Sunday, November 22, 2020

Game 390: Super Rambo Special (1986)

     
Super Rambo Special
Japan
Pack-in-Video (developer and publisher)
Released in 1986 for the MSX2
Date Started: 19 November 2020
Date Ended: 19 November 2020
Total Hours: 3
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
     
Super Rambo Special appears on Wikipedia's list of role-playing video games, with its designation as an "action RPG" cited to a 2009 Hardcore Gaming 101 article that no longer appears on the site. I would like to shake the author by his lapels and demand that he articulate precisely what RPG elements he feels that the game has. It isn't an RPG at all--it's an axonometric action game with elements so simplistic that it might easily have been found in an arcade. My policy on such games these days is to reject them, offer a BRIEF in case someone comes looking for coverage, and move on. The only reason you're getting a full article is because Rambo is so short that to BRIEF it is to cover it entirely.
   
The game is officially licensed from Carolco, the production company that made the first three Rambo films. In 1985, Rambo: First Blood Part II had smashed international box office records, leading to a slew of tie-in video games, many of which make no sense at all. The earliest seems to be the Japanese Rambo (1985) for the MSX, a game that I seem to have previously rejected. If I had remembered it before playing this one, I would have revisited it first. It's an action game for the original MSX with more limited gameplay than this one, which is really saying something. The same year, Mindscape released Rambo: First Blood Part II as a text adventure, of all things. Two games with that same title hit the shelves in 1986, one for PCs in the United Kingdom and the other for the SEGA Master System in Japan, the U.K., and the United States. The NES had Rambo (1987). Altogether, these titles satisfied the need for jingoistic violence until a slew of games based on Rambo III emerged in 1988 and 1989. It's strange how few video games were made based on the original First Blood (1982). 
       
When Rambo wields the M-60 in the film,
             
Super Rambo Special never made it out of Japan, but all the screen text is in English, except for one setup screen in which the player is asked if he wants to enter a save code. (Although the MSX was a proper PC, the game was released as a cartridge.)  I was unable to find a manual for it, but the joystick-based controls were simple enough that I didn't need one.
    
The game begins with Rambo in a tropical-looking landscape of shrubs, rocks, and thatch-roof huts. From my gameplay experience, I suspect the official mission is to find an MIA and then find your way to an escape helicopter. You start near the lower-right corner of a map of about 200 screens (my best guess is that it's 12 x 16), and the helicopter is in the far upper-right. A north-south river bisects the game world, and rocks, hedges, and buildings make it impossible to travel anywhere in a straight line.
    
Each screen has up to half a dozen enemies, and may have a building containing up to another half dozen. Rambo begins with nothing but a knife, and buildings are the only places to find other weapons and ammunition, which include a handgun, a bow, an automatic rifle, a bow with exploding arrowheads, grenades, and a rocket launcher. Some buildings are locked and require keys found in the wilderness. Also found in the wilderness are flowers that provide a bit of healing when you find them and even more healing when you later use them. There are other flowers that are poisonous.
         
Two guards patrol a locked building. Fortunately, I have two keys, plus 33 automatic weapon rounds, 31 grenades, and 37 rockets for my launcher.
          
The player moves Rambo with the joystick and attacks with one of the buttons. A second button pauses the game and allows the player to scroll through the weapon and object selections.
      
There are no RPG elements in anything I've said so far, but the worse part is, the game sucks even as an action game. I don't claim to be an expert on action games, but the few that I've played usually start the player weak in weapons and slowly reward him with better weapons while at the same time escalating the difficulty of enemies. Here, the game world is entirely uniform in difficulty. You can find a rocket launcher three screens from the beginning. Enemies, of which there are only a few different types, remain the same throughout the game and actually seem to decrease in number as you approach the end.
     
A screen has four enemies plus a key and healing herbs on the other side of the hut. I'll have to destroy the hut or come in from the northern screen to get those items.
     
Then there's the matter of the weapons making no difference in the first place. This part is tough to explain. Enemy AI is bizarre. There are rare moments in which the enemies seem to sense your presence and deliberately move towards you, but usually they wander randomly--back and forth, up and down. If they happen to see you in front of them, they will sometimes start shooting. Since you die in just a couple of shots, you don't want to be standing there when they do.
   
