Retro Profile: Commando (NES)

There was no time in history quite like the 80’s. It was the only time when you could sport a mullet, rock out to Quiet Riot and still be counted as “with it” by all the high school kids, if you played your cards right. It was also an era where any threat of world domination by some force of evil could be thwarted; as long as you had some spare time on your hands and 25 cents (or more) to spend. That’s right…I’m talking about those shoot ’em up games of the old arcades. It seemed that every developer out there had their own ideas of how to save the world, and Capcom was no exception.

On the surface, Commando plays out exactly like it did in the arcade. You control Super Joe, machine gun as many enemies as you possibly can, and lob a few grenades to thin out the crowds. Simple? Sure. Fun? Absolutely! It’s funny to throw a grenade at some poor soldier trying to dig a ditch for you, only to see him throw his arms in the air in defeat after it reaches him. You’ll also quickly find out that it’s not a good idea to stand still in one area for more than 2 seconds, unless you want to see the “game over” screen very quickly. The game consists of 4 levels, or “missions”, split up into 4 small sections. Your goal is to fight your way up to the big fortress at the end of each level, blow it up, and advance on to the next mission. Each time you destroy a fortress, the helicopter will swoop down so you can go the next area. Unfortunately, Super Joe can’t swim, so you might not want to get too close to the water, if it can be avoided.

Capcom took an extra step with the NES port of Commando and included secret underground bases that could be discovered by throwing grenades in the proper place, or entering certain buildings. Generally, it’s a good idea to explore the underground bases, in an attempt to rescue your fellow army men. When you save a certain number of comrades, you’ll be rewarded with a powered-up machine gun, and your grenades will have a bigger blast radius as well. There are other times when it’s just plain annoying to explore certain bases that don’t have any comrades to rescue, because they sometimes lead to a dead end. In all, there are 33 underground shelters to discover, so this certainly adds to the replay aspect of the game if you really want to say that you’ve fully completed your mission. Love it or not, the secret underground shelters add a new layer to playing through Commando. Not to mention, it helps to break up the action a bit and extends the play time a little too.

Super Joe himself moves around fairly nice, as long as you don’t have to move around certain objects, such as trees, buildings, etc. The collision detection is a little off, and that’s where things get a little screwy at times. It can be quite frustrating to move around the objects mentioned above when you’re trying to dodge bullets and rockets being fired at you. The same goes for trying to save your buddies on the main battlefield. You’ll often find them placed conveniently between a small structure and the edge of the screen, making it hard for you to accurately maneuver in that crawl space. That’s not to say that these faults hinder the game all that badly, but it does take some extra skill that otherwise wouldn’t be needed to work around the collision issues.

Commando suffers a lot on the visual front. On the one hand, the backgrounds and solid objects have bright, vibrant colors. They actually hold together pretty well. On the other hand, however, almost any and every moving sprite is plagued with constant flickering and a few slowdown issues throughout the entire game. Things can get really hectic when enemy vehicles flicker on to the screen, as they can be difficult to keep track of, making it easy to get killed if you’re not really careful in some areas. It’s problems like these that will more than likely scare away those who have never seen or played this game before.

Even so, it must be understood that the original arcade version always had a lot of action going on and it was always a challenge for developers to mimic the same thing on a console in the early days of the NES and other game systems of that era. Be that as it may, these graphical flaws don’t kill the overall experience of the game. You’ll still have more fun just mowing down enemies with your machine gun and lobbing grenades everywhere.

Play or Stay? As you can probably tell by now, Commando is somewhat of a mixed bag. While it’s plagued with some significant graphical issues and the controls can be a little jerky at times, a person can still cut the game a little slack, as it was one of Capcom’s first games on the NES. It’s still an enjoyable game when you’re in the mood for a quick “one man army” kind of game. If you don’t like to play alone, plug in an extra controller and you can take turns with a friend, though I doubt that many of us gamers in this world of instant gratification will have the patience to wait for the other person to lose his life. Even so, it can still be fun with two people.
While Capcom may have dropped the ball on a few things with this title, they more than made up for it in the way that they ported many of their future arcade games to the NES, including Gun.Smoke, 1943, and definitely Bionic Commando. Even with its flaws, Commando is still worth the occasional stroll down memory lane.

Jamie Alston is somewhat of an unusual gamer. While most people crave the visual delights that can be found in many of the current generation consoles of today, he actually prefers the 8-bit & “super 8-bit” (SNES) glory days of yesteryear. This is probably due in part to the fact that his brother chose the Nintendo Entertainment System over the Sega Genesis back in 1989…or maybe it had more to do with that time when he fell and hit his head on the blacktop in elementary school. Whatever the reason might be, Jamie has an undying love for those unnecessarily big cartridges he spent so many summer afternoons playing. When he’s not raiding trucks that “have started to move” for rations and key cards, he stays busy supporting his gaming hobby by working as a Policies & Procedures Analyst for a financial company in Baltimore, Maryland. And when he’s not working for “the man”, he’s working on the next retro review for the week. And when he’s not fighting off writer’s block and much needed sleep, he’s raiding trucks that “have started to”—well, you get the idea. Currently living in Randallstown, MD, Jamie sums up his life long dream this way: “If I one day find myself driving on the highway in a 2004 Honda Accord with an NES directional pad for a steering wheel, you can bet that I’ll be holding the up direction for that turbo boost on the straight-aways. That’s when I’ll know that I’ve finally made it in life”.