Genre: Run-‘N-Gun Developer: Sega Enterprises Publisher: Sega Enterprises Players: 1 Released: 1989
Rambo III is a run-‘n-gun style, action shooting game based on the 1988 blockbuster movie. As a film, Rambo III‘s plot is rather corny and only sufficient because it’s a brainless actioner. As a video game, the plot becomes a foundation for creating bedlam, death, and destruction, using one of the 1980’s enigmatic action heroes, John Rambo. The story goes that Colonel Trautman has asked Rambo to join him on a top secret mission to Afghanistan, however Rambo refuses because he’s having some serious doubts about his lifestyle, and is living a reclusive life as a Buddhist monk . Still a man of action, Trautman goes on without him, and subsequently gets captured by the Russians. Rambo, reawakening to his destiny, knows that even a remote monastery cannot shield him from the fact that deep down, he is a full blooded combat soldier. His singular goal now, is to rescue his commander, and only friend.
This was a launch game for the Genesis, among the most stellar list of launch games for any system, ever. It has no relation to the 1989 Taito arcade game of the same name; Rambo III was developed by Sega strictly for the Genesis, and is one of my favorites, especially of the launch titles. I get a feeling that a lot of gamers, particularly of the casual type, didn’t give this game its fair shake when it was released, or even to this day for that matter, because the movie itself, while successful, was panned by most critics, and Rambo, by 1989, had become a ridiculous caricature of the original First Blood character. It’s too bad, because this game has it all.
First of all, it has some of the best cover artwork of any Genesis title. It’s one of the most easily recognizable games to pick out of a pile, and it stuck out like a sore thumb at the toy store when it was new. Featuring a wonderful painting of Rambo posing shirtless, with rippling biceps and packing his composite bow, you’ll notice the Hind-A helicopter from the film, along with the Afghani rebel cavalry. The artwork is trying to convey that the game is going to bring the experience of the film to your Genesis, and for the most part, Rambo III the game, does feel like Rambo III the movie.
You’re greeted with a nice cut scene to start the game off, with Colonel Trautman’s attack squad getting destroyed and captured by a Russian helicopter, which conspicuously looks like the chopper from Super Thunder Blade. The game design features two different types of stages. Most of the game is played run ‘n’ gun style virtually identical to Mercs, where you simply blast your way through an onslaught of enemy soldiers, with some goals scattered throughout, such as blowing up an enemy arsenal, or rescuing prisoners of war. The other type of play is a bonus stage awarded to you after successful completion of certain levels. This bonus stage requires Rambo to use his composite bow to destroy either a Hind helicopter, or a T62 tank, and is the best part of the game in my opinion. It features enormous sprites, with surprisingly detailed graphics. You can really see Rambo’s rippling muscles here, and the gameplay of these bonus stages is fantastic.
While the graphics of the bonus stages are stellar, what is on screen during the main game is only average. Rambo himself looks nice, and you can make out his composite bow being carried around on his back, but all the enemy soldiers look the same, and the level design is very bland. While the two jungle stages feature a few nice terrain features, with sandbag emplacements, and watchtowers, the other levels that take place inside a building or compound are structured at right angles and wind up being mazelike. While the actual level design leaves a little to be desired, Sega did manage to put most of the enemy vehicles and a few environmental tweaks in the game to keep it feeling like the movie. There are enemy jeeps and tanks scattered throughout the levels, along with explosive barrels you can destroy with your bow and arrow for effect. There’s also a sense of urgency to escape certain areas after you’ve rescued P.O.W.s or, after you’ve alerted the enemy to your presence by blowing up their entire weapons cache. The game will send wave after wave of soldiers your way until you manage to escape, and the tension created is well done. Unfortunately, when there are too many soldiers on screen, you will encounter some annoying slowdown. However, I’m glad to say that the majority of the game is played slowdown free.
Unlike Mercs, Rambo is already carrying all the weapons he’ll use from the start of the game until the end. He wields his famous knife, a composite bow with explosive arrows, timed explosives and a machine gun. While the amount of ammo is limited for the bow and arrow, and also the timed explosives, you have unlimited machine gun ammo. The knife actually plays a major role in the game, and one of its main purposes besides killing, is to replenish your stock of arrows and bombs. Enemies killed with the knife leave behind weapon icons to pick up, and sometimes extra lives if you are lucky, not to mention you get an increase in score for knifing. I like the concept of having all your weapons right at the start. It’s a different twist on the genre, and it reflects the real Rambo from the movies.
As with the Rambo flicks, you can expect a ton of explosions. Everything blows up when destroyed, except for soldiers, who should blow up, just as a goof. The requisite sound effects are adequate, and certainly were original, as I’ve not heard these explosion noises reused in another game. The background music is fantastic, and very fitting to the atmosphere, particularly on stage two. This is one game where I think the music helps to immerse you in the game a little bit, and I never have it off while playing. Rambo himself is of course practically a god, and when he gets hit by enemy fire you lose one life, but all Rambo does is let out a muffled “oomph” and he continues on his path of destruction. I’m cool with that.
Control is simple and responsive, allowing you to switch weapons smoothly, and also dodge enemy bullets with ease. Rambo glides across the screen and can fire his machine gun either standing still or on the run. One nice little effect is if you stand still, Rambo will spray his machine gun fire from left to right like a wave, while on the run he’ll shoot in a straight line. This is a good feature for the cautious player, since you can hang back and decimate an enemy rush from a distance.
There are six levels, plus four bonus stages required to rescue Colonel Trautman. The difficulty is adjustable, but I had a hard time finishing the game on easy. That is probably due to learning the proper technique of knifing. I died a lot trying to knife the enemy, because if you miss your first stab attempt, you will most likely take a shot from his machine gun. The game is probably significantly easier if you just use the machine gun, but that reduces the fun factor too much. I find it a much more pleasurable experience to utilize all the weapons Rambo has at his disposal. Surprisingly, that’s all optional, as I’m pretty sure you can win the entire game with just the machine gun if you want, as all the objects that must be blown up, can be destroyed with it.
Rambo III is an absolute blast to play, and it’s one of the first video games based on a movie that I remember to be good. It’s not just good, it’s great, and I don’t know if this game was made to cash in on a movie franchise, but the finished product is not shovelware by any means. It’s a polished game, and while it’s an action game among a few other action games released at the launch of the Genesis, I feel it’s a much different action game with its own style. It doesn’t feature just side-scrolling action like Altered Beast or Revenge of Shinobi. It offers more freedom of movement, and has two totally different types of gameplay between the main game, and the bonus levels. This game is a winner, and please don’t dismiss it because Sylvester Stallone is on the artwork, or you didn’t like the movie; it’s still a quality game through and through.
SCORE: 9 out of 10