|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Mana Computer Software||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: XS Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sept. 2, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Tony Capri
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.