Monday, 23 February 2015

Rambo: First Blood Part II (Ocean Software, 1985)


Developed by Platinum Productions.

ZX Spectrum version by David J. Anderson, with loading screen by F. David Thorpe; produced by Jon Woods. Released in 1985.

Commodore 64 version: Programming by David Collier, Tony Pomfret and Bill Barna; Graphics by Tony Pomfret and David Collier; Loading screen by Stephen Wahid; Music and sound effects by Martin Galway. Released in 1986.

Amstrad CPC version: Programming by J.E. Cosby and Colin Gordon; Loading Screen by C. Thornton; Graphics by Steve Calvert, Jim Bagley and Craig Houston; Music and sound effects by Jims DX. Released in 1986.

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INTRODUCTION & GAME STATUS


It's been a long time since I did my first Stallone game comparison, so it's about time I made another one. And this one, I suspect, is one of the more expected ones, because anyone who grew up in the eighties with one of our three main competitors will very likely have played at least one version of Rambo: First Blood Part II - the first game based on the famous Rambo movie series. Some of us have been so fortunate to even having played or owned two different versions of it. The reasons for the game's relatively wide exposure could be more or less dependant on where you lived, but the truth is, Sylvester Stallone was big back then. Really big. Probably even bigger than Schwarzenegger. And the 1980's were the not only the golden age of high voltage action movies, but also the timeframe, during which big game publishing companies were born and movie licences in video and computer games were a fresh novelty. Before Rambo: First Blood Part II, I really cannot think of any bigger budget movie licence games for home computers, apart from Ghostbusters, and now was the time for publishers to spend more money on selling their products. Young gamers who idolized Stallone was an idiot-proof combination, and so Rambo proved to be one of the biggest successes of the year.

For the most part, the gaming press liked it at the time of release, but some reviewers also thought that it seemed to offer very little new to an already aging genre, and for any proper gamer, Commando could never be topped by anything. I, for one, would beg to differ, at least to some extent, but more on that later on. At the time of writing this bit, Lemon64 visitors have given the C64 version a score of 7.6 from a total of 172 votes; 72 World of Spectrum voters have given their version a score of 6.80; and CPC Game Reviews' reviewer has given the Amstrad version a 6 out of 10, while CPC-Softs has a score of 7.38 out of 20.00.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


You can't really talk about Rambo without touching the subject of the movies, but few people seem to be aware that the movies themselves were based on a 1972 novel by David Morrell. For those of you unfamiliar with the original plotline, I will not spoil the ending, but the original First Blood movie follows the novel's plot quite closely to a certain extent. The cinematic sequel could be considered fanfiction, since the original novel only was a one-off. Rambo: First Blood Part II was a movie more focused on action than psychology, contrarily to the original novel and even the movie, and although the critics mostly disliked the rather bombastic sequel, it was a huge blockbuster.

Due to the sequel's more action-oriented style, it was perhaps only to be expected that a computerized version of it would appear. In a way, I'm glad that no one even attempted to make a game of the first movie, because it would have been either appalling or completely unsuitable to be made into a game considering the early game programming abilities. Now, I can see it as a modification of Alan Wake or something, but in 1982/83, I truly don't think a properly representative game of First Blood would have been possible. Of course, it could be argued that the first Rambo game didn't work out that well either, due to its rather limited exploration of the plotline and everything, but it does cover the essentials.

Of course, you step into the shoes of John J. Rambo, who has been thrown into the middle of a Vietnamese jungle. In the movie, Colonel Trautman, Rambo's old team leader, gets him out of imprisonment, offering a mission to be completed in exchange for his freedom. Rambo's mission is to photograph a bunch of American war prisoners still trapped in Vietnam, and take the footage back to the base camp. Naturally, this doesn't suit well with Rambo, and he takes the liberty of freeing the prisoners and bringing them home on a helicopter.

The game follows the movie in a bare bones kind of way. You start off in the jungle, trying to find your way into a POW camp while looking for your lost fighting equipment. In the POW camp, you need to pick up more weapons and free all the prisoners before you can head towards the home base. The game features an element of stealth in that the more noisy your weapon in use is, the more you will attract enemy soldiers. Some bits in the game require you to use a certain weapon in order to make progress, which is another rare thing to see in an early action game. Another curiosity in the game is one of the first uses of a controllable vehicle, which is the aforementioned helicopter.

