Retro Review: Rambo (NES)

Rambo is a very curious game. It’s not exactly what you would call accessible. As a child you might have found yourself diving into it, expecting some furiously patriotic machine-gunning, much like the cover art from the famous movie, First Blood 2: Rambo, that this game is loosely based on. Instead, you would find yourself dropped in the jungle with nothing but a knife, facing off against deadly giant wasps and snakes, and getting hopelessly lost in a world with a surprisingly complicated layout.

It’s the kind of game that a young child with a short attention span gives up on pretty quickly, only ever giving it a chance out of desperation when there’s nothing else good left to play. It’s actually a pretty good game once you get past the learning curve. It even bears a surprising resemblance to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link in a lot of ways. The art style and side-scrolling melee combat are suspiciously similar at times, as well as the NPC interaction, and Rambo even gains experience in a very similar way. It came out almost a year after Zelda II, so it seems likely that Acclaim “borrowed” a few elements.

The only thing missing is the overworld map, which Rambo makes up for with some incredibly maze-like, multi-layered environments that you pretty much need to draw your own maps for if you don’t want to get lost, especially with how often the backgrounds are recycled.

Going back to the enemies, yes, you start off fighting against wasps and snakes, and then graduate to birds, fish, and…deadly giant flamingos? Sure, why not. You need something to practice on before you’re tough enough to start fighting actual enemy soldiers, because you’re going to need to gain a few levels and find some better weapons before you can handle those guys.

Eventually you’ll get your hands on fancier weapons like exploding arrows and you really will get that machine gun someday, and you’re going to need them, because you’re going to come up against increasingly nasty, and increasingly bizarre, enemies. I guess the designers must have quickly realized that the various soldier types of enemies weren’t going to be enough to fill up a game of this size, and so on top of the large number of animal enemies, you’ll also start running into some completely nonsensical baddies like strange robots, monsters, and giant fireball-spitting spider bosses and such.

If you manage to make it through the long, treacherous maze that is Rambo, you’ll be treated to a final battle against a nasty helicopter boss and one of the most unusual endings ever seen in an NES game. 30 YEAR OLD SPOILER ALERT: After the last battle, you go back to base and meet up with the shifty Murdock character from the movie and find that your knife attack now shoots out a giant Japanese character for Ikari, which transforms Murdock into a frog when it hits him. Sure, why not.

It’s all like some kind of crazy, clumsy mixture of Zelda II and Metal Gear, but once you get the hang of it, it actually turns out to be a pretty fun little game, and one with a lot more fun content than you’d usually expect from a movie tie-in game. It’s definitely not something everyone (or probably even most people) will like, but if you enjoy a bit of the old 8-bit, then you could do a lot worse than the wacky adventures of Rambo.