As we enter the homestretch of 1988 we’re greeted by the return of Sylvester Stallone’s one-man army to the Master System. As the title suggests this game is based on the third film in the series which was making the rounds at the time and Sega was able to snag the license for this SMS release (as well as for a different cartridge released on the Genesis a year later). However instead of an Ikari Warriors clone like Sega’s previous Rambo title, this time our hero gets deposited in a cart that bears more than a resemblance to Taito’s Operation Wolf, and Sega even decided to dust off the Light Phaser gun for this experience as well. The idea was certainly a sound one, given the films are mostly about non-stop carnage and shooting, but let’s see how the execution goes.
In any case this cartridge loosely follows the events from the film as you take control of John Rambo, who’s on a mission to rescue his friend Col. Sam Trautman after he was captured by Soviet troops in Afghanistan. With the American government not wanting to risk a war on a rescue mission, Rambo naturally takes matters into his own hands and faces the Soviet army alone through seven different stages. You first need to make your way through a Soviet base, an Afghanistan village, a desert canyon and the prison camp where Trautman and other P.O.W’s are being held. You view the action through Rambo’s eyes and each stage pans to the right as enemy troops flood the screen shooting their weapons at you. Rambo returns fire with his trusty AK-47 which you control with the Light Phaser and it has limited rapid-fire ammo but he also has one grenade that can wipe out everyone on the screen. Your life bar allows you to take a number of hits before dying, though you do have a bottle of some sort of liquid which will refill your health one time. Some stages also have innocent civilians running around and accidentally hitting one will penalize you some health. Once you liberate Trautman from his cell at the end of the fourth level you now need to fight back out of the camp during the night and blow up a fortress along the way then head through a cave before attempting to survive the final escape sequence in the desert, complete with a boss battle against a chopper that you must shoot down to win the game.
Rambo III is a solidly produced light gun game for the most part, though it isn’t much different from other shooting-gallery style titles. The visuals feature vibrantly colored stages and the scrolling is smooth, plus the sprites are pretty detailed and do react when you plug them. The music isn’t spectacular but it is pretty catchy and tries to fit in with the action, while the sound effects are mostly hit or miss. Lots of targets are thrown out to shoot with very little downtime which keeps things interesting, but it can also get repetitive since all you do is shoot whatever foe comes on the screen. Plus so many enemies swarm the screen at once while firing at you with near-perfect accuracy that it’s impossible to mow them down without taking any damage yourself, especially since some foes take multiple hits to kill. As a result your life bar will drain rapidly and with only one life you can find yourself at the Game Over screen before you realize it. Fortunately the light gun is pretty accurate and the enemy patterns never change in each level, so getting far in the game mainly comes down to memorization (as well as how far the light gun is from the television screen). The life-restoring drink is helpful to keep you going and you do have three continues should you reach at least the second stage. Ironically once you do manage to get all the ins and outs of each area down, Rambo III can be completed in around 10 minutes since the stages are rather short with no hidden bonuses or anything else to find.
So ultimately Rambo III turns out to be a decent light gun title for the SMS, though you may be put off by either the overwhelming difficulty or the lack of any long-play value. Also there isn’t much to actually tie this game to the movie since almost none of the film’s other characters are featured and Rambo himself only appears in the cool-looking intermission screens between stages, making the license itself feel like it was tacked on as an afterthought. The game is still entertaining in short spurts, and it’s at least more playable and First Blood Part II so Rambo fans might want to check it out.