Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Game 399: Rambo (1985)

 
  
Rambo
Japan
CCS (developer); Pack-In-Video (publisher)
Released 1985 for MSX
Date Started: 23 January 2021
Date Ended: 23 January 2021
Total Hours: 2
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5) 
Final Rating: 11
Ranking at Time of Posting: 27/404 (7%)
     
You're wondering why the hell I would play Rambo after recently playing Pack-In-Video's follow-up, Super Rambo Special (1987) and concluding that it wasn't an RPG. I understand the reaction. It began when I was stuck with Spelljammer and not in a mood to do all the translating necessary to begin Vision: The 5 Dimension Utopia. As I sometimes do in such moments, I reached my hand in the bucket of skipped, rejected, abandoned, and cast-off RPGs. These are games that meet at least one of these criteria:

  • Are for the console
  • I started to play but abandoned
  • Are so obscure that they didn't show up on my first two passes through the 1980s
  • I originally couldn't find, but may have since turned up
  • Are in a non-Latin foreign language, but I need to double-check and maybe see if a patch is available
  • I rejected as an RPG, but maybe too quickly
   
Except for the console games, which are their own category, I like to take one final look at the rest before deleting them entirely. Moreover, since I introduced BRIEFs last year, I generally want to make it my policy to BRIEF anything that some authoritative source recognizes as an RPG, even if I don't. (In this case, that source is Wikipedia, but the Wikipedia contributor is probably relying on Pack-In-Video's own hyperbole.) It keeps me from getting so many e-mails asking why I didn't play a particular game.

When I randomized the list, Rambo popped up on top. I knew right away I had rejected it with good cause. But I was mildly curious why the publisher released two such similar games in two years, and whether Rambo was actually a cruder precursor to Super Rambo Special. I started to investigate the game, which turned into playing it, which turned into winning it. I was originally just going to write a BRIEF, but as often happens, I won the game so fast that I don't need to BRIEF it; I can cover the whole thing. That will keep happening, and I really don't see it as a big problem as long as a non-RPG doesn't grow to occupy more than two or three hours. Some of them are at least RPG-like, and some of them give us interesting things to talk about regardless of how we classify them.
            
Isn't that just like a Vietnamese soldier--brings a bow to a machine gun fight.
       
Rambo turned out to be mildly intriguing for a couple of reasons. First, while it does play similarly to the Super follow-up, it isn't the same game. Gameplay elements vary quite a bit. Second, it actually has a better claim to being an RPG (if not much of one) than its successor. Where Super Rambo had a "Life" bar that had the same maximum value throughout the game, Rambo has a "Power" bar that starts short but gets longer as you kill more enemies. That's not great character development (and I generally reject a game as an RPG if the only development is an increase in health), but it's more than the sequel had.
     
But even more intriguing is the overall approach to gameplay. Rambo is a special kind of action game, one in which there's really only one way to win--one precise path you must take through the game, one limited set of weapons that you can use at any given time--disguised as a somewhat open-world action game. Once you know what you're doing, winning it takes 10-15 minutes. But you need a couple hours, at least, learning how to win. 
        
Deadly creatures pop out of holes in this game. If you flee, you die from their poison. Somehow, killing them allows you to survive. No one would guess that the first time.
       
Super Rambo Special was entirely different. It was an honest open-world action game. ("Open-world" on a fairly small map, you understand.) You had all the time you needed to run around, explore, collect items, and kill enemies, although there was no particular reason to kill enemies except they're in your way. Rambo doesn't work that way. You have a food meter and a limited amount of food to find in the game, so you really can't backtrack at all. You have to figure out, through numerous character deaths, exactly what order to do things and exactly what resources to use. For instance, you start in the south-center of the game map. You need to go right as soon as you start. If you don't, you miss the only available cache of grenades that doesn't require a grenade to access. If you don't pick that up, you can't blow up any of the buildings in the game that contain food, weapons, and other grenades. You can't blow up the bunkers that you need to neutralize to pass. And if you realize it too late, you don't have enough food to go back to the beginning and get them.
  
Once you have the grenades, you might be tempted to use them against foes. Bad idea! There are a lot of things you have to blow open and a limited number of grenades. If you waste one on something as easy as a soldier, you're now "walking dead."
    
I've just blown up a house with a grenade, revealing a rocket launcher, or "R-Gun," as the game has it.
       
Another example: there are two rocket launchers in the game. You need one to get into the area that has the second, and you need the second to blow up a bunker elsewhere. If you explore in the wrong order and use the first RPG to blow up the bunker, you won't have the ammo you need to get into the other area, and the game is over.
  