Shooting enemies from afar with your own weapons doesn't work as well as it should, mostly because if you can shoot at them, they can shoot at you. You want to avoid their line-of-fire entirely. Fortunately, enemies have one major weakness: if you're immediately adjacent to them, they don't attack at all.
    
The best way to play the game, then, is to approach enemies cautiously on the diagonal (neither you nor they can shoot diagonally), then rush up and shoot or stab them from an adjacent square. The only problem with this approach is that other enemies might wander into a line-of-sight while you're doing it, but after only a little practice, I was able to clear maps of half a dozen enemies without getting hit once. And I'm not very good at action games. 
      
I dispatch five guards with careful timing and a knife.
        
Because of this quirk, there's hardly any need to enter any of the buildings looking for guns or ammo. You can keep your knife equipped the entire time and just rush through the screens, stopping to fight only those enemies who are literally standing in your way.
    
There are a couple of exceptions. First, there are several points at which you need a rocket launcher to blast a building or rock to move to the next area. Failure to find one early in the game can put you in a "walking dead" situation. The early-game rocket launcher is behind a locked door in the southwest corner of the map. There are fewer keys than locked doors, so if you run out of keys before you find the rocket launcher, you have no way to progress forward. But once you've found one and have 25 or 30 shots, that's all you need for the game.
         
I blow apart a hut so I can progress north and out of this area.
        
Second, some of the huts are special locations in which you learn a save code. Assuming the one near the end is the last one, there are nine of them throughout the game. If you die, reloading from a save code is the only way to continue. Since the game has no idea how your character was doing (the save codes are only positional), "reloading" this way gets you a default amount of ammunition, keys, and flowers. I mostly used save states instead, but it wouldn't have been much harder or longer if I'd used the codes. Anyway, the need for rocket launchers and these safe havens means that it's always a good idea to at least duck into each building and check things out, immediately leaving if you don't care what it offers.
          
An empty hut offers a keycode.
        
The rest of it is just maze navigation. You have to work your way up the left side of the map and then over to the river. The river is three screens wide, and you have to swim across. Swimming involves an awkward process of hitting both the joystick button and the directional at the same time. You progress slowly across the river, and its current carries you continually south as you do. If you reach the bottom of the map still in the river, you die. So you thus have to start as far north as possible and work your way across before the river runs out.
           
Fording the Mekong.
        
On the east side of the river are several places with illusory bushes. If you walk into them, you can pass through. There are other places with obstacles that must be destroyed. At one point, you find a map of the final maze, but I navigated that easy enough by just following one wall.
          
A map appears in the lower-right corner. I later died and didn't go back and pick it up the second time.
     
There are some "companions" who can join you for a while. I found two. Near the starting area, a fellow commando pops out of the bushes and follows you, turning and shooting enemies when they enter his line of fire. He died relatively quickly for me, I'm afraid, and I think it might be hard to keep him going through the entire game.
          
A POW follows me from a hut. I didn't check every hut int he game, so there might be more.
       
In the southeast corner, in a locked hut, you find an emaciated looking figure who follows you for the rest of the game. He has no combat ability, but he can take damage and die. Fortunately, this is close to the endgame. If you navigate through a long maze in the northeast quadrant, you eventually come to a helicopter. 
         
The final battle is against one guard.
         
Entering the helicopter fundamentally ends the game All your weapons, keys, and healing flowers disappear, and you get a "rocket launcher" with around 100 shots. You can fly around the map blowing up your enemies if you want.
          
I think this might fit the definition of a "war crime."
        
When you're finished, you fly off the edge of the map. The game ends with a patriotic display of U.S. flags.
         
I would argue that all this flag-waving misses the point of the first two films.
       
I feel like it's vaguely weird for a Japanese developer to be glorifying U.S. military prowess, but this game isn't worthy enough to serve as the basis for discussion of such a complex issue. It doesn't even make sense for me to give it a GIMLET score, but I will anyway, under the "if I play it, I rate it" philosophy. It gets a 10. A low rating would be fittingf even if I was rating action games.
     
