AKA: Paul & Vince
As seen in: Ikari Warriors (Arcade)
Also in: Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road (NES)
Distinguishing feature: Distinguishing features: Rambo-esque hair and bandanas.
Strengths: Rambo-like fighting capabilities, miraculous powers of endurance.
Weaknesses: Bullets, explosions, marauding aliens.
Much like the popular jock who also really loves anime, or the badass biker who secretly spends his weekends reading to children at the hospital, Ralf and Clark are difficult people to label. On the one hand, their character design is about as derivative as it gets; you take Rambo and, well, that’s about it. Much like just about half of the other arcade game protagonists of the '80s, Ralf and Clark bear a striking resemblance to America’s favorite mush-mouthed action hero. So striking, in fact, that I’d hazard a guess they changed the characters’ looks on the NES box art to avoid being struck by a lawsuit from Anabasis Investments.
On the other hand, most of their games aren’t that great either. A decent if unremarkable response to Capcom’s breakaway success, Commando, the original Ikari Warriors gained a modest amount of success when first released most likely because, other than the aforementioned Commando, there weren’t really any other titles like it on the market. Featuring two generic Rambo clones blasting their way through an evil army to rescue a captured officer imprisoned deep in the South American rainforest, there’s hardly much to make it stand out from among the host of other shoot-em-ups released since. The rest of the Ikari Warriors titles ranged from serviceable to terrible depending on which iteration on which system, and their rather bland graphics and generic shooting certainly haven’t aged all that well. Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road is probably the most notable due to the fact that it took the heroes away from fighting terrestrial terrorists and into outer space to fight an alien menace. If only one of the Rambo sequels had done the same, we would have gladly paid good money to see it.
But, on the third hand (these are theoretical hands, so we’ve got as many as we need, dammit!), somehow these '80s action-flick wannabes have managed to not only endure, but thrive while so many more interesting game heroes have faded into obscurity. After a bit of a hiatus, Ralf and Clark returned to the arcades in King of Fighters ’94 featuring a much less generic new design. They’ve continued on in the series’ roster and have gained quite a bit of popularity over the years. In fact, they were so popular that SNK saw fit to introduce them into yet another of their most successful properties, Metal Slug. Hell, Ralf’s arguably the best character in the series, since he’s the only one that under normal conditions can take two hits before going down.
So the lesson is, kids, never give up. Sure, you might be wondering what the heck happened to some of your other beloved 8-bit heroes, like Mike Jones?, Nightshade, or that kid from Blaster Master. You might assume that, after all these years, clearly no company is going to bother resurrecting a character so long gone from the spotlight. But just look at how many long-neglected retro properties have gotten a second chance at life in recent years: Bionic Commando, A Boy and His Blob, Rygar. And when things look their darkest, and you’re totally convinced you’ve seen the last of a childhood favorite, just remember the story of how two generic Rambo knock-offs from a forgettable series of '80s arcade games became hit fighting game characters. Remember, and hope.