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LOADING


All three computers had both tape and disk releases either as standalone or within a compilation, although I'd almost be willing to bet, that about 1% or less of us gamers have ever seen or owned a disk version of the game. Nonetheless, with a bit of searching, you can find disk images from the depths of the internet. Still, we shall be concentrating on comparing the tape loading times, as has been the custom lately.

C64, Hit Squad: 4 min 15 sec
C64, original: 5 min 20 sec
CPC, original: 4 min 14 sec
SPE, Erbe: 2 min 48 sec
SPE, Hit Squad: 4 min 58 sec
SPE, original: 3 min 01 sec

Loading screens: ZX Spectrum (top left), Amstrad CPC (top middle and right),
Commodore 64 NTSC disk (bottom left and middle) and Commodore 64 PAL tape (bottom right).


This time, the Spectrum version wins easily by more than a minute, and the C64 versions are surprisingly the slowest of the lot, although not by much. Also, the C64 loading screen is considerably uglier than its two contestants, but at least it has a superb loading tune to listen to. The NTSC disk version released by Thunder Mountain features a very different loading screen, which is more pleasant to look at than the tape loader, but if you want to get yourselves a good C64 loader, try one of the entries from the 2011 Rambo Revisited GFX Compo at the C-64 Scene Database, or even the original loading screen remake by STE'86 that started all the madness. Interestingly, I also found two different versions of the Amstrad loading screen, both of which you can see above. The other one has white bits, while the other one goes with cyan instead. I'm not sure if the white version is actually an official loading screen or not, but the cyan version was on the tape loader.

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PLAYABILITY


As has so often proved to be the case, one of the three is substantially different from the others. This time, the culprit is a bit surprisingly the SPECTRUM version, which I will naturally get to, once I have dealt with the other two.

The C64 and AMSTRAD versions are basically the same, with some naturally expected differences. The game boots into a title screen, which scrolls a massively long high scores list. Pushing the fire button gets you into the screen where you enter your name, which will be entered onto the high scores list if you do well enough. Once you're in the game, you will start off in the middle of a fairly clear bit of jungle, alone and equipped with a knife and a crossbow with two types of arrows: regular and explosive ones. With explosive weapons, you can destroy buildings and make all sorts of mess, but with knives, regular arrows and machine gun bullets, you can only kill people. Enemies will be patrolling around with a seemingly random manner, but once you start killing them with anything noisier than a knife, the enemy soldiers will start hunting for you more vigorously. Within the first area of the game, you will be able to pick up a machine gun and hand grenades, and your mission is to free one prisoner and head north towards an unoccupied helicopter. In the second level, you will need to fly back south to the POW camp to free more prisoners and get back to the chopper. The final bit requires you to fly your helicopter about a hundred miles north to the base camp while being harrassed by a more powerful enemy helicopter. The game must be completed by using only one life, but you are given a certain amount of energy to help you survive.

There are only a handful of ways the two aforementioned versions differ from each other. First, the C64 version can only be played using a joystick (with the weapon change mapped for Space Bar), while the AMSTRAD version supports redefinable keyboard controls. Note that in order to get to redefine the keys or start the Amstrad version on a joystick, you must wait until the title screen scrolls through the high score list and all the way down to the section where it reads "push K to redefine keys" and so on. Second, the AMSTRAD makes you wait longer for the game to make progress due to an animation where the rather large HUD is brought into light, and when each level starts and ends with an effect of a curtain rising and falling. Graphically, it might be more interesting, but for a frantic action game with only one life, you would normally like to have a more immediate sort of repeat experience, and getting all sorts of unnecessary transitional animation only slows down the experience. But the third difference, and in my mind, the most important one, is how the game scrolls and animates along with it. The C64 version does it beautifully and gracefully, and you can see everything happening as good as you are ever able to on an 8-bit machine. The AMSTRAD version scrolls jerkily and you can scarcely see anything before it's too late, particularly the direction of the flying ammunition, because the animation seems to be character based, and the scrolling makes everything look to be moving around with a certain amount of randomness. It doesn't help much at all either, that the Amstrad version has the action screen takes only about 2/3 of the available screen (not counting the borders), while on the C64, the action screen takes the whole screen (also not counting the borders), so in other words, the visibility on the Amstrad is very much reduced. You'll see what I mean later on. Also, a minor point of complaint about the Amstrad version is that in the jungle bits, it more difficult to get through the denser bits than on the C64, because along with the framerate, your ability to move around and your firing rate will drop a bit, but I suppose that could also be more of a matter of practice and getting used to the Amstrad version's other disadvantages.