You've probably noticed by now that every fifth or so entry, I've been plunging my hand into a random grab-bag of games previously overlooked or rejected, regardless of what my "upcoming" list says. I've come to look forward to these "off" entries for the surprise alone, even if the games never seem to amount to much.   
 

56 comments:

  1. "Rambo: First Blood Part II as a text adventure, of all things."

    The Rambo franchise did originate in the 1972 novel First Blood, though it's true that by the time the second and third books arrived on the scene, the author was just adapting someone else's screenplays.

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  2. Looking at the box, the Japanese at the bottom is just the phrase "Action & Role Playing Game" transliterated into katakana. I'm going to assume someone read that, figured that made it an action RPG and never actually played it to verify before sticking it on Wikipedia as one

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    1. Likely. There's a lot of games that are mislabeled because the developers claimed them to be a genre they aren't.

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    2. To be fair, Japan seems to use Action RPG to describe different games than it would here. From what I can tell, it's used to describe what we'd call an Action Adventure game like Zelda instead of something like Diablo

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    3. That's not a "Japan" thing, that's a "Genres are fuzzy, and didn't even get as clear as they are today for years" thing.

      In this case, the developers probably slapped "role-playing" on to cash in on the early RPG boom - Dragon Quest 1 was released the same year.

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    4. I'm mostly calling it a Japan thing because I've only really seen it used like this in Japanese media. I know genres are fuzzy, and then bringing seperate countries into the matter complicates things more

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    5. Well, I'm quite sure I've read somewhere else that Japan has a different definition to what counts as an RPG, especially Action-RPG. I just don't remember where.

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  3. I seriously thought this was going to be an unlicensed game. The title "Super Rambo Special" and JPEG movie still on the title screen make it look like one of those terrible Famiclone games where they'd stick Mario in a totally unrelated game to sell more bootlegs.

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    1. I don't understand why you're calling it JPEG. The JPEG standard wasn't published until 1992, and converting JPEG to an MSX-displayable format is a strictly-hobbyist endeavour.

      Calling it GIF would sound marginally less stupid, since at least that's only a single year off.

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    2. I know sites have different standards for this sort of thing, so let me clear up any confusion with this explicit statement: On the CRPG Addict, being a dick is worse than being wrong.

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    3. I said JPEG because it is a small, blurry, low-resolution image. I thought most would be able to figure out that I meant the image was low-quality and its inclusion was somewhat lazy and careless. I guess I should never count on people on the Internet not being pedantic.

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    4. Except JPEGs are neither small, blurry, nor low-resolution by nature. It's like saying "an MP3" to describe a type of song on the radio because it's in stereo and has a female vocalist, then getting all huffy and defensively calling someone pedantic when they tell you you're not making any sense.

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    5. Is this really the hill to die on? As is, JPEG usually gets used as shorthand for "horrible quality image", so even if it's not actually accurate it still gets the point across

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    6. @Alex Anyone that wanted to understand,understood your point perfectly.

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    7. I've never heard JPEG used as shorthand for "poor quality", no.

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    8. Addict, that's a great rule for life in general, not just this site or the internet...

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    9. I heard or in context If pictures have large compression artefacts, especially memes which get saved and reuploaded much where everytime the Pic hoster rund a compression over the pic. Also when people use jpg for Pics needing Sharp outlines (e.g. with much Text) instead Using a better suited Format.

      Yeah it's nonesense because jpg has its uses, but i can See it comes from missuse.

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    10. "JPEG" is often used as a casual description for any pixelated image.

      It may not be technically correct, but who cares? You might as well argue about the pronunciation of "GIF"

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    11. All right. Enough. This thread has gotten ridiculous. If I see one more entry over-analyzing this trivial use of a term, I'm going to lock the entire comment section.

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  4. 'It isn't an RPG at all--it's an axonometric action game'

    This title would seem a variation of Hydlide in its play style, just from the initial appearance. The brick-like interface looks ripped right from that game. Also not too great a game either.

    I don't wish to incur the wrath of the mob echo chamber, pitchforks and torches and whatnot, but perhaps 'Benn' in a prior post might have been onto something after all. The more obscure the title, the more we can probably expect it to be a waste of time.

    Reviewing the occasional rare gem can be a good thing, just make sure you're digging for them in the right place.

