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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Commando (Capcom, 1985)

Original title: "Senjou no Ookami", translated Wolf of the Battlefield
by Tokuro Fujiwara & Tamayo Kawamoto.

Ports developed for:
- Acorn Electron, Amiga (1989), Amstrad CPC, Atari ST (1990), BBC Micro, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum at Elite (check Wikipedia for a list of developers) in 1985.
- Commodore 16 plus4 at Elite by Richard Ikin and Ray Tredoux in 1986.
- MS-DOS at Data East by Quicksilver Software Inc. in 1986.
- Nintendo NES version by Capcom in 1986.
- Apple ][ at Data East USA in 1987.
- Intellivision by John Tomlinson, Connie Goldman and David Warhol for INTV in 1987.
- MSX at ASCII in 1987.
- Atari 2600 at Activision by Mike Reidel in 1988.
- Atari 7800 and 800 XE by Sculptured Software in 1989. Prototype was found of the 800 XE  version, and released to the internet in the 2000's.

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GAME STATUS

Another true classic to compare. This time we have our first arcade machine on our hands.

Currently, Commando is spotted at #91 with a score of 7.9 with 252 votes at Lemon64 (on a list with at least 100 votes); 314 WOS voters gave rated it 8.48, and it's placed at #10, tied with 4 other games; AtariAge has compiled an average score of 82% for the Atari 7800 from external reviews; Atarimania users have voted it 7.1 out of 10 on the ST and the 800 XE: 59 LemonAmiga users have voted it surprisingly low at 5.86; CPC Game Reviews has given it 7 out of 10; DOS gamers seem to think their version the worst of the bunch, but I couldn't find ratings anywhere and the Atari 2600 version seems a bit obscure, so people haven't voted on it at Atarimania. The rest of the bunch seemed pretty impossible to find reviews or ratings of on the internet. So it's a bit of a hit and miss, this one, depending on the platform. So, with that amount of versions to get through, prepare yourself for another big one.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW

You play as a soldier named Super Joe, who is taken into the heart of a jungle by a helicopter, and you have to fight your way through an army of enemy soldiers and tanks, freeing random prisoners of war on your way and listening to your favourite military-type tune throughout the journey. War will never be as much fun until Cannon Fodder.

At the end of each level, you'll get to a gate or whatever, and you'll have to fight through a horde of soldiers and a fleeing officer, all of which you might as well kill before heading to the next area and do it again.

You're equipped with a sub-machine gun and grenades, which you can find lying around in boxes for you to collect. The NES and A7800 have the only released versions with weapon upgrades and two other special items: spy glasses to see hidden bunkers, and an unlimited grenade upgrade. The level map layouts are slightly different, perhaps to accomodate all the other new stuff better. The unreleased Atari 800 game has all this as well. It's like playing the game with add-ons, or DLC if you prefer. But they were released a lot later than the original, so perhaps these enhanced versions were created to get closer to their sequel "Mercs", or some other evolved popular military action game, who knows.

So it was one of those action games where you had to turn off your brain and get in the zone, but I don't think any of those extra elements belonged there, because it only added an element of strategy, which somehow diminishes the whole point of these types of games.

This specific sub-genre of shoot'em ups was established by Taito's Front Line in 1982, but Commando (or "Senjou no Ookami") was the one that smoothed the rough edges and made the genre popular. Of course, now that Schwarzenegger and Stallone had gotten big in Hollywood with Rambo and Commando, why not merge the two ideas into one, and sell the game to the rest of the world with that? Hoo boy, was that a win or what? Naturally, the game spawned a horde of conversions on almost every home computer and console you could think of.

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LOADING

Since there are so many different versions around, and the rarest of them are really obscure, I can't really be sure whether or not these loading times are even remotely accurate, unless they were recorded on a familiar machine. I couldn't find an original version for Apple ][, and I really can't be sure whether the C16/plus4 version is imaged from the original tape. Even for Amiga and ST, it's pretty much impossible to find images of original disks from the vast world of Internet. Nevertheless, here's some rather useless information. I hope you guys can clear up this stuff at some point, if only for the sake of having the information on the same page.