Whoops! Accidentally walked in front of a bunker.
     
Enemies are another interesting mechanic. As you visit the game's few dozen screens, they're swarming with Vietnamese soldiers with bows, knives, machine guns, and other weapons. (The game's plot is basically the movie's: get in, rescue a POW, get to the choppa.) You can kill them with whatever weapons you possess, but if you run up next to them, you can't use a ranged weapon. As you arrive on the screen, you have a split second to assess their positions and determine whether to shoot or stab. Frankly, I found it easier to use my knife throughout the game. Enemies do respawn when you leave a screen and return, but the respawns always carry knives only and aren't very dangerous. 
   
The POW you have to rescue poses one final danger. You have to find a medkit to fix him up before he'll follow you. Near where you rescue him, you grab a can of gas for the helicopter. The problem--and this anticipates RPG escort missions of the future--is that the POW won't get out of your way. If you walk into a dead end, it's game-over, because there's no way to push him out of the way to turn around.
      
At this point, I've screwed up. The bunker will vaporize me the moment I turn the corner. I needed to have used the southern passage so I could shoot it with my rocket launcher outside of its range. But I can't turn around because of that damned POW.
      
In the context of Lagoon, we were just talking about video game bosses that aren't even meant to be survivable the first time you encounter them. You have to try multiple times, learning their patterns, discerning their strengths and weaknesses, identifying the advantages and disadvantages of every position on the combat screen. But it's rare (at least within the context of RPGs) to find an entire game structured this way. Rambo is basically one stronghold or fortress mission from a Far Cry or Assassin's Creed game, where the character sometimes has to perform a couple of doomed scouting missions before the one in which he wins.
      
I can hear Rambo shouting, "Next mission!? That was supposed to be a one time thing!"
        
I didn't make any GIFs, so if you're interested in how it looks, here's a good YouTube video in which the unnamed player wins in less than 11 minutes. It GIMLETs at 11 points, with two points each in "Quests," "Gameplay," and "Graphics, Sound, and Interface," and 1 each in all the other categories except economy and NPCs.

If you still think covering it was stupid, I understand. I'll post the next entry tomorrow so you don't have to wait so long for a real RPG.
   

41 comments:

  1. A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one.

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  2. I think you can post on whatever you like! I think the stubs are some of the most interesting posts!

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  3. I can't really tell from the screenshots if this Rambo is the same basic design as the Commodore 64 Rambo game released around 1985.

    For what it's worth, that is a not-particularly-interesting Commando-style arcader, but it features one of the all-time great chiptune soundtracks by Martin Galway - for those who are interested in that sort of thing.

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    Replies
    1. Nope, the C64 Rambo is a Commando clone, a shmup.

      This is something really different.

      Delete
  4. I am sorry, but now you ll have to play the 1993 Cannon Fodder, even as a Brief, since it is basically Rambo but fun and in the era you reached.

    Also, character development : your guys level up and in AI control they shoot better the higher level they have (because we all know Generals shoot better than Privates)

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    Replies
    1. War has never been so much fun.

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    2. Only cannon fodder was not done in two hours and is a well known well documented game and not an RPG so I say leave it.

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    3. It was more of a joke. The game is also pretty hard, and then extremely hard, and based on reflex, so I don't see Chet loving it too much past the first third of the game.

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  5. By the way, Vietcongs and punji traps are one thing, but given the size of the spiders I understand everyone comes back from VN with PTSD.

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    1. I've read stories about American GIs exploring what they thought were Vietcong tunnels, but then finding a nest of big spiders in there. They backtracked and got the hell out of there.

      As an arachnophobe, that would give me worse PTSD than any of the regular war stuff. Jeez.

      Delete
  6. The next time you need something short and random to try out, maybe do Warlords (1990)? You have Warlords II (1993) upcoming in the next year, so it makes sense to preview the first game before that? Unless you've changed your mind about Warlords II, which is definitely strategy with some RPG side elements.

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  7. Given the "one path" thing it sounds like it is actually an action/*adventure* hybrid.

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  8. (Like Pathways into Darkness, for example)

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  9. I'm just relieved it's not Rambo for the NES!

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  10. at least it was not game #400. that should be a real RPG.

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    1. I wish I could say I saved something important for that slot, but I'm afraid I didn't. I promise #500 will be a landmark one, though.

      Delete
  11. Given the general layout of the screen, the extremely linear path, the reliance on precise movement and inventory usage this comes off as Hydlide but with guns and Sylvester Stallone.