Although I spent infinitely more amount of time with the C64 version back then, the SPECTRUM version was the first one I played. Strangely enough, I never really got around to playing the Speccy version again since then, even though emulation was an easy way to reacquaint myself with lots of lost gems. So, getting back to it now was a very peculiar experience. See, the SPECTRUM version has quite a few differences in it, which makes it a very different game. After the game starts up, you are greeted with a title screen, only then followed by a high scores list. Pushing the fire button makes you enter the main menu, where you can redefine controls, set a difficulty level out of three options, and even change the number of players. Of course, the game can only be played in turns, so there's not much of use for a two-player mode, really. The game also has three lives and a different map layout, so newcomers from the Commodore or Amstrad camp will need to learn their way through the game completely all over again. Mind you, the extra lives are of little help, when you are killed instantly by any sort of collision from either an enemy soldier or a single bullet - losing a life will only take you a short way back in the map to the closest spawn point.

Although you could consider it an aspect of realism, I only found it to be a point of irritation to have the SPECTRUM version start the game off from one of a few randomly chosen spots at the bottom of the vast map. When you get to know the area, then it's not a big deal, but the Spectrum version has a considerably larger map and your proceeding therein is quite a bit slower than on either of the other two. At least the Spectrum game scrolls better and has more fluent animation than on the Amstrad, but the vastness of it all, coupled with the relative monotonity of the graphics makes it a less interesting and more confusing game to learn your way around. Although more fluent than on the Amstrad, the scrolling here works in a rather peculiar manner - vertically it's constant and fine, even though you do need to walk around quite a bit before any scrolling action starts to happen, but horizontally, you get a sort of a pushing motion for about one third of the action screen's width every time you pass a certain borderline. On the C64, the free movement area is a lot smaller compared to the actual action screen, and on the Amstrad, there is no free movement area at all - Rambo is stuck to the middle of the action screen. Also, the scrolling is more constant and logical in all directions on the C64 and Amstrad, and all of this makes the Spectrum version feel much slower in comparison.

In certain aspects, however, the Spectrum version offers a more balanced gameplay experience: for one, the whole game must be played in one sitting, with no transitional pauses between sections. Also, the enemy chopper didn't seem to be as difficult to beat as on the other two machines, but then I only played through the easy level, which offered quite enough of challenge already, particularly when you're going for the POW group after the half-point in the game. The slowness of the Spectrum version actually helps you to get around with better possibilities, since you can dodge the enemy bullets relatively easily here, but unfortunately the game is riddled with rather severe bugs. You can often see enemies walk through walls and disregard bullets going through them, and the game can completely crash at unexpected events, such as shooting down the enemy gunship at the end. Happily, you can get a bugfixed version at the World of Spectrum, but that helps little for those who want to buy the game legitimately and play it on their real Spectrums. Even then, the original release will not work on a +2A/+3, so those of you who have one of those, you need to get yourself the Hit Squad re-release. Even then, the unofficial bugfixed version is the preferable choice.

That's not to say neither of the other two versions didn't have bugs. I have managed to get the C64 Rambo crash occasionally, although I have no recollection how that might have happened. It also has a strange bug, which can be applied as a cheat of sorts for the final act in the game - pulling both joysticks in the opposite diagonals will make your helicopter fly north very fast in a backwards manner, effectively leaving the enemy chopper eating your dust. I haven't been able to come across any bugs in the Amstrad version, but someone commented on a longplay video of the Amstrad  version on YouTube, that the enemy helicopter can only be "destroyed" for about 5 seconds until it respawns. I only managed to dodge its missiles and make my way all the way up to the headquarters with a bit of luck - I could never get any of my missiles hit their target. Perhaps I just suck at these kinds of games, but there you go. Anyway, here are the scores for this section, mostly based on the
probability factor of anyone ever getting through the game...

1. COMMODORE 64
2. ZX SPECTRUM
3. AMSTRAD CPC

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GRAPHICS


Like most games, Rambo starts with a title screen - already a good place to start listing all the differences. The C64 and AMSTRAD versions start with a huge scrolling high score list, here titled as "All Time Heroes" to give it a more thematic feel. The Amstrad version also shows your last score just below the title, because it has no separate awarding screen like the C64 version does. After the high scores are shown (80 on the C64, 24 on the Amstrad), the instructions follow. On the Amstrad, the instructions are scrolled with the same method as the high scores, while the C64 lets you see the instructions on your own pace by using the joystick when prompted. The SPECTRUM version starts with the credits screen, after which the rather short "Hall of Fame" list shows up with the title tune.

