I'm pretty sure most of Rambo's team had never actually made a video game before, or at least the people making the key decisions behind it. I mean, a movie license copying a recent hot-selling game isn't unusual. But an action movie license copying Zelda 2? Complete with towns, villagers, dark caves where you have to look for the feet of the enemy, and an experience point system? It smacks of clueless marketing controlling a project.
"What's a big seller with the kids this year?"
"Well, Zelda 2 moved a record amount of copies earlier this year ... "
"Good. Make it that, but with Rambo."
To make things even stranger, this first Rambo game for the console is actually based on the SECOND Rambo movie. There had actually been no games based on the original Rambo movie when this was released, and just one other Rambo game also based on the second movie (which came out two years prior).
The design is just absolutely jammed full of WHY. Why the north/south screen movement when areas are mostly linear anyway? Why do I have to start the game pointlessly running between screens in the base just to clumsily replicate the opening of the movie? Why is a thrown knife so much weaker than stabbing? Why are there even dialogue choices when it all elicits the same response anyway? Why are there little villages with just one guy who asks "Why are you here?" Why is there an EXP system?
Making it even YET more bizarre is the cartoony art style and boppy music. It's like Super Chibi Kawaii Rambo First Blood Part II.
Fighting jungle animals gone wild ... OK, that's a stretch, but I'll accept it. I have no explanation for the swooping monkey skulls that suddenly start assaulting you about five minutes into the game, however.
I guess all of this actually could be somewhat forgivable if the gameplay was solid, but it's pretty stiff and clunky. I'm not the world's biggest fan of Zelda 2, but the core combat mechanics were at least solid and even sophisticated for the time. Acclaim is nowhere near knowing how to pull that off at this point, so the end result is just your typical mid-80s low-budget shonkfest platformer. It's the typical Castlevania-inspired "awkward angles" enemy placement, but with none of the grace or thought of Castlevania. All of your range weapons are limited and come in random drops from dead enemies, but they seem to get dropped VERY infrequently, yet the enemies constantly respawn as soon as you leave a screen and return. Which leaves you mostly using the Hobo Knife, which is suitable only for the first two enemies you see (snakes and spiders) -- everything else comes in too fast or from too off of an angle to be practical to kill with it. Health refills are also *extremely* few and far between.
This was released in late 1987 in Japan and early 1988 in America. It would be released very shortly before Rambo III would hit theaters, which makes you wonder why an adaptation of that wasn't being produced rather than one of a movie that came out in 1985. Well, the early days were a strange time. But that doesn't excuse this game being an incompetent production or make it any more enjoyable.