Back in the 1980s, it somehow made sense in action movies to send in a lone man against an entire army. Maybe people thought he would be a smaller target or something, I haven't a clue, but that was how things were done then regardless. Just look at Rambo or any Arnold Schwarzenegger movie as examples. In fact, the hero would actually be worse off if he was assisted. Take a look at Predator. Arnold wasn't doing so hot against the Predator while his platoon was there with him. After he was the last guy left, Predator was screwed. He went from being completely clueless when his buddies were there to figuring out that whole infra-red thing mere minutes after they were all killed and their guide ran off. Then he built a giant fire pit and a big trap and owned that Predator off the face of the Earth. And without a weapon to boot!
Somehow this absolutely absurd illogical excuse to film endless destruction actually resulted in a number of campy, entertaining movies. Video game developers were no strangers to this bizarre logic either. Take a look at Commando or any of its successors (Heavy Barrel, Bloody Wolf, Caliber 50, etc.) for examples of that fact. Possibly the most extreme example of this belief suspending craziness in a video game is a series of two Konami games for the arcades. The first is called Green Beret in Japan, but was given a somewhat politically offensive paranoia-sploitation title of Rush'n Attack (say it out loud) for its American release. The second game is called M.I.A.: Missing in Action and is much less well known.
Both games are often referred to as being run 'n' guns. This is not really inaccurate, as you do shoot people quite a bit in both games and would have difficulty getting by without doing so, but your primary method of killing is with melee attacks. Any firearms or projectile weapons are actually your secondary weapons and can only be utilized after you find a power up, which in both games will only give you a few shots. For as little sense as it makes to send in a lone man to defeat an entire army, these developers figured it would be best if he was armed with nothing other than a knife. It's technically better than Solid Snake from the original Metal Gear, who entered the fray with an annoying transmitter and a pack of cigarettes, but damn, even Rambo got those exploding arrows and a machine gun.
Rush'n Attack was popular enough to get a few ports, but M.I.A. never made it out of the arcades and is largely forgotten. It's a shame that the series was abandoned after just two games, because despite both games having virtually identical gameplay, it's a great series with immense potential and it would have been interesting to see where Konami could have taken it with other sequels. Perhaps part of the reason that it has been neglected since is because it seems like it may have influenced two other Konami series that were released shortly thereafter and play very much like a natural evolution of its gameplay - Castlevania and Contra. Take Contra, change the default weapon from a semi-automatic weapon with infinite ammo to a knife, remove the boss fights entirely, take out all non-horizontal levels, and that's pretty much Rush 'n' Attack. With Castlevania, it's really just a matter of completely different presentation, varying amounts of platforming, and one-hit kills vs. a health meter. Both have almost needless platforms among otherwise barren terrain that are reached by climbing rather than jumping, and both have very similar pacing where each is still entirely twitch-based, but deliberate enough that you'll see every mistake before you make it. If you get hit while jumping, it will even knock your character back.
Rush'n Attack / Green Beret (グリーンベレー) - Arcade, NES, Famicom Disk System, Game Boy Advance, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, DOS, ZX Spectrum, Atari 8-bit, BBC Micro, XBLA, Nintendo DS, mobile phones (1985)
From the very beginning Rush'n Attack (Green Beret in Japan) perfectly exemplifies 1980s Konami arcade game design. It's mercilessly challenging, totally relentless, brilliantly simplistic, and intense. Rush'n Attack never takes a break from the action and you are constantly almost overwhelmed by enemies pouring onto the screen. There's never a moment's rest and your success is going to be completely dependent on your reflexes. As its American name kind of implies, your objective is to move right and attack without discretion. There are four levels total, and the game loops after they are all completed.
As far as I can tell, the only plot to explain all the carnage is that there are a few hostages that need rescuing, and you're up the task. These four hostages are shown in the intro screen, where they appear to be wearing football helmets. I can't tell if this is a way to emphasize that they are American or just weird looking sprite art. Amusingly, one of the hostages appears to already be dead. Oh well, I guess you can still rescue the other three hostages.