Title screens, high scores, instructions and a main menu.
Left row: Commodore 64. Middle row: Amstrad CPC. Right row: ZX Spectrum.

What follows next is a bit different from the other two: you get a main menu screen, which offers a few rather unexpected options, if you were more familiar with either the C64 or the AMSTRAD versions. The thing is, though, that the SPECTRUM version came out first, which explains the inclusion of both a two-player mode and a difficulty level setting, which are frankly a bit over the top and needless for this game. But it's good to know the hardcore fanatics of this game have some options. Moving on, then.

Enter your name: Commodore 64 (left), Amstrad CPC (middle), ZX Spectrum (right).


Before you're thrown into the game, you are given a chance to enter your name, which would be later shown on the high score list, depending on your success. On the SPECTRUM, you can simply type in your name, which is frankly the preferable choice here. The controller-driven "choose-your-alphabet" method is exhausting and silly, particularly if your name is Fitzwilliam or Christopher or Montgomery. I don't know any female names that have more than 10 letters in them, so you're safe,  unless you're playing on the SPECTRUM, where you can only enter 8 letters. Of course, you can start the game without a name, which will show as "Player 1" on the Spectrum, "*Unknown*" (* shown as heart signs) on the C64 and as "*Unknown?*" (same thing as on the C64) on the Amstrad. Strangely, on the Amstrad and C64, the letters are shown in weird formations: a butterfly on the Amstrad and a helmet on the C64. The helmet I can sort of understand, but the butterfly...?

Screenshots from the ZX Spectrum version.


Let's take a look at the SPECTRUM version first, since it was the first to arrive. The whole play area is basically a black background with randomly placed terrain ornaments like palm trees, bushes and puddles of water. Because of the slowness and the curious scrolling method I mentioned earlier, it's a bit more difficult to get your head around the map on the Spectrum than it is on either of the other two. The good thing about the Spectrum's hi-res monochrome graphics is that you can see more clearly, which enemies are the more dangerous ones, and all the animations are nicer than on either the C64 or even more particularly, the Amstrad. The bad thing is that the ground and the other elements feel a bit lacking in any sort of recognizable patterns, but that's more of a problem with the level design than the style of graphics. To make things a bit clearer for everyone, here's the full map of the game area. Having gotten so used to the lack of a space-consuming HUD on the C64, which you shall see in a bit, the one on the Spectrum looks huge. Although it leaves just about enough of space for the action screen, you often get the feeling that "wouldn't it be nice to have a bit more room on the screen to view things from a better distance?" Yes, it would. At least, the HUD is a fairly nice-looking one.

Screenshots from the Amstrad CPC version.


On the AMSTRAD, all the pixels are wide, and so is the HUD. Of course, they could have let go of the "SCORE" and "ENERGY" texts, clump them closer together and on top of each other either way, and then either above or below the weapons display. That way, there would have been at least more vertical space for the action screen... but no. At least the basic style and detail in the graphics is similar to the C64, at least as far as the action screen is concerned - orange sand to act as the ground bits, green bushes, grey stones, all that sort. It's just that the pixelation and detailing is a bit lacking here. Anyway, since they do look alike enough, linking you the Amstrad map effectively makes linking you the C64 map useless. Besides, I couldn't find a map for the C64 version, and the idea was only to show the differences between the Spectrum and C64/CPC maps, so there.

Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version.


Oh, the freedom of vision. The C64 version certainly has that in vast quantities compared to its contestants. But although I'm a big fan of proper field of vision, the rather unintrusive score-energy-and-weapons display at the bottom of the screen takes my vote for the purest stroke of genius here. Even though it's all down there, you can still see the terrain scrolling behind everything without any problems. The selected weapons can be seen having a flashing sort of an effect, and the energy bar will make the text use inverted colours as it depletes, taking no more room from the screen than necessary. That said, it's still not necessarily the most ideal setup, but it's far better than anything that either the Spectrum or the Amstrad versions offer in this regard. The relatively low-resolutioned multicolour graphics aren't perhaps the most attractive option for a game like this, but here, the colours have been handled with more grace than on the Amstrad (particularly the yellow sand with more texture), and Rambo himself has been built from two objects: a multi-colour lo-res sprite in the background, and a black hi-res frame on top of it, so it looks like a hi-res multicolour sprite. As there's nothing wrong with the scrolling, and the animation is certainly better than it is on the Amstrad, overall it's easily the best one of the lot.