ARC/MAME: Hard to say. The copyright text eats up 10 seconds, but booting the machine up...?
ATARI 2600: No loading time.
ATARI 7800: No loading time.
ATARI 800XE: No loading time. But then again, it wasn't officially released.
APPLE ][: N/A (really couldn't tell when the loading truly begins and ends with an emulator)
ATARI ST: Cracked: 2 minutes 32 seconds. Couldn't find an image of the original disk.
BBC TAPE: 4 minutes 35 seconds
BBC DISK: Not sure, but somewhere around 8 seconds, if the emulator loads it correctly.
C= AMIGA: Cracked: 1 minute 42 seconds. Couldn't find an image of the original disk.
C16/plus4: 7 minutes 18 seconds (not sure if the tape image was a copy of the original)
C64 TAPE: 4 minutes 38 seconds
C64 DISK: 30 seconds
CPC TAPE: 14 min 53 seconds
CPC DISK: Not sure, but somewhere around 8 seconds, if the emulator loads it correctly.
DOS / HD: No loading time, except booting your PC.
INTELLIV: No loading time. The title screen stays for about 5 seconds before you can start.
MSX: No loading time, except booting up the machine.
NINTENDO: No loading time.
SPECTRUM: 5 minutes, sharp. Both versions.

The only thing I can really clearly recommend by this list, is to stay the hell away from the tape version on Amstrad. If you really want to load from tape, go for either the C64 or the Spectrum version, or perhaps both. The other one has nice loading music and the other a nice loading picture. If you base your decision by loading times only, then any console version is probably your best bet. Just hold your horses.

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PLAYABILITY

The original arcade machine had an 8-way joystick with two buttons, one for gunfire and grenade each. I have managed to play this arcade once, about a decade ago, but I can't remember where it was, probably either in some amusement park or on a cruise ship. Anyway, I remember it being an amazing experience. The controls were surprisingly stiff, while still responsive. So, it might've been a new reproduction. But it was exactly how it was supposed to be: just difficult but fun enough to frustrate you, and makes you want to shoot more coins into the machine. I tried it twice and got to the beginning of level 2.

On MAME, though, it's a bit different, since you can shoot your virtual coins in the machine as much as you feel like. It's cheating, but gets you through the game eventually.

What the game actually feels like to play, is a sort of nice mid-tempo run'n'gun affair, with a bit of time to calculate your chances through different routes on the screen. You will always have time to react to everything that's happening on screen, even if there's a horde of soldiers coming at you. It's because the dedicated arcade hardware gives it such a smooth run, that you can't help but be comfortable in there. The only thing holding you back would be the controls, if you're not entirely familiar with arcade joysticks.

Of course, with INTELLIVISION, it's a whole different story. You're stuck with the weird phone dial controller with a joystick that looks more like a disc, and none of it works exactly like you want it to. But you do have three fire buttons, so that helps somewhat, if you just have to have the grenade in a different button than the SMG. The game works almost like it should, essentially. You use the disc to control your guy, the top button to shoot and the other two buttons to throw the grenades. It's just a bit too slow to be comfortable with the game, since your enemies will try to kill you just as restlessly as in the arcade version. There's less variety in types of enemies, but you won't be bothered with that because you'll be dodging bullets and grenades enough already while trying to survive. It's a tough one, and not necessarily in a good way, but go for it if you want some challenge.

ATARI 2600 has just as much speed in the game, and in the true Atari spirit, the game is completely altered in mechanics. Essentially, you'll get the same idea and similar structure in stages, but the enemies come at you in more random fashion, and most of the time don't really seem to have any idea what they're supposed to do on the battlefield. You don't need to collect anything, you don't need to save any POW's, you don't really need to focus on any thing else than staying alive and figuring out the paths you can go through, and shoot your way through. It's Commando simplified even below the level of Front Line, but it's playable.

