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Monday, March 10, 2014

NES Replay: Commando

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Released: November 1986
At the beginning of every console's life cycle, there's a period where developers aren't sure what a console can really do. During this time, you'll see games that aren't really optimized for the system they're on, or games that overreach the bounds of what the new system can do.

This is not a new phenomenon. Back in 1986, Capcom did that with Commando.

Commando was ported over to the NES from their original arcade game. It's a top-down shooter where you play as a character named Super Joe while he infiltrates and destroys a series of enemy bases. Bullets are flying, enemies shoot mortars and run everywhere, there are motorcyles, grenades, secret doors, and all sorts of other fun stuff.

When Capcom ported Commando to the NES, they tried to make it as close to the arcade game as they could. However, since the NES obviously wasn't as powerful as those arcade machines were, Capcom ended up with some bizarre technical problems.

The most notable is that sometimes enemies will simply disappear. Like, vanish. I want to stress, when this happened to me, it's not that I killed said enemy, and therefore he disappeared. No, the enemy would literally vanish into thin air, crossing over into some strange alternate dimension, never to be seen again.

I wasn't sure if this was just a glitch of my emulator, so I went ahead and watched a video on Youtube where someone played through the entire game. Sure enough, there were cases were the player started moving to shoot an enemy, and the enemy blinked out of existence like they were caught by a Weeping Angel. That reassured me that it wasn't just me.

So how does something like that happen? Let's recap what we know about the NES, taken from my previous article on Popeye:
"There are very few enemies onscreen at once in Popeye, and for good reason. The NES could handle 64 sprites onscreen at once, but only eight on any given vertical line at once. If there were more than eight, the ninth would disappear."
In this case, my best guess is that Capcom exceeded the 64-sprite limit, which caused one of them to vanish, but I can't be certain.

Did Capcom need that many sprites onscreen at once? Not really. Unless you try and kill every single enemy, which would be folly, you'll end up with about four or five enemies tailing you, just running behind you like Secret Service agents. They're completely unnecessary, like a TV on a honeymoon or a hotel in North Korea, yet there they are.

This was an example of Capcom trying to take a fairly advanced and action-packed arcade game and squeeze the whole thing into an NES cartridge. We've seen that some older arcade games, like Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr., could fit into a cartridge. More recent arcade games, though, really couldn't be stuffed into the NES.

Still, even with these goofy issues, Commando is still a lot of fun and has a lot of character. There are cowardly commanders, broken bridges, and all sorts of mayhem. It actually captures the feel of a lone soldier desperately trying against enormous odds to capture enemy bases. It's definitely fun, and even more fun if you imagine a rip in space-time carrying off enemy soldiers to a world beyond ours.

Final Rating: