No Guts, No Glory
Commando: Steel Disaster is the very first video-game offering by fledging developer Mana Computer Software. The game itself makes no bones about being a blatant Metal Slug knock-off, and as such, we’ll be putting Commando through the paces to see just how it compares.
For those folks unfamiliar with the Metal Slug series, the games are shoot-`em-ups, which got their start on SNK’s Neo Geo system back in 1996. Much in the vein of the Contra series, you’d play as a sort of Rambo-esque, Chuck Norris-type soldier, blasting through side-scrolling levels, while freeing POWs as your main goal. Perhaps the focal element, however, which set the Metal Slug series apart from its contemporaries, was its over-the-top, satirical nature. The games were funny to watch, fun as heck to play, and always good for a laugh.
Commando tries to do two things in its attempt to be a Metal Slug clone: mimic its gameplay and art style, and to that end, the game is quite successful. In fact, there are some minor innovations in Commando’s gameplay that help modernize the formula. But let’s talk about the basics first.
Unlike Metal Slug games of the past, Commando attempts to offer up a full story, conveyed through short bits of dialogue at the beginning of each mission. Without any introduction to the setting or characters, a fellow, female soldier informs you of an attack on the “Snow Lab” by X-1, your army’s secret weapon. It’s up to you to wrangle in the renegade marauder, and after each pre-mission briefing, you’re thrown into the action. If you’re contemplating picking up Commando for its prose, reboot and rethink your strategy – this ain’t no Phoenix Wright. For a straight-up action-shooter, however, Commando’s story gets the job done, if just barely.
There are only a handful of levels in Commando, but each level is quite lengthy with tons of challenge. If there is one element players will want to concern themselves with when considering Commando for purchase, it’s the game’s level of difficulty – it’s tough as nails. Contra 4 is arguably the hardest game currently available on DS, but Commando makes great strides in matching that same, excruciating challenge. However, whereas Contra and Metal Slug games offer diversity in level design, interesting and varied enemies, as well as multiple continues, Commando offers a somewhat repetitious experience, requiring players to repeat entire levels over and over when they fail.
A typical level consists of shooting your way past mostly the same types of enemy soldiers and a few thrown-in vehicles such as tanks and helicopters. Due to the game’s brutal level of difficulty, the missions feel a tad too long. After all, when the combat and scenery are somewhat repetitive, it’s a chore to play through a level that overstays its welcome, and it becomes a total drag when you have to repeat those levels several times. That said, there are some fun and interesting gameplay elements Commando offers over the competition. Perhaps the most notable feature is your character’s ability to roll; when crouched, you can roll by pressing the jump button. This is very handy (and often absolutely necessary) when trying to dodge incoming fire or to roll out of the way of multiple enemies, thus getting the jump on them. Additionally, Commando allows you to backtrack (when you’re not playing through any of the game’s on-rails segments) through various portions of a level, and it’s a subtle yet meaningful improvement over Metal Slug’s old-school approach. Missed a power-up? No problem. Just back it up a bit and grab that sucker. Low on health and want to play it safe? Truck back, hang out from a safe distance, and pick off your enemies one by one. Additionally, you can merely hold down the fire button to rapid fire, which is another marked improvement over the Metal Slug series. These little innovations go a long way in making Commando a game worth checking out.
Another interesting difference here is how Commando divvies up your life in the game. In other games of this kind, you’re given a set number of lives (since you die any time you’re hit), as well as a number of continues when you receive the “Game Over” screen. Commando, on the other hand, gives you only an armor and health bar. So, you can take damage and withstand multiple attacks, but once you die, that’s it – no more lives, no continues – it’s back to square one. Since the game doesn’t throw many health and armor power-ups your way, even on the normal setting (there’s also a hard-difficulty mode), the gameplay can quickly become frustrating. As mentioned, it’s a (very) hard game, and repeating levels is inevitable. Unfortunately, repeated tours of duty don’t help to extend the game in any entertaining way. This is where some of the chore of playing Commando comes in. Challenge is good, but only if it’s fun and interesting. Additionally, there are a couple of design faux pas where you’ll be forced to backtrack through a level in order to trigger a scripted sequence that doesn’t quite click into gear on your first pass through, but thankfully, these are rare occurrences.
The bosses in the game look really good, and they’re masochistic in their design. There are often insane amounts of firepower thrown at your commando, and if merely making it through a level doesn’t cow you, the end bosses surely will. However, though they are challenging in the extreme, the bosses aren’t necessarily all that interesting. The difficulty comes strictly from the flurries of attacks bosses unleash, rather than any cleverly designed puzzle elements, and that’s pretty much the defining characteristic of this game as a whole.
Criticisms aside, Commando does a lot right. The controls are spot on, if not a bit abbreviated in terms of the directions you can fire certain weapons. The collision detection, though not quite perfect, is better than the average Metal Slug game. Additionally, for what Commando tries to be, it looks great. This is strictly a 2D affair, but the art style and graphics fit nicely on the DS. Fun-looking sprites, awesome explosions, classic artwork with lots of detail – all things directly inspired by the Metal Slug series; it all looks great and runs fairly smooth.
On the audio front, Commando falls a bit short due to a conspicuous lack of variety. Enemies have only three discernable death cries; shooting sounds are somewhat entertaining but nothing new; and though the music is decent and fits the gameplay well enough, the tunes lack that special bit of “umph” that helps make games like Metal Slug such a rockin’ good time.
This is a DS game, and that means there are two screens to utilize. How does Commando fare in this department? Not great. All the action takes place on the touch screen, and the top screen merely houses a mostly static, overworld map. The map is completely extraneous and offers no real purpose.
When everything’s tallied up, though, Commando is a decent game on its own merits and a strong first showing for newcomers Mana Computer Software. This is a game that sets out to be a total clone of the Metal Slug experience, and with that in mind, Commando succeeds on many levels. The game surely seems to hit its mark with its level of challenge, as this one’s not for the “casual gamer.” Whereas your typical Metal Slug game offers a challenge good enough for hardcore gamers yet still something anyone can enjoy, Commando presents players with more skill-based gameplay, which will require some serious button reflexes and finesse. That can be a good or bad thing depending on your point of view. For those curious but unsure, Commando is probably worth a rental. For those who love “the pain,” Commando is a definite buy. But for those who get enough challenge out of keeping their gardens tidy in Animal Crossing…well, `best to pass this one right on by.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
It’s nothing we haven’t seen from the Metal Slug series, but Commando still looks good and works particularly well on DS. 4.0 Control
Everything feels tight, controls are laid out in a very straight-forward fashion, and after the first mission, players can map the controls to their liking. But why do we have to wait until after the completion of the first mission? Additionally, some weapons offer only the ability to fire in four directions, which can make certain combat situations a chore. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is pretty good and fits the theme the developers are going for, but sound effects, especially those of the enemies, are extremely limited in their variety. 3.5
Commando: Steel Disaster retails for $20. That’s a fair deal for what’s being offered. That said, it’s also a short game, overall, and it’s not one for the faint of heart. Only hardcore gamers need apply.
3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.