The controls are pretty simple. Left and Right on the joystick will move you character in their respective directions, Down will duck or descend ladders, and Up will jump or ascend ladders. You can't attack or jump while climbing a ladder and are completely vulnerable as a result, so be certain to watch where you are at any given time to avoid going up or down a ladder when you mean to jump or duck. Also, if you move past a ladder while jumping you will automatically climb it, so watch where you jump if you are trying to perform a jumping attack. There is a button on the arcade cabinet for attacking with your melee weapon and a second button for attacking with projectile weapons. You have three lives and when they're lost, it's Game Over. After losing a life, your character goes back less than a screen's distance.
Since your main weapon is a dumpy little knife, your attacks have quite limited range. Luckily, your strikes come out very quickly and, like in Castlevania, you can't attack while moving, you won't accidentally walk into them when you meant to attack. Your severely limited range serves to make the game even more intense by giving a sense of urgency to combat since you can't attack from a safe distance. Your range is very slightly better while ducking, but the difference is extremely minor. You can get other weapons here or there, but you pretty much have to be able to get by entirely with your standard weapon. This old arcade-style approach to simplifying combat allow players to concentrate entirely on their objective without any more complex mechanics serving as distractions and bogging down the game's pacing.
Luckily you can acquire projectile based weapons along the way by defeating guys that leave behind weapons that vary from level to level. These include flamethrowers, rocket launchers, and grenades. You're limited to a lone secondary weapon at a time and each begins with its maximum amount of ammo, so if you find a second weapon it will only replenish your ammo up to the original amount. Each of these weapons are definitely better than your knife, but because of their limited ammo, it's best that you save your secondary weapon for important situations and keep attacking with your knife.
As opposed to most other old Konami games, there aren't any huge bosses fought at the end of levels. Rather, each level ends with a screen where you fight a group of one-hit enemies. Each level has its own end section. Also, there isn't much variation in enemy designs. Every enemy is pretty much the same kind, but with different behavioral patterns that can be predicted by their clothing. Among other kinds, certain enemies will plow through without regard to anything else, while others will follow you wherever you go, and yet others will pause occasionally to shoot. These behaviors can change slightly from level to level as well. Making each enemy the same basic kind with different behaviors might seem like it would make Rush'n Attack excessively repetitive, but it actually works in the game's favor. It maximizes its pacing by minimalizing how much you have to change up your own attack strategies, so that you can simply keep barreling through the oncoming massive horde without hesitation.
If you dig 8-bit-ish graphics, you'll find quite a bit to like about Rush'n Attack's presentation. Both its terrain and backgrounds can get a bit repetitive, and its military motifs might not be for everybody, but its sparse details contribute greatly to its aesthetic. Be it soldiers with Russian coats and hats, or tanks and other vehicles that you pass along your way, or even the animation sequence with your character climbing a fence between levels, you are constantly reminded that you are up against not just a bunch of random guys, but a whole army. This mid-80s action movies theme is better conveyed by having mid 80s graphics and music, as they are much more likely to be associated with Rambo style flicks than modern graphics or music could ever be.
Rush'n Attack was popular enough in the arcades to get a few ports of varying levels of accuracy and quality. The DOS, MSX, Commodore 64, and Amstrad CPC ports, like most PC versions, are disasters that look and play horribly. However, when Rush'n Attack was ported to Nintendo's home consoles, it was given several major modifications. There are two extra levels, you can continue twice, and two people can team up and play at the same time. The secondary weapons have been slightly altered - in the Japanese Famicom Disk System version, most of the weapons weapon can only be fired once, although you can build up extra ammunition (up to four shots) by grabbing up more items. In the NES version, you're given three shots (and no more) with each weapon pickup.
The arcade version is definitely better looking, but the Nintendo version definitely has the better music. Other alterations have been made as well - killing armed enemies will also destroy the weapon, you respawn after losing a life, there is a power up that grants temporary invincibility, and with extremely precise timing, it is possible to jump over enemies. There are areas below the ground that can be accessed via ladders that can be found by destroying land mines with grenades. Finally, while the arcade version only had military-style drums as its soundtrack, the Nintendo version has actual music.
