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Games I Wish I Had Never Played - Part 2

Mike

Last time, we discovered that Deadly Towers is just that--deadly to your love of video games. Today, I bring you a lesser disappointment but nonetheless a game I wish I had never played.

Now, a lot of movies were made into NES games. Some, like Feivel Goes West, were destined to suck. But some movies are so filled with action and studliness that it is almost impossible not to make a marginally successful shoot-em-up game. And what movie is more filled with sweet action, awesome weapons, crazy explosions, Russians, patriotism, and Vietnam than Rambo II? There is no such movie, and so Rambo II should be the easiest movie in the world to make into at least a marginal game.
It would take 100 Nintendos taped together to render this image.


But there were some guys in the industry who managed to dream the impossible dream and fail at this fool-proof formula. Aside from the fact that the game is clearly based on Rambo II yet titled only 'Rambo' (probably they did this so that kids would not think they had missed the first Rambo game, which of course does not exist because you really could not sell a mainstream game back then where the small-town Americans are the bad guys and you blow up their dinky little Mainstreet in your post-traumatic-stress syndrome rampage--whereas nowadays some of the most popular games involve running over cops with stolen cars on your way to pimp some hoes... but I digress) the game follows the movie pretty well, and so has a chance at goodness. The graphics are not top notch yet they are crisp. And Rambo racks up weapons points which he can use on cheap weapons, like knives and throwing knives and bigger knives, or on expensive weapons like explosive arrows, grenades, and bazookas. And there are actually Vietnamese guards running around trying to karate kick or shoot Rambo. Sounds pretty good so far, right?

Wrong. All that cool stuff is few and far between. In fact, your first mission is navigating the superbly confusing side-scrolling airfield in Thailand (how is it possible to design a side-scrolling game where you can get lost?). It's almost as hard as rescuing Dr. Jones Senior from Castle Brunwald in The Last Crusade, except in that game you get to fight Nazis the whole way and discover secret doors and switches. In this game, you are just trying to find your way to the weapons locker. Once you make it to the heart of this side-scrolling, parallel-area labyrinth you get to talk to the weapons officer for some gear. During the cut scene, the close up reveals that the game designers opted not for one of those grainy yet cool screen shots of Stallone but rather a cartoonish and bland rendition of the man which looks straight out of MAD Magazine, complete with cross-eyes and a fat lip.
Look out for that... pudgy... dude. Who might be a bad guy.


Alright, so now you have weapons and you watch a better cut scene in which you parachute into the jungle. Clearly, your mission is to destroy everything in your path and save the day. However, the only thing in your path are snakes, spiders, tree snakes, pirhanas, flying bugs, maybe some birds, grass, easily hurdled logs, water that doesn't drown you, flamingos?, eels maybe, and so forth. And if you thought finding your way through the hangar was tough, wait til you try and navigate this jungle. It's like several chunks of 'forest' screen from Zelda II attached parallel and end-to-end but without big Moblins, just bugs and snakes.

Eventually, you find your way to your hot Vietnamese contact who has transformed into a white chick in this stellar game and she gets you across a river. You are now in more jungle that is the same as before except there are now tigers. Or bengals or whatever they had in 'Nam--they're commie cats in any case. And did I mention that the music stinks? How can you take a movie filled with dramatic music about shooting commies and not end up with at least a tiny bit of inspiration? Anyhow, after this long and arduous struggle against Mother Nature you finally run into some human enemies. But once it becomes clear that their log fortress is only gaurding more confusion in the side-scrolling maze department, you will have lost any desire to play this game.

Here are some tips for how this game should have been made:
  1. Overhead shooter, like Jackal or Ikari Warriors. Would have been literally impossible to mess up and weapons would have been more 'strategic.'
  2. If you insist on side-scrolling, forget the 'realism' of a large and difficult-to-navigate jungle area; just fill it with spike pits, Ninjas, bamboo-wielding Vietcong and also undergound tunnel bases left over from the war.
  3. All side-scrolling games should be linear, i.e., flow from left to right to keep the pace up. Few games successfully incorporate "exploration" into sidescrollers, and even then I think Rich would agree this is just holding the game back (Castlevania II). So there should be a jungle level, a tunnel base level, then a log fortress level, then a boss, then some harder jungle, then the Russian base, and so on. It's totally easy to design side-scrolling levels.
  4. I would trade all my weapons in the jungle area for one barrel of Agent Orange to burn it all down.
  5. I have read that the final boss is the Russian general flying his helicopter and that the fight is best won with a mess of grenades. While this sounds cool, it probably is not as cool as fighting The Albatross at the end of Bionic Commando and shooting a bazooka through Hitler's windshield. I say, steal a page out of their playbook and make the helicopter a ridiculously armed gunship with multiple damage zones and Russian Commandos/Vietcong Ninjas leaping out the sides to attack.
See how easy it is to come up with these ideas? Whereas Deadly Towers suffered from childish design, that is exactly what Rambo needs. Well, in any case, I'll keep plugging away at these terrible games so you don't have to. Perhaps the only saving grace of these two games I have reviewed is that their code systems allow you to save significant amounts of progress at almost any time, thus making it possible for me to suffer through them in stages.


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