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    1. I think as others have said re-reviewing the same well trod ground is not as interesting as uncovering things that are forgotten but are still great.

      A CRPGAddict has to sort through some chaff to get to the wheat and I'm fine with Chet taking a few hours here and there to go through things
      that are supposedly RPGs but are not.

      Also we are here as much for Chet's writing as we are for RPG playthroughs - which we can frankly get on any number of pimply voiced youtube channels - so I feel like we win regardless :)

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    2. Is Peach Benn's new account? Why would you possibly repeat that talking point alongside the same tired "fear of the mob echo chamber" alt-right terminology?

      I came into the comments to say how much I enjoyed Chet's write-up. In fact, like a lot of MSX games this one seems to do a number of interesting things with the map and structure even if it is a crappy action game (and not an RPG).

      And yes, Chet's writing makes it worth it.

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    3. Agreed with Brent and gamerindreams. I think of this blog as "Chester plays old RPGs and stuff so I don't have to." I'm happy to read his writeups of old games even if the game itself isn't great (and I appreciate that he doesn't just do "Haha this game sucks," like some sites that deliberately seek out terrible games--not that there's anything wrong with that, if you want to read it.)

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  5. You can blow up huts? I think this is why the protesters weren't happy to see Rambo when he got back.

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    Replies
    1. They're all full of soldiers and weapons. They're not civilian huts.

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    2. That's the governments official statement, anyway

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  6. That's a surprise indeed...

    It reminds me of an early "Cannon Fodder", but Cannon Fodder IS a great game, and not exactly pro-military.

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    Replies
    1. I was thinking exactly the same thing!

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    2. Cannon Fodder is about the only game that honours each of your dead soldiers.

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    3. Yeah, but the high-ranking soldiers got better tombstones :).

      On the other hand... by the end of the campaign everyone starts as a colonel...

      ... so you have whole squads of colonel led by a General. It has a very strong early Volunteer Army vibe on this ["Of the first 3,000 recruits, only twelve were ordinary soldiers; the rest were officers"]

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    4. Speaking of games that depict the military and warfare in less-than-positive lights, ARMA is a weird example. Games in the ARMA series try to make the military look heroic and badass, as most depictions of the real-world US military and indeed most video games regardless. But since it's such an intensely realistic simulation even from its precursor game Operation Flashpoint, it's incredibly violent and unforgiving. Death is quick, almost always unfair, and combat is usually more frightening or tense than empowering. Lots of moments lying prone in the brush, hoping you don't get seen while desperately looking for the enemy. Not to mention all the missions that require in-game hours of marching or driving from point A to point B. It's a very weird tonal clash between what the game is trying to say and what you actually experience.

      Since Bohemia does actual work for the real-world military developing combat simulations, I imagine they have some kind of "understanding" with the government.

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  7. This looks very much like an extended version of the British 8-Bit Rambo II game; that is similarly a game where you break into the prison camp, free POWs and eventually get the helicopter which lets you blow up some towers and escape.

    I guess the first film didn’t really have games made about it because it’s really a drama film about the mental instability of Vietnam vets and how society turned its back on them. It has action, sure, but it’s far from the all action guns out front films the sequels were

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    1. Said British game had unremarkable gameplay but an all-time classic SID Chip score by Martin Galway!

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    2. The other problematic issue with making a game based on the first film is that the enemies would be police officers. As controversial as that would be today, that would have been unthinkable back in the 80s.

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    3. Good call. The first film really was a strange duck

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    4. "Homecoming: When the Soldiers Returned From Vietnam is a book of selected correspondence published in 1989. Its genesis was a controversial newspaper column of 20 July 1987 in which Chicago Tribune syndicated columnist Bob Greene asked whether there was any truth to the folklore that Vietnam veterans had been spat upon when they returned from the war zone. Greene believed the tale was an urban legend. The overwhelming response to his original column led to four more columns, then to a book collection of the most notable responses.

      After Greene made his best effort to check the truth of the accounts to be printed, he inserted a minimum of his own commentary in the text, preferring to let the veterans' words speak for themselves. The reprinted letters show a steady pattern of mistreatment of Vietnam veterans by all segments of American society, and in a wide variety of settings.