Let's take a look at the bottom of the barrel at this point, because it's more fun, right? Not many websites seemed to be aware that there was a COMMODORE 16/+4 version available, and it was even published by Elite, who released most of the other versions. Well, perhaps it was known, but denied to be related to the original Commando in anyway other than name. It's a barely playable game, at least up to the second level, where you're attacked so vigorously by soldiers with rocket launchers and some others, but it has little resemblence to the original game that is Commando. This is not Commando. It's barely a shoot'em up. It's actually more like a puzzle game, in which you have to figure in which order you have to shoot the soldiers for you to be able to proceed to the next SCREEN. Because, in this version you only get one static screen per level, and when you're done killing the enemies, you'll proceed to the next one. I found this piece of information on YouTube, that there are actually only FIVE levels in this game, but still... you'd really have to be a commando to play through this one. The controls are good enough, but when there's so little to accomplish, it just feels like a useless piece of software, especially when it bears the title that it really doesn't deserve.

Just barely above the C16/+4 version comes the DOS port, which is a surprisingly depressing effort. Well, I suppose there was little effort in programming it, but let's see... The basic idea of the game has been accomplished to put on screen, which is already much better than the previous. But then, the screen is so little compared to all the other graphics, that it's difficult to see anything properly. Then, when you actually get to the action, you'll notice that you can only shoot in the four principle directions. How's that for a major screw-up? In every other way, it certainly tries to be what it's supposed to be, but because of those two major problems (and it's a bit slow as well), you can't really give it too much of a chance.

Another one to put in the barrel could be the BBC MICRO version (the ACORN ELECTRON has the exact same version, if I'm not entirely mistaken), but my attempt suffered a fatal stroke by not finding the control to guide poor Joe upwards. Otherwise, it seemed like a possibly playable version, but I just couldn't find all the controls, so I'll just try to judge by a YouTube video. Well, it looks like the game uses gradual scrolling system, which might not be too bad, but it doesn't really help, when the enemy soldiers flicker like a maniac. YouTube doesn't even show half as much of the enemies as they show up on an emulator, so you can't really know what I'm talking about unless you try it. The game looks playable enough, though, but I could be wrong. Apparently, the BBC/Acorn version has only 4 levels to play, so it shouldn't be much of a problem to play through.

That said, the C64 version only has 3 levels, so it's like a preview of a much longer game that you can check out on the 16-bit relative. But, what they've done with the C64, is speed up the game so that you can't focus on the faults of the conversion too much. Not that there is much other than blocky graphics and lack of levels. Well, there's some flickering and a few bugs that don't really matter in the long run, but I guess there always has to be something to whine about, even if the playability is as top notch as here.

SPECTRUM conversion tops the C64's playability by a little notch, simply because of there being all the 8 stages to go through. The speed is quite similar to the C64 version, if not exactly the same. Also, it helps to be able to redefine your controls if necessary. I might even go so far as to call the Spectrum version the most playable one.

AMIGA and ST conversions work exactly how they're expected to - very close to the original arcade. So it's slightly slower and less hectic than on the previous two versions mentioned. If you don't take into account that both 16-bit versions were released in 1989, you could somehow forgive that they were surprisingly bland at that point. After all they work pretty much as they're supposed to, and somehow, the C64 and Spectrum versions were their closest rivals. Indeed, the 8-bit versions were much more popular than their 16-bit brothers.

From the two normal conversions left, AMSTRAD has the more traditional approach to the game. In speed and other overall playability, this version is the closest to the original arcade game, which is really a rather rare feat. All the levels are there, and everything is in it's right place.

The APPLE ][ owners got some arcade credibility with this one, although it's not really that close to what it should've been. It's very playable, though, and surprisingly unremarkable in it's lack of presentation problems. The main problems here are the screen area, and somewhat awkward controls, especially when it comes to turning your war hero around. Some other bugs pop their ugly heads up now and then, but other than that, it's really rather playable. Slowish, but playable. I'd rate it somewhere in the midst of Atari 2600, Intellivision, MS-DOS and BBC.

I almost forgot the MSX version, but I blame it on not finding a non-japanese release, so the title is deceptive. The fact that it's so hard to find, renders it pretty damn unplayable, but if you happen to find it, you'll experience a blocky line-by-line style of scrolling, and REALLY slow walking. That said, it's surprisingly playable, if not comfortable. All that character and bullet flickering will make it difficult.

