Today people might look at Midway as the financial disaster that they are and chuckle. In the better days of arcades, however, Midway developed a number of hit arcade games including their hit Mortal Kombat series of fighters. While MK is likely their most famous effort, they also had some respectable games prior to the seminal fighter, not the least of which was Rampage. The hit arcade game cast three stereotypical movie monsters into various cities for the sole purpose of destroying them, and all three could be played simultaneously for three times the destruction. The game was successful in the arcades, but was the NES version any good?
From the get-go, the player will notice that the title screen is slightly different, featuring only two of the three monsters. Not surprisingly, only two mutants are playable, George the gorilla and Lizzie the lizard. This leaves the wolf character, Ralph, out of the mix. While this is not a huge omission since only two players can play, one can't help but wonder if it would have taken much more effort to include him. At first it would seem that only one player can play, but a second can join in arcade-style after player one has begun the game. First, however, let's take a look at the single player offering.
Single player mode, while not significantly different from the two player mode, is notably less fun than playing with a friend. After choosing a character, the player commences his attack on the United States, starting in California. The player hops between and destroys building with monstrous punches and is free to consume any goodies that he may uncover while doing so (although some hidden objects are hazards). The US won't take it lying down, though, and the military is ordered into action. With snipers, helicopters, and tanks rolling in relentlessly, it will take all of the monsters' cunning to juggle threat elimination and building destruction. Being an NES game, punching buildings and eating people are mapped to the same button, but this is intuitive and works well. Once all of the buildings have been destroyed, the player moves on to the next city, and if he can avoid death (or rather, a return to non-mutated, human form), the player will gradually (and anticlimactically) destroy all of the United States of America. This isn't too challenging, for continues are infinite. On paper, this onslaught of destruction sounds challenging and fun, but in practice, it is slow, repetitive, and will definitely leave you wanting more. Cities are indistinguishable and scaling and punching buildings gets tedious quickly.
Are any of those problems remedied in the multiplayer mode? Tentatively, yes. The gameplay gets significantly more fun simply due to the fact that there are two monsters, and the ability to socialize makes the repetitive nature of the game reduce slightly. The two monsters can punch and harass each other in an attempt to destroy the most buildings and get the highest score, adding some competitive fun to the mix (players can even eat each other's human forms to revert the other player's score back to zero). Unfortunately, even with a second player, the game still feels dull and uninteresting after a handful of levels, and only the most determined players will see the uninspired finale.
Often games have poor gameplay but try to make up for it with flash graphics and catchy tunes. This is not the case with Rampage on the NES. The graphics are several notches down in quality when compared to the arcade version. They are certainly not bad, but struck against the Master System version, which has significantly better graphics (and all three characters), the effort seems lousy. The music is also dull and nearly inaudible. Strangely, the one and two player modes have different music, and the two player song is the better on offer. That said, it is certainly not good. Not to be outdone, the Master System version also has catchier, more upbeat music. The presentation in Rampage can best be described as lazy.
Let it be said that Rampage is not an awful game, particularly in the arcades. It has a unique charm, and with two players, it can be good fun. Unfortunately, the NES version fails due to inferiority to its counterpart in every regard. The gameplay is slower, the monsters are fewer, and the graphics and sound take a significant hit in the conversion. Most players would be hard pressed to enjoy this game for more than twenty minutes at a time. To top it off, the other 8-bit rendition on the Master System is far more polished and reminiscent of the arcade original, and the arcade version is available on a handful of Midway collections. If city smashing fun is what you seek, do yourself a favor and avoid the NES version.