Desert Commander (NES)

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Written by  :  D Michael (232)
Written on  :  Mar 01, 2006
Rating  :  3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars
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Excellent game considering platform

The Good

Desert Commander puts your strategy prowess to the test against computer or human opponent in a desert combat environment. There is no real political storyline, no fancy character selection, and no "big picture" here. You are in control of a small battle against a rather equal foe (equal in terms of available weapons).

While the strategy required to conquer an enemy could be minimalist in approach (i.e. just send your units after the enemy and fight it out), the deeper elements of the game really come alive when you force yourself against a viable human opponent that knows the ins and outs of the game. In this scenario you are forced to become more 'fanciful' in your tactics as just rushing troops in blindly won't do.

There isn't much that you really need to do, however there are a multitude of ways to do it. This dichotomy of simple and advanced is what makes this game shine. Simple to learn and hard to master, if you have a fellow enthusiast to battle it out with this game has amazing replay value.

Most of the strategy involves three issues; unit selection, resupply, and HQ assault.

With unit selection you choose how to delegate your points into what type of war you want to wage. For example you may choose tanks for strength on the ground, or fighters for defense in the air. Selection plays an important role in the type of strategy you wish to employ.

Terrain plays a big factor when coordinating assaults or setting up defenses. Mountain ranges have excellent defense bonuses, but movement through them is very slow. Roads provide the best movement bonus for land based vehicles, giving you the most distance for your fuel investment, yet leave units open to attack from other positions that could have a serious advantage when fighting your units which are out in the open.

Each unit has specific strengths and weaknesses (i.e. fighters are good against bombers, weak against anti-aircraft, tanks are good against troops but weak vs. bombers and so forth...). However, this is not to say that attacking a unit that has a natural advantage is hopeless. I've had several fighters knocked out when defending against bombers in the air. There is only advantage and disadvantage, but luck still plays a factor. Good stuff.

Resupply is the name of the game. Since no units can really operate without it, resupply through trucks or depots becomes crucial for winning. It would be safe to say that the game objective is more based in logistics than it is in overrunning your opponent. If you can resupply effectively, that battle is almost already won.

HQ assault can't be done blindly as is the case in other games of this type. You must understand the game mechanics in order to efficiently execute your final move. There is a major drawback here though...

The Bad

Desert Commander didn't do well for its time, and I think mostly that this has to do with the lack of interest in the NES audience with turn based strategies. This was certainly a game that belongs to the PC crowd of gamers. Nevertheless there were a few shortcomings.

For one when selecting unit types whilst playing a human opponent, you can both see what each other has selected. This gives rise to basically opposing whatever your enemy is doing rather than developing real offensive strategy. My uncle and I played this and would not look at each others selections.

Once the ability to resupply is lost, the game becomes pretty much hopeless. While you may be able to defend, you will not be able to attack your enemy on the other side of the map. Then the game becomes tedium until your opponent can finally finish you off.

HQ assaults could have been better. While there is strategy involved, you must be MUCH more powerful than your opponent to end the game. You can't be a little more powerful or even possess a strong upper hand, you must be blowing them away (no pun intended) in terms of strength. While this alone will not end the game, it is a requirement. The result of this is that the end result of the game is observable LONG before it actually happens, making the HQ assault more of a formality than a requirement. Many times my uncle and I would end the game and start over when it was obvious who the winner was.

Battles are automated. You have basically no control once the fight starts as the computer determines the outcome (much like the Conflict series but even with conflict there were options during battle for offense and defense). While some may find this annoying it's important to remember that this game is based on logistical strategy from a commander's point of view, not a shoot-em up skill contest.

Maps were not varied enough.

Computer opponent is lacking.

Opposing players are entitled to the same unit types. There are no special units. Skill aside, all things are completely equal.

All units on the battlefield are visible by both players. This is one of the game's biggest drawbacks. There is no opportunity for sneak attacks or ambushes.

The Bottom Line

Desert Commander is one of the few turn based military strategies to hit the NES, and while I think the target audience was missed on this platform, any turn based strategy player should definitely check this one out, provided you have a human to play against.