Warning: actual gun used in game may not be as strong.
I’m sorry, Europe. This cover is third place.
PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous
RELEASE DATE: 11/16/1986 – (JP)
1986 – (US)
10/87 – (EU)
The age of the overhead beefcake shooter began with Ashura, or as American Master System homeboys remember it, Rambo: First Blood Part II… or, as European Master System lads may remember it, Secret Command. It’s the first game encountered on the Sega journey thus far to have a unique name for each territory, though the actual changes between versions are cosmetic (minor graphical tweaks to the main character and some different music). Given that, I’m going to focus this review on Rambo – because I’m American and because Secret Command and Ashura are names that evoke very little in my mind.
Feel the heat.
Yeah, Rambo… he’s got a pair I can get behind. His name evokes the lone wolf, the soldier who’s too good at war, and thus, can never escape exotic deathscapes. He’s the perfect video game hero. Even if Sega wasn’t trying to channel Stallone in Ashura, the original Japanese Mark III version, the main character more than looks the part. He’s all guns blazing (red bandana flying) against an army of presumably corrupt government scum. The only way out is to keep fighting until you meet your own bloody end or surrender and wish you were dead.
If you’ve dabbled in Ikari Warriors, SNK’s Rambo-esque franchise that also kicked off in 1986, you know what Rambo‘s about. You control Rambo, moving him slowly through fields, villages, jungles. Soldiers come at you unceasingly, and they both move and shoot faster than you. The majority of soldiers drift aimlessly, spewing bullets that look like tennis balls in miscellaneous directions, while the occasional sniper, flamethrower-er, rocket spewer, and grenade launcher appear throughout each level to liven things up. Despite your all-encompassing pectorals, one hit is all it takes to fell poor Rambo. All that time in the gym for nothing.
“Rambo, behind you! In the bushes!… WHAT?! I’m not yelling! I’m helping!“
Rambo might be greased up, but he’s not naked: he’s armed with an M-60 machine gun and arrow bombs that decimate entire areas. The machine gun is solid, but the trick is aiming it in the right direction. Those rascally soldiers never stop moving and often walk in awkward zig-zag directions, forcing you to shoot multiple times in their general direction and hope the bullets hit. The arrow bombs can take out multiple guys at a time, but they’re best used against huts with glowing rooftops. Blow up the huts and you’ll free a prisoner, allowing them to bless you with additional arrow bombs or screen-clearing explosions. There aren’t any bosses, per say, until the final round. Rather, the end of each round is a barricade, where soldiers and grenades are hurled at you, like a child throwing toys during a temper tantrum. Eventually, the barricade will glow, which means it’s time to launch an arrow bomb. Do so and progress to the next level. Oh, and pat yourself on the back too. You’ll need some encouragement before each subsequent round.
Even though Rambo almost always works alone, as The Legend of Zelda taught us, it’s dangerous to go alone. Take a friend through the sultry Nicaraguan landscape, so you can double-team the never ending suppressors of the people. Otherwise, your lives will run out faster than a yak in heat, and there’s no continues (unless you’re playing with an additional person, in which case, there are continues up until the second level). Don’t even think about trying to stick quarters into the Master System. Rambo is a fight you’ll have to win the old-fashioned way: all at once.
A shirtless prisoner celebrates a premature freedom dance before a stray bullet cuts off his party.
Even though Rambo is tougher than eating sushi off of Stallone’s bare abs without laughing, I can’t deny that the game fulfills some small testosterone-driven part of my being. People that think these games are repetitive, bang-bang, shoot-em-up are correct, but they’re missing the point. For a certain generation raised on ridiculous 80s movies, how cool was it to play as Rambo in a game that didn’t completely totally suck? Ikari Warriors for the NES sucked. Pretty much every Schwarzenegger game on every console sucked. Sure, Contra was and is great, but Contra was a tribute to 80s action without quite being the real thing. And while I’d prefer to play as a pixel-perfect Arnold fighting off T-1000s with a sawed-off, I’ll take Stallone bare-chesting it through the woods with unlimited rounds of pain.