There is also a Game Boy Advance port as part of the compilation Konami Arcade Classics Advance. This version is based on the arcade release, but jumping is performed with a face button rather than hitting Up, and entering the Konami Code (Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A - if by chance you weren't aware) at EACH game's startup screen makes the two NES exclusive levels available. An Xbox 360 version is also available on the Xbox Live Arcade, which has "enhanced" graphics (i.e. smoothed and filtered, with some extra effects like snow blowing), and arranged music. A DS version also appears on the Konami Arcade Classics Collection, which is a near-exact port of the arcade version, although shrunken a bit to accomodate the lower resolution.
M.I.A.: Missing in Action is Rush'n Attack's much lesser known sequel. It must not have been a huge hit in the arcades because it has never been ported. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with the Chuck Norris movie of the same name, by the way, but it most likely was named after it. Chuck would be proud - it's better than Chuck Norris Superkicks for Atari 2600, that's for certain.
Rush'n Attack did not really have any plot worth noting, and M.I.A.: Missing in Action is not any different. It's still as simple as "There are a few hostages. Go rescue them.". Except it ain't set in Russia anymore. Instead, the game takes place in a generic rain-forest setting that appears to possibly be in Vietnam, where Rambo was set. By 1989, paranoid action movies about Russians attacking were out of fashion, having been replaced with movies about ambiguous Europeans attacking America, like in Die Hard. So this is still keeping with the same source material of 1980s Hollywood action movies that the original has, except with a different location.
The basic gameplay has been pretty much entirely retained from the original, except that you can have more than three shots for your secondary weapon. The only other real gameplay differences are that you can backtrack, crawl while ducking, and there are several ladders that will lead into subterranean hallways. You can avoid these entirely, but there are weapons and several enemies to kill if you choose to venture into them. This is also a good way to avoid more difficult situations above ground by going right in these hallways, and then re-emerging when you reach a ladder, leading back to the surface. Combat works exactly like in Rush'n Attack, and each secondary weapon has been retained for this sequel, but there is a higher limit to how much ammo you can have, and you can have multiple weapons as well. There is a third button on the arcade cabinet which will switch between secondary weapons if you have more than one. If you lose a life, you will lose whatever secondary weapon you currently have equipped, but will respawn with whatever other secondary weapon(s) that you have.
The enemy attack patterns haven't really been changed whatsoever, but it's been made easier to identify which weapons enemies will leave when are they are defeated because their sprite is actually shown brandishing their specific weapon. There still aren't any boss fights, but the groups of enemies at the end have been eliminated as well. In their place are watchtowers with enemy soldiers operating gun turrets. If you can dodge their fire long enough to climb the ladder to the top and take out all the gunners, then you will move on to the next level.
There are two major changes that have been made to make the game arguably even better than Rush'n Attack. The biggest change made from the prequel, and what really makes M.I.A. so great, it that it allows for two-player co-operative play. It's a great game when played alone, but two player mode is where the game really excels. If for this reason alone, M.I.A. is probably the better of the two games. However, as has never been ported, you are realistically going to have to emulate it. The other change that's been made concerns the game's challenge level. Missing in Action is still absurdly difficult, but finishing it is a bit more realistic of a goal. You respawn after losing a life and, most importantly, you can credit feed this time around. Also, the pace is a bit more leisurely than in Rush'n Attack, which makes it slightly easier in general. However, keep in mind that it's still incredibly difficult if you want to one-credit it.
Due to technological advances, M.I.A. has fancier graphics and music. Honestly, it looks good, and there are certainly more details to backgrounds and graphics in general, but it doesn't quite flawlessly replicate the original's aesthetic. As the gameplay between the two is so similar, abandoning the original visual theme probably works in the game's favor by giving it more of an identity than it would have if they had merely technologically updated the graphics. The music keeps pace with the action fairly well and has a nice sense of urgency to it.
Despite M.I.A. being virtually identical to Rush'n Attack, two-player co-operative play alone probably makes for a better game, so it's really a shame that it never got a port. The American version of the game is identical to the Japanese version gameplay-wise, but for whatever reason the American version has the second, fourth, and sixth levels backward. So you move right to left rather than left to right. This doesn't have any affect whatsoever on the gameplay, so this was probably just a novelty and a failed attempt to get the game noticed in American arcades.