Sunday, February 13, 2022

Commando (Saturn)

Arena
Checkpoints ON
2 Difficulty levels
8 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Capcom
Published by Capcom in 1998

I won't delve into the reasons why I never even considered giving a chance to Commando in any of its forms whatsoever until a few weeks ago, when I had some spare time during the final days of my hard-earned vacation.

Suffice it to say it was out of stubborness more than anything else. And perhaps because it doesn't scroll automatically.

Originally released in the arcades in 1985, Commando is the forefather of all pedestrian shooters, i.e. games with a human-like character walking and shooting on ground levels/surfaces, the vast majority of them vertical. With the success of war and military-based movies released throughout the 80s, it's no wonder Commando became such a huge hit wherever it was installed. Besides a few versions to less powerful systems, the game eventually received faithful ports starting from the 32-bit generation. One of them is included in the Capcom Generation 4 compilation released for the Sony Playstation and the Sega Saturn. My first contact was with the latter, yet both discs are practically identical and should provide the same experience should you decide to try it.

A quick credit of Commando
(courtesy of YouTube user laspacho)

In Commando (Senjō no Ōkami in Japanese) you take control of a soldier aptly named "Super Joe" and make your way across enemy territory after being dropped in the jungle by a chopper, armed with a rifle that comes with unlimited ammo and a limited stock of hand grenades. It's the classic one-man mission where you'll be facing hordes of enemy soldiers throughout several types of terrain. The game is structured in two campaigns of four stages each, starting over with a marginal increase in difficulty once you beat the 8th level.

By default, buttons A and C are used to shoot and button B is used to throw grenades. If you don't want to tap the shot button like crazy just head to the options menu and set rapid fire to "high". There you can also select between three screen modes (of which the third one activates a TATE orientation), as well as choose a special soundtrack if desired among other regular tweaks you'd normally expect from a decent arcade port (button remapping and saving). The alternate music isn't that distinct from the regular one, a basic set of military tunes that puts you in the right mood to perform heroic exploits in the line of duty.

Landscapes range between areas that resemble a jungle, a desert, a bunker field and an airport base. There are no main bosses in Commando, but at the end of each level the screen stops and you must face a series of soldiers that come out in higher numbers from a fortress. Halfway into the level you'll need to pass below a bridge where an enemy will often park a vehicle over it and start shooting out grenades while soldiers close in from the other side. If you get shot a life is lost and you'll restart at a previous checkpoint. Stepping into water ponds and falling into ground holes or ridges/ravines will also cost you a life.

With no power-ups in sight, the only items available for collection are grenade refills. The small crate adds one grenade to the stock, the larger one adds three grenades. Don't worry about feeling guilty if you die with a substantial grenade stock in your hands, it isn't reset when you die (unfortunately this feature became quite rare as the genre evolved).

What lurks behind these walls and doors?

Since it's such a primitive game, Commando boasts a limited number of colors and might look repetitive on a first glance. What it lacks in design assets, however, is duly compensated by non-stop action with just the right amount of animation needed to back it up. You're allowed to fire in all 8 directions, but since you can't strafe or lock the character in place you must always be moving in order to aim your rifle and use your shots wisely (they only travel a certain length before disappearing). As for grenades, note that they will always be thrown upwards no matter where you're facing.

The worst thing that can happen is getting overwhelmed by enemy soldiers and enemy fire. A simple strategy that works most of the time is to just dart forward and avoid lateral enemies as much as possible, especially when going under bridges. In areas where vehicles approach from the sides you must either memorize their spawning locations or keep your movement restricted to the center of the screen. Finally, grenades dropped by enemies will always target your current position, so try to be alert and avoid to stay put if they're coming towards you. The scoring system is basic and bare bones, but watch out for a cowardly officer dressed in green that crosses the screen from time to time. He's worth more than the usual soldier, as well as those officers who are holding a hostage in the first stage.

It's easy to underestimate Commando going only by pictures or if you're just a bystander. It is however quite an addictive game for several reasons: gameplay is fair and tight, stages are short and the action moves at a brisk pace, with a full credit clocking at just above ten minutes. This formula was copied to exhaustion in future games, yet not always as successfully. Direct sequel Mercs (also included in  the Capcom Generation 4 release) expanded on the original concept with great results.

My best result in Commando on the Sega Saturn in the Normal difficulty ended in stage 2-6.


2 comments:

  1. Wow, I had never even heard of this one.

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    Replies
    1. That's sort of expected these days, I guess.
      The game is very old, often buried with lots of old games in compilations/collections and easily overlooked due to people simply throwing it off because of its primitive looks.

      The success it had wasn't by chance though.
      :)

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