    Also, I must have missed the post on Super Rambo Special because when this page loaded I was worried for a moment that I had suffered a stroke or something.

    Rambo, in my favorite blog on the Internet?! Apparently more common than I thought.

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  12. One modern game that might make an interesting diversion when stuck on CRPG or two is Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, which I have been playing recently. Spiritual successor to the later 2D Castlevanias, it combines action-adventure with RPG elements. While the protagonist is pre-defined, it gives a notable freedom in customizing the equipment and abilities.

    Post-release patches have also added additional content and game modes with more planned. The game is available for PC, PS4, XB1 and Switch. With the exception of the Switch version (which has suffered from major technical issues) the choice of platform is a matter of taste.

    https://playbloodstained.com/

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    1. While I haven't played Bloodstained yet, if it's as much of an RPG as Symphony of the Night then it's enough of an RPG for the blog, assuming it ever gets to something that recent

      Delete
    2. Maybe if medicine advances quickly enough that Chet lives to the 22nd century.

      Delete
    3. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (not to be confused with the more action-oriented, retro-style Curse of the Moon spin-off games) is probably at least as much of an RPG. It includes various mechanics from later 2D Castlevanias in a "best of" manner such as the Shard system (highly reminiscent of the Soul system in Aria of Sorrow/Dawn of Sorrow and Glyph system in Order of Ecclesia), the Alchemy system allowing crafting items from available materials and breaking down existing items into materials for further crafting (possibly inspired by the Weapon Combining from Curse of Darkness and Weapon Synthesis from Dawn of Sorrow) and sidequests similar to the Wygol Village in Order of Ecclesia. And these in addition to the more traditional leveling up with experience and founding/buying new equipment and items.

      Delete
  13. This sounds like an action adventure game of the worst sort. You have the sort of action where if you don't know what's coming you need insane reflexes, and the sort of adventure where you need to do everything in the exact right order and way or else you lose, and not even giving you the kindness of telling you immediately

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    1. This is what was considered replayability at the time.

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    2. I wouldn't know that, but it's still a pretty terrible way to go about it

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    3. Like many games of the era, it is modeled on the arcade mindset. Arcade games didn't want people playing too long before having to insert another quarter, so frequent cheap death was a core component.

      Later on, you see a similar thing in a lot of US releases of console games from Japan - developers would crank up the difficulty to prevent it being beaten in a rental period and force you to buy the game.

      Fake difficulty is usually an economic thing.

      Delete
  14. The indie title Minit has the same basic game design as this Rambo game. An overhead adventure game where there's basically only one way to win.

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    1. The main difference being, of course, that Minit is a really good game.

      (I can see the similarity, though.)

      Delete
    2. I *loved* Minit and was a bit surprised by that.

      I'm not sure I think it's exactly the same though. for those reading, the idea behind Minit is that every minute you die and have to restart from your dwelling. But there are persistent world changes and character upgrades (and you can shift your home base), so even if there's only one way to do the winning run there are lots and lots of orders in which you can solve the puzzles that lead up to it, and you couldn't even in principle do the winning run the first time.

      Anyway I very much recommend it (maybe not to Chet). If you bought that gigantic game bundle for racial justice, it's in there.

      Delete
  15. And here I thought this was an RPG-7 joke.

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  16. actually energy max goes up when you get the food item, it has nothing to do with killing enemies.

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  17. Doesn’t Rambo bring a bow to a gunfight?

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  18. Coincidentally, Jeremy Parish just posted a new video on Pack-In-Video's third attempt at Rambo, the NES game simply titled Rambo. The RPG elements are slightly increased in having the strength of your knife go up in addition to having HP increase.

    I do agree with Parish that the game is better than it's reputation suggests, but the greater action focus makes it even less suitable for this project. Since you've done the other two though, it seems like a shame to not complete the trifecta of Rambo "RPG"s some time.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vU-WEFvXPS0

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  19. I'm impressed by your dedication. Despite several people saying "Vision" is not an RPG, you still go through the trouble of translating it to check out yourself. RPG or not, I wouldn't mind reading about it.

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    1. Well, I translated a few screens. It wasn't that bad.

      Delete
  20. When reading this I was super reminded of Metal Gear for the nes. The elements are similar. That might be even closer to a rpg.

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  21. Weird, I had deja vu after reading this post, to the point where I wondered if you'd reposted an old review by accident. I must have been thinking of some combination of Super Rambo and some action game with a strict order for solving its obstacles (I vaguely remember one like that set in some kind of castle but don't remember what game it was).

    ReplyDelete

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