I remember the arcade version being much better than this one.
I loved playing Commando in my local arcade. It was a military-themed shooter that let me live out many of my G. I. Joe fantasies. Looking back on it, it was a pretty simple game, but it still seemed light years ahead of games like Pac-Man or Galaga in terms of realism.
Commando is still fun to play—for a while, anyway—because it pretty much just turns you loose to massacre the entire armed forces of a small Third World country. Despite the extreme violence, there is a kind of zen quality to the game; you can just mash the firing button repeatedly and revel in the cartoonish carnage. There is some strategy involved, but not too much. You have to ration your grenades, and sometimes you will be faced with a tough decision regarding which approaching soldier you need to shoot first. Beyond that, Commando is completely mindless fun.
Having said that, it's unfortunate that everything seems to just repeat over and over after the first few levels. I really haven't been motivated to play this game for too long in one sitting. It's fun for about 10 minutes, but after that you've pretty much seen, and shot, it all. It's all pretty much the same once you've played through the first few stages, but the trigger-happy gameplay may have you returning to Commando every once in a while just for the sheer stupidity of the action.
I recently played a copy of the NES cart, and I must say I was pretty disappointed. Maybe nostalgia has clouded my judgment, but I didn't have nearly as much fun with this version of Commando as I did so many years ago in that arcade.
This is admittedly a very early NES game, but the graphics are still pretty bad. Everything is basically green or brown. While there are a lot of characters on screen at the same time, there is also a lot of flicker and a little bit of slowdown. In fact, some enemies flicker and then just disappear. No, I don't mean they run off the edge of the screen—I mean they simply vanish into thin air! Also, note that nobody has any facial features in this game. All the better when your mission is to mow everyone down in cold blood, I suppose…
The annoyingly catchy music has an appropriately martial theme, but it is too repetitive. Sound effects for gunfire and explosions are pretty weak. The playback quality is very poor, giving the music and SFX a tinny and distant feel, even by early NES standards.
As for challenge, Commando isn't very hard once you get used to some of its "quirks." Spin around and fire your gun all the time, learn to gauge the fixed range of your grenade tosses, and you are well on your way to clearing level after level of faceless enemy soldiers.
There are a few really stupid things about Commando for the NES. You do have the ability to rotate around 360 degrees and move in any of eight directions. However, this is not a luxury—this is a virtual *necessity* since enemies swarm onto the screen from all directions. They often continue to come from the same location, "spawning" a lineup of soldiers who mindlessly jump, one after the other, right into your line of fire! There is a tendency for your man to get hung up on the few terrain features (hills, trees, etc.) in the game even though he appeared to have cleared them easily. This results in some extremely cheap deaths. You can fire your gun in all directions, but you can only toss grenades forward (towards the top of the screen). The problem with enemies just disappearing also aggravates me.
I remembered the arcade game having a greater variety of enemies. I could be wrong, but what I CAN say for sure is that the enemies are pretty boring and homogenous, and that the designers relied too much on sheer numbers of soldiers when they should have introduced some more interesting opponents instead.
The Bottom Line
Commando is a fun game, but the NES port disappointed me. Maybe the arcade version wasn't really much better, but that's how I remember it. It's still worth a look if you enjoy this kind of old school shooter, but I wouldn't call it a classic.