Version Reviewed: NES
Year Published: 1987
The first problem with reviewing Konami's Rush'n Attack is that you're going to end up saying the same things countless other sources have already said, so I'll get it out of the way: Yes, the title is a play on "Russian Attack", since it was released during the height of the Cold War, which by now, feels like it never ended. And yes, it's ridiculous that its premise is that one guy is sent into enemy territory, armed with only a knife, to destroy a nuclear missile, and it's even more absurd that most enemies run right into said knife (though the popularity of Rambo: First Blood Part II accounts for part of this). Less talked about is how he can blow up the nuclear warhead without vaporizing himself in the process, but never mind.
What's more important to know about Rush'n Attack is that it is a home console port of an arcade game, many of which were designed to be "quarter munchers", and it's also significantly more difficult than its Famicom Disk System counterpart, Green Beret. It gives you two extra lives and has an easier final boss than Green Beret, but the latter has (limited) continues, you respawn where you die (instead of being pushed back earlier in the stage), and you can stockpile up to 9 of your special weapons and carry them over to the next stage. Rush'n Attack limits special weapon stock to 3 and it's "use it or lose it" between stages.
Turns out, the advantages of Green Beret far outweight those of Rush'n Attack, so much so, that I beat Green Beret without using save states, whereas I had to create checkpoints to finish Rush'n Attack.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. What exactly is Rush'n Attack? The easiest way to put it is that it's like Contra. As a lone soldier (or two if you have a second player), you run through sidescrolling military-themed stages and kill everything that moves. I'd call it a "run-n-gun", but it's more like "run-n-knife-n-sometimes-gun", because you can only use a rocket launcher, handgun, or grenades when picked up from a special enemy that carries them, and their use is finite.
Rush'n Attack is older than Contra, and while other sources have noted the similarities, I've never heard it speculated that Contra could have begun life as a Rush'n Attack sequel. The fact the villain is called "Red Falcon", despite being an alien, has always seemed suspicious to me - as though the devs originally had you fighting a Communist regime, but then they saw the Alien movies and that, as they say, was that.
That's a pervasive issue with Rush'n Attack - it feels like playing a lesser version of Contra. That is sort of expected of a game that's older, but despite some efforts to make it more palatable to a home console release, such as the addition of two new stages, it still retains many trappings of its arcade roots. Most notable and frustrating is the use of Up on the D-pad to jump instead of a button.
This archaic method is not only an arcade holdover, but seems to have been done that way because the A button is for special weapons. The NES controller had few buttons, true, but it still seems like something else could've been worked out. The Select button to switch between them, maybe? It is the main reason I cannot recommend Rush'n Attack to anyone unwilling to play it on an emulator.
With an emulator, I was able to remap the buttons so I could use A to jump and X for special weapons. This meant I had to use A to climb up ladders, but that's still less awkward than using Up to jump. With that, I made the game playable, so now I could experience...all the issues with the actual game design.
The first stage may lull you into a state of believing it's all going to be about twitch skills, but the awkward controls and limited range of your weapon will prove by the second stage that memorization of enemy types and patterns is even more necessary. Not long into Level 2, you'll contend with enemy soldiers that shoot from guard towers above you, most of which cannot be reached with any weapons. The difficulty picks up significantly from here, resulting in players on modern social media reminiscing that they never got much farther.
While most enemies simply run into your weapon without using any of their own, there are also some that perform a flying kick just before collision, and others that fire a handgun. The latter are the smartest of the lot, as they can also chase you up and down ladders. Memorizing where they appear is crucial to not wasting lives. Other issues, such as jump attacks resulting in getting stuck to a ladder where you become a sitting duck, seem more a fundamental flaw of the control design than legit obstacles to overcome.
I'm sure there are NES purists who will argue that they loved the game and beat it when they were five, or whatever. I'm sure it's beatable on actual NES hardware with enough time and effort, but completing Green Beret without cheating was more than enough for me. I've heard several theories as to why 8-bit era games were difficult, and there is probably some truth in all of them. Rush'n Attack is an exercise in why that was sometimes a problem.
The graphics and music are decent, especially considering they were based on a 1985 arcade game.
May be mildly interesting to NES aficionados and gaming historians, or people who just really want to play a difficult game.
If you play the JP version, Green Beret, it's more reasonably balanced.
Awkward controls requiring Up to jump, unless you play on an emulator and rearrange the settings.
No continues, no real cheat codes to help, getting sent back after dying unless you started a 2-player game.
Feels like a protoform of Contra, it may just make you want to play that game instead.