Videogames based on films were making a comeback in 1987 and the Master System wasn’t left out as Sega’s 8-bitter got this cart to kick off its line of movie games. The 1980s were packed with dozens of classic action movies, but one that seems to stand above the others is Rambo: First Blood Part II, the second of a series of films which star Sylvester Stallone as psychologically scarred Vietnam vet and one-man army John Rambo. A cartridge based on Rambo is pretty much a no-brainer, but the reality is this game didn’t start off as a Rambo game; it was originally released in Japan as an unrelated Commando/Ikari Warriors clone, Ashura (and later rereleased in Europe as Secret Commando) and Sega decided to add the license for its American release since it supposedly felt enough like a Rambo title that they could get away with it.
In any case you take control of the one-man war machine as he embarks on a mission to free hostages imprisoned by some enemy force. The gameplay heavily mimics the aforementioned arcade classics; your mission spans six vertically-scrolling stages of varying terrain, and you can either go alone or enlist a friend to control Rambo’s partner “Zane”, who is essentially Rambo’s long-lost twin only with darker skin and a yellow headband. In each level you make your way upward gunning down the various enemy infantry in your way, as well as tanks and other weapons out to end your mission. You’re armed with a machine gun that has infinite ammo but barely any range, and a limited supply of “arrow bombs” that act as explosives. Each level has a number of flashing huts and blowing them open with an arrow will release a POW. In return the liberated prisoner will toss you a power-up to either replenish your arrows or enhance your firepower, which you’ll need to make you weapon even slightly effective. At the end of each stage you find a fortress in your way and have to survive an onslaught of foes, waiting for your opening to blow open the door to the next level. The graphics are very good with some nice-looking and varied stages as well as some detailed sprites with solid animation. The audio consists of the expected sub-par explosions and background music that’s isn’t too bad; the themes are pretty catchy and seem to fit each setting, but they get repetitive in short order.
Unfortunately much of the action and fun is overshadowed by the frustrating difficulty. The controls do a decent job but your character moves slowly across the screen, and when you’re facing multiple enemies it can be tough to hit them all bafore you get picked off. In addition you can only fire in five directions and can’t shoot at anything behind you, meaning anything that gets past you has a free shot at you. Also you die from one hit and start your next life without your upgrades, just your weak weapon. Not only that once you lose all your lives it’s back to the first level unless you know the secret continue codes for each level, and even then you start at the beginning and not where you died at. The gameplay is a little more bearable after enough practice, through you might find yourself reaching for a Pro Action Replay to give you a fighting chance.
So while Rambo: FBP2 isn’t a true Rambo game at heart, it’s still a decent run-n-gun title and does a little justice to the movie series, as well as give Sega gamers a taste of Commando and Ikari Warriors. But again the slightly unfair difficulty may scare off many gamers, plus other titles are out there that improve on the vertical shmup gameplay such as The Ninja. Still fans of the film series or arcade shooters in general might find some enjoyment here, and if nothing else it’s at least superior to Acclaim’s abysmal Rambo title on the NES.