Transition text screens and game endings. Top row: Commodore 64.
Bottom row: Amstrad CPC. At the right end: ZX Spectrum ending screen.


As the Amstrad and C64 versions have been cut into three sections, there are a couple of text screens that don't appear on the Spectrum. On the C64, all the text bits appear against a blank black screen, while the Amstrad version shows the texts in a blanked-out section where there's normally the action screen. The "Get Ready" and "Game Over" bits don't really offer anything worth seeing, as they're either just similar to the other text bits, but with less text. Sure, the Amstrad version has an animated bit for the sidebar to come into view when the game starts, and gets darkened out when the game is over, and there's also the opening and closing curtain effects for every level, which are nice, if rather unnecessary, as I already mentioned. Too bad I can't show them to you here, you would need to dig up some clip from YouTube for it, and then you would need to dig up videos of the other two versions to compare. But I guess that's all there is to it, really - time for the results...

1. COMMODORE 64
2. ZX SPECTRUM
3. AMSTRAD CPC

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SOUNDS


All the versions of the game feature differently arranged chiptune abbreviations of the original movie theme. None of them get the original's rhythm quite right, but I don't think that's all that necessary when trying to create an atmosphere for the game, which has to be more straightforward than the symphonic hero anthem in the movie, as long as the main bits of the melody are played in some manner.

The SPECTRUM version has three or four tunes, depending on how you count them. The title screen (or the high scores screen, to be more precise) plays a really out-of-tune and slightly out-of-rhythm variation of the main title theme from the movie, with only about three or four sections included in the abbreviation. Since you'll be hearing the music from a beeper, the sound of it will not be anything too pleasing, although the tune utilises some sort of tricks to make it sound as if there were more than one instrument playing the same melody simultaneously. I suppose this method of writing music for the Speccy beeper was only just invented, which is why it sounds like they still didn't properly know what they were doing with it. In addition to the strange multi-tonal single melody, there is a rhythm track of sorts that doesn't really feel like it fits too well with the tune, although I understand that the original tune can be somewhat misleading and tricky in its arrangement for most people. When you complete your mission, you get a rather unconnected sounding rock tune with a basis on a couple of chord structures played in a slow arpeggio-like manner. And no, it's not an arrangement of the ghastly Frank Stallone tune. The third one is "Star Spangled Banner" for the Game Over scene - how appropriate. The fourth one, if you count as such, is just the first part cut from the main title theme of the game, and is played on every "Get Ready" scene. As for the sound effects in the game... unfortunately, they're not all that much to talk about. Just randomly static beeper noises, all different for each weapon but impossible to describe or tell apart from the others. Only the menu sounds are more melodic, but even there it's all bulky Spectrum-like beeper arpeggios and pips.

For both the AMSTRAD and C64 versions, we get more music for our money, but the C64 version is infinitely more polished in this regard as well. The C64 version contains three completely exclusive tunes - one for the loader, one for the title screen and one funky drum beat thing for the "enter your name screen". The familiar movie theme tune has been reserved to be used as the in-game soundtrack, although if you wished to hear the sounds of 8-bit war going on, you can toggle the rather peculiar sound effects with the S key. Of course, as you all might already know, the tune is still quite far from the original, but it's a more straightforward and perhaps even more recognizable variation on the theme than, some might even claim, the original was. It's Martin Galway all the way, and it's the best you'll get from any version of this particular Rambo game. The AMSTRAD version of the title tune cuts off after the familiar part has finished, and the game continues on with sound effects, and there is some rather drastic rhythmic problems with the Amstrad rendition anyway, so it's just as good that the music is kept short. The other familiar bit from the title tune has been reserved for the bit where you free the prisoners in section two. The rest of the tunes are left for the short transitional text screens, of which there are three - all included in both versions. The transition tune for level 1 has an eastern sort of feel to it; the one for level 2 has a cautionary, almost defeated feel to it; and the "mission completed" tune is an overly joyous march tune that sounds like it could be one from John Philip Sousa. Apart from the sound effects, the C64 version has the best sounds of the lot, and the Amstrad version has the most fitting sound effects for this sort of a game. Which isn't saying a lot, but still.