Phew. Now we've only got the enhanced conversions left to run through. Since the NES version  wasn't released in Europe, I had to resort to digging the rom up for an emulation check-up. Well, the level maps are different, and there are some hidden underground areas you can get to, and rescue some more POW's. As said before, there are some minor weapon upgrades and bonus collectables, mostly for score, but the main game feels much like the arcade version, at least in speed and style. I have no idea how many levels are there, but for all the bonus areas and longer maps, it definitely feels much longer than the original game. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it's not really the same, so I'll rate it in its own section.

Into the same section goes the other two conversions left as well: the ATARI 7800 version and the unreleased prototype for ATARI 800 XE. They're basically the same game as the NES version, but the underground areas are slightly more action-packed and longer, and there's more special items. I'm not very familiar with the Atari 7800, but of these three, that version somehow felt the best one, even though the NES version is slightly quicker.

Quick mention before the scores: some of the games have an optional 2-player mode, but it just doesn't add much of anything to the game, because it's played in turns, not co-operatively, unlike the official sequel, Mercs. This option seems to have been available in the arcade original as well, but I never noticed it for some reason.

So, how does the order look like in the playability section, according to my preferences?

REGULAR:
1. SPECTRUM
2. C64
3. ARCADE
4. AMIGA/ST
5. AMSTRAD
6. INTELLIVISION
7. BBC/ACORN
8. MSX
9. APPLE ][
10. ATARI 2600
11. DOS
12. C16/+4

ENHANCED:
1. ATARI 7800
2. NES
3. ATARI 800 XE

Sort of like that. I gave the enhanced games points in a different method, because that's how they felt they would sort of place in the regular section if they would've qualified there.

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GRAPHICS

Let's take a look at the loading screens first. There's a strangely diverse array of loaders this time, and I can't really figure out which ones I like or hate the most.

Top row, left to right: Amiga/ST, Atari 7800, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64
Bottom row, left to right: BBC Micro re-release, Apple ][, Intellivision, PC

Of the first bunch here, we start with the AMIGA/ST loader. It's a nice-looking, but unimaginative and huge version of the title logo, casting a mirrored image in front of it towards us outside the screen. As I said, nice, but doesn't really give any hype to the game itself. Obviously, they thought the game was already well-enough known that it didn't need an action-loaded loading screen anymore. Maybe they were right, but it would've been nice.

The next one isn't exactly a loading screen, but I put it there because I got tired of switching places with everything else to make it look logical. The A7800 intro screen look nice and menacing: the lone warrior struggling his way out of the dark jungle into the enemy camp. Too bad they made the logo entirely different from the original, now it's somehow golden, glimmering and glamoured triangular war font type thing. I don't get it. It just takes too much attention from the nice picture in the background. If they had used the logo in the Data East version, it would've made more sense, but there you go.

Then we get to the first properly good loading screen, seen in the AMSTRAD version. It's very atmospheric, the logo is nicely thrown up against the dark sky, and you're looking down from a hill at a bunch of awaiting dangers in the dusk. Or maybe it's supposed to be a beach in the background, and the logo is placed over the sea. I don't know, but each way, it's quite nice. Not the clearest, but not bad at all.

The C64 coders took a different approach, and it really doesn't look good. It's supposed to represent the arcade cabinet of Commando, but it's a bit of a mess, really. Then again, it's entirely created in basic character graphics, so it's a unique one anyway. I suppose a tape loader with music was a relatively new thing back then, and Elite didn't have time or money to put on such a trivial thing as a loading picture. They had spent all that on the gameplay. Still, there's a loading time counter, which is a nice thing to have.

First on the second row, there's the re-released version for BBC/Acorn by Superior Software. The colour scheme is pretty much what it is in the game, and gives you a good sense of what's going to happen in the game. The logo looks fine, but overall, it's not a very pretty picture. But just you wait.

Since I couldn't find a disk image of the original APPLE ][ version, here's what you seen on a commonly found cracked version. I'm not sure if it's the intro screen or the loading screen, so I imagine it's both simultaneously. The logo and other