, Trautman offers Rambo a chance at redemption: in exchange for returning to the jungle to search for the POWs that are still believed to be alive behind enemy lines, Rambo will not only be freed from prison, but also given the chance to face down his own personal demons. Boarding a helicopter with Trautman, Rambo makes his final preparations.
Rambo is a surprisingly ambitious game, combining side-scrolling action mechanics, NPC interaction, an RPG-style level-up system, and an open world map that serves to disguise the linearity of the gameplay. Playing similarly to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, Rambo‘s gameplay takes place almost entirely in the traditional 2D side-scrolling platform view, where he uses his knife (and once found, throwing knives, arrows, machine guns, and grenades) to dispatch his many adversaries. Rambo gains experience with each kill, with each new strength level increasing the power of his weaponry, in addition to increasing his overall life bar by collecting hearts left by defeated bosses.
Rambo encounters many characters throughout the course of the game from whom he receives important hints and information. Additionally, these people serve as continue checkpoints, lest the hero fall prey to his enemies. The world itself is presented in a novel, disorienting way: tiles showing the letters N and S dot the landscape, and by pressing Up while standing on one, Rambo can move north or south of his current location to a new area. He can also run through the edge of a screen to the next, though oftentimes this will result in Rambo reappearing on the opposite side of the looped map that he is currently on, making navigation tedious and unnecessarily confusing until the player has become accustomed to the structure of the game’s contrived layout.
The graphics in Rambo are not particularly impressive. The sprites are fairly large but lack detail, and the backgrounds are appropriate, though they quickly become monotonous due to the game’s gratuitous recycling of assets. During conversation scenes, the ghastly 8-bit renditions of the actors’ likenesses are unintentionally
hilarious, robbing their words of any real weight. Rambo‘s memorable music serves as its high point, featuring some amazing tunes that are well suited to the on-screen action. The controls are awkward and clumsy, making the game unfairly hard at the beginning: Rambo’s default weapon is his combat knife, but he will be hit constantly by enemies while using it, due to the odd timing of Rambo’s stiff swinging animation. This becomes less of an issue later in the game, since ranged weapons eventually become plentiful enough to replace the knife, but it does make the outset of the journey frustrating.
Rambo is a long and tough adventure, and is certainly is not without its fair share of glaring flaws. However, if the player can persevere in overcoming the steep learning curve and has a willingness to overlook some irritating quirks, there is a lot of fun to found here.