1. COMMODORE 64
2. AMSTRAD CPC
3. ZX SPECTRUM

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OVERALL


So, what would a fanatic action junkie of a retro gamer require from a game that is supposed to represent one of the most action-packed movies of all time? Fast and furious action, preferably lots of explosions and a great soundtrack to go with it, if possible. But most of all, a good playability. You can't really enjoy a game unless it's thoroughly playable. The thing is, though, all three versions have their own sorts of problems in that regard. Although I consider now the Spectrum version just as worthy of consideration as the C64 version, as it is different enough, the C64 version offers a less stressful and time-consuming option to accomplish the same mission in a more colourful and sonically pleasing manner. In short, the C64 version wins in every regard except for the loading speed and screen, and even in that regard, you can find loading screen remakes on the internet that would kick the original ones into oblivion. The Amstrad version clearly isn't as good as either of its competitors, but it's still a good addition to any Amstrad gamer's collection. Anyway, here are the rather mathematically unsurprising results:

1. COMMODORE 64: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 9
2. ZX SPECTRUM:
Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 5
3. AMSTRAD CPC:
Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 4


The still much-coveted, newly re-titled
SlyBurger award, presented for the
Commodore 64 version of Rambo II.
Thus, the second much coveted Burger award - or perhaps I should call it a SlyBurger award - for a Stallone-themed game version, as was given for the Spectrum version of Cobra... this time goes to the Commodore 64! Unless you happen to actually like Frank Stallone, I suggest you take this heroic moment with a bit of Dan Hill, because it certainly is a long road.

Now, for a bit of a bonus to make up for this month's relative lack of entries, let's take a quick look at all the other games based on the same movie.

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OTHER RAMBO II GAMES


Most of you must be aware that there have been other games based on the movie. Or at least, somewhat based on the franchise and titled as "Rambo" to make up for the lack of connection to either the original novel and movie or the sequel. To make things even more troublesome, SEGA published a rail shooter arcade game titled "Rambo" in 2008, and in 2014, another shooter titled "Rambo: The Video Game" got published by Reef Entertainment in 2014, both based on the three original movies. But we shall only be looking at the ones published in the 80's.

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Rambo: First Blood Part II  (DOS/Apple, 1985)

Developed by Angelsoft
Published by Mindscape

The first oddity is a text adventure, of all things! Come to think of it, a game based on the original novel/movie might have worked surprisingly well as a text adventure, but Part II really requires some graphic action. Just to prove this theory right, I went ahead and immersed myself in this game for a full three minutes to see if it lead me anywhere either spiritually or physically.

Screenshots from the DOS version of Angelsoft's Rambo text adventure.


Well, it didn't. At the very beginning, you are dropped into a bit of dense jungle, where the enemy will be arriving to shoot you within about two moves, and you can't seem to escape them, and anything you are able to find and carry don't seem to be much of help. So I got bored with it and decided I could try something different instead, more fitting to bear the title of Rambo. I'm sure a text adventure enthusiast might get some kicks out of this one, but I've always hated timed missions, particularly when you have no time to explore what you can do to even start the game properly.

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Rambo (MSX, 1985)
Developed by CCS
Published by Pack-In-Video Co., Ltd

This is as close to Rambo being a role-playing game as you will probably ever get, and although it doesn't seem so, we need to dig a bit deeper into the Japanese gaming history to find out the connection. The MSX Rambo's playability heavily resembles that of an earlier J-RPG called Hydlide, which was one of the first Japanese action-RPG's. Much like in Hydlide, you take control of a lone player character who runs around in a tile-based game world, ramming into enemies with the fire button held firmly down in the hopes of winning a battle. Well, at least until you get a projectile weapon. The biggest gameplay difference in Rambo is simply related to moving around - whenever you start to move or change your direction, Rambo seems to prepare for the forthcoming movement with an "empty" step, meaning that he always takes a step or two in his place before actually moving anywhere. This can become rather burdensome very easily, as you need to have superb reaction skills to get anywhere, and you only have one life to use with very little energy. Also, all the killed enemies respawn after you go to another screen, so it's more a game of luck, perseverance and patience than skills and strategy.

