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Saturday, September 24, 2022


Rambo for the NES is another game steeped in notoriety and unmet expectations.  From the title and the cover art one would expect a fairly straightforward run-and-gun action game a la Contra or Ikari Warriors (indeed, the Sega Master System version of Rambo released a year prior plays very much like the latter), but Pack-in Video opted to create a nearly point-for-point copycat of Zelda II instead; though it was released about seven months earlier in North America, Zelda II came out first in Japan.  So, Rambo platforms about, defeating enemies to earn experience points (or "Anger" in the Japanese version), which grant him more health and power up his survival knife once he hits certain plateaus.  As you defeat enemies, you can also earn other weapons to use like throwing knives, arrows and grenades, and toward the end you get explosive arrows and a machine gun, and even temporary powerups that allow you to run faster, jump higher or restore health on the spot.  The problem is, none of this is particularly fun - hit detection is weird, aiming some weapons (like your grenades and bow) requires precise placement, and even your knife has an awkward delay on each swing you have to compensate for.  Navigation is made difficult by the bizarre design of the map -  the game takes place on flat planes you must switch between by standing on an arrow and pressing Up to move north or south, and sometimes paths are one-way, meaning you can't even easily go back if you take a wrong turn.  But the most notorious thing is how cheap and buggy its design is - Some screens constantly bombard you with bombs that are almost impossible to avoid, particularly in swampy areas that slow your movement. Rambo gets kicked backwards after a hit, which causes him to fall through bridges and can get him stuck in scenery (or even to fall out of the bottom of the screen and end up at another part of the game), and the password system is infamously faulty, to the point where some guides recommend writing down not one, but three different passwords before shutting the game off.  The final battle is another infamous element - a frustrating and overly long endurance test pitting you against a constant barrage of soldiers and a helicopter bombarding the screen with missiles that takes a total of fifty grenades to destroy.  An early NES game that's annoying to navigate, frustrating to play and has Rambo fighting far more jungle fauna (and later on, bizarre anomalies like hopping aliens and cyborgs) than enemy soldiers; is it any wonder few look back on this one fondly?

Despite the name, it's also based on Rambo: First Blood Part II rather than the original movie. I guess a game about a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD on the run from a fascist sheriff culminating in a violent siege would have been just a bit too controversial for Nintendo.

Developer: Pack-In-Video
Publisher: Acclaim
Platform: NES
Released: 1988