      Homecoming was later criticized by those who did not believe that Vietnam veterans had been spat upon."
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homecoming:_When_the_Soldiers_Returned_from_Vietnam

      In the 1970s and early 1980s, Vietnam veterans in America were largely disdained, ignored, and sometimes even reviled by American society. Movies commonly depicted Vietnam veterans then as deranged psychotics, bitter broken people, or bloodthirsty renegades. Commemorations of Veterans Day in that era were far more muted than today, as American society remained deeply divided not only about the Vietnam War but also about how to treat the men and women that fought it. Half thought they should be honored and half thought they should be banished forever from public view.

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  8. Haha wtf Chet.

    These lucky dips are a lark.

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  9. "I would argue that all this flag-waving misses the point of the first two films." Surely you mean the first film. In Part 2 Rambo asks regarding Vietnam "Do we get to win this time?"

    Yes, yes he does.

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    Replies
    1. While the flag waving may have missed the point of the first film, it really did anticipate Rocky IV.

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    2. I mean, the first two films are very different, but even the second one isn't entirely ra-ra American. It posits that the military has been actively hiding the existence of POWs in Vietnam. Rambo has to come back and shoot up a U.S. military base to prove his point. Then he has his little speech: "I want what they want and every other guy who came over here and spilled his guts and gave everything he had: Once, for our country to love us as much as we love it." So it's not exactly the "America, F*** Yeah!" sentiment that the game's final screen would suggest.

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    3. The US government isn't exactly enamored of its people. One gets the distinct impression that they would very much like to be rid of us entirely.

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    4. "The US government" is a mass of thousands of agencies and offices and millions of employees. I have no idea who or what you mean when you say things like that. I am a frequent government contractor, and I can promise you that my part of the government, at least, seems to care a lot about people and spends quite a bit of money trying to make their lives better.

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    5. The part of the government that's in power. The part that decides how the rest of us get to live. The one that gives napalm burns to children overseas. War isn't in our interest at all. But the US government loves war, and despises those who take it away from them.

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    6. Yes, I remember a time when I thought things were so simple, too. Unfortunately, my blog is not a very good place to engage these subjects.

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  10. I think it would be worth being extra vigilant about screening the RPG credentials of anything that's described as an Action RPG. There are certainly many RPGs with Action elements that are essential for this project, but there are many more Action games that get the RPG label slapped on them for the slightest of reasons (like having a simple inventory system). I think the accepted usage of Action RPG has been stretched too far to be a useful guide.

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  11. The only rpg thing about this is his rocket launcher.

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    1. How did I not think to make this joke? I'm going to be mad for the rest of the day now.

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    2. A Bazooka isn't the same thing as an RPG.

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    3. @BronzeBob A bazooka is not part of the soviet RPG series of weapons (which is what I suspect you're thinking of), but it is very much a Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher.

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    4. Yeah, Rambo is clearly using an RPG-7 here. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think there's an American equivalent. We have LAWs, but they look very different.

      It makes sense that Rambo is using a Soviet weapon because he's finding it on-scene.

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    5. How did I not think to make this joke? I'm going to be mad for the rest of the day now.

      That joke is so completely in your wheelhouse that when I read it and chuckled aloud, I immediately thought to myself "Audible laughter was produced."

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    6. Hahaha!

      Well played and a hearty laugh here!

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  12. All the HG101 articles from the previous site incarnation can be found here, including the Rambo one (missing the original formatting, sadly).

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    1. Ha. It was written by the founder and editor-in-chief of the site, no less. If any HG101 folks pop by, the "shaking by the lapels" thing was just a joke, and I enjoyed recording the podcast last night. I nominate Super Rambo Special for the next one.

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  13. I want to see him play the NES Rambo: An action-R.P.G. game that mixes the impossible combat of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the obscure and user-unfriendly nature of Castlevania 2 and the confusing and not at all navigable mazes of Platoon, and is far worse than all those games put together. Rambo's writing is about on par with the translation of Ghosts and Goblins or Bubble Bobble despite being made by an English company.

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  14. War. War never changes.
    ..
    Or at least it gets improved grafics.

    ReplyDelete

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