Screenshots from the MSX Rambo.
Again, I'm sorry to say, it's not my cup of random beverage. Not only because of the random nature of all the action, but also because there is no real feel of connection to the actual Rambo series in any other way than that you're a lone warrior killing everything in your way. There's no Rambo-related music, no apparent storyline, no sense of heroism that being Rambo should convey... I mean, you get killed by a snake poison within two seconds. The real Rambo would have probably transfered the snake's own blood to replace his own in order to get some sort of an immunity to snakebites. But it's not all bad, I suppose, since some people swear that the MSX Rambo is the best of them all. There was a remake of it in the making by some Brazilian independent developer in 2010, but the process on it seems a bit non-existant. Not only that, but there was also a sequel called - check this... "Super Rambo Special". For the next sequel, I guess the whole galaxy would have exploded in search for an even more ridiculous title.

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Rambo: First Blood Part II (Sega Master System, 1986)
Developed and published by SEGA Enterprises Ltd.

If all the fans of Commando thought that the Ocean game was a bad Commando-clone with nothing new to offer, the Sega game will probably look like one even more so, since the game looks and plays almost exactly like Commando. It's a another strictly vertical shooter settled in the deeper regions of Vietnam, as it should be of course, and your lone gunman is set off against a neverending army of enemy troops. But wait, did I say "lone gunman"? Sorry - there is actually a co-operative two-player
mode in this game, so it's definitely a step ahead from Commando.

Screenshots from the North American release of Sega's Rambo.
Both players will be equipped with two weapons: a regular projectile and a special explosive weapon. The biggest playability difference to Commando (apart from the aforementioned) is probably how the shooting is handled. Although moving is allowed in all eight basic directions, you can only shoot left, right, up, or diagonally upwards, which can occasionally be a little bit uncomfortable. Of course, the enemies are allowed to shoot backwards, just to make it more unfair. However, you can find power-ups in the game by shooting down all the flashing buildings, where you will find POW's waiting to be released, who will then award you with some sort of a power-up, which will either give you more firepower, more ammunition for your secondary weapon or a question mark item, which will kill every enemy on the screen.

Other versions of Sega's Rambo. Left: original Japanese game "Ashura". Right: the PAL modification.
There is a bit of a problem here, though, because I'm not sure if this should be called a proper Rambo game. See, it was originally released in Japan as Ashura, where the two players controlled a pair of armed buddhist monks named Ashura and Bishamon on a similar mission. Sega bought the licence to release the game as Rambo: First Blood Part II for the North American market, for which some of the graphics were redesigned and some of the music was replaced with proper Rambo music. As the Rambo licence was only usable for the USA release, the PAL version of the game was released as Secret Command (or Secret Commando, as it says on the title screen), on which the manual text refers to the original Japanese release, while the game graphics retain their designs from Rambo, and the music is from Ashura. Confusing, but there you go. So while the Rambo game is certainly an official release, it wasn't originated as a pure-blood Rambo game. Still, aside from being a slightly modified version of Commando, and not being a Rambo game to begin with, it's still one of the better Rambo games around.

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Rambo (NES, 1987)
Developed by Pack-In-Video Co., Ltd
Published by Acclaim Entertainment, Inc.

You will likely know all about this one already, as it was so thoroughly reviewed by none other than the Angry Video Game Nerd in 2008. If you haven't seen the video, here's the link. The video also offers a brief look at the Sega game, as well as a couple of REALLY brief shots of the C64 version.

Screenshots from the NES Rambo.

I cannot really add much to the video, since I haven't really bothered to play it as much as James Rolfe, but as he pointed out already, the NES game follows the movie almost too closely, and all the dialogue bits take away from the point of the game, which is being Rambo and doing Rambo things. Combining the badly copied Zelda II gameplay with the game's theme makes it feel completely out of its own element, and overall, the game is only marginally more recommendable than the earlier text adventure.

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Rambo Remake (Windows, 2009)
by Mick Farrow

To end up sort of what we started with, there's a relatively recent remake of the Ocean game (well, at least the Speccy version of it) available for the Windows machines. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a copy of it which didn't get a virus alert from my scanner, and as I have little intention of infecting my computer due to a remake of a game I will be very unlikely to play more than just this once in any case, I'll wait until someone points out a clean version to me. But based on the screens behind the link, it looks like a fairly promising remake.

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That should be enough Stallone for this year, hope you enjoyed it. Next time, I'll be digging into something else that I've also been putting off for too long now. Comments, suggestions and corrections are welcome as ever, but it might take a while before I can get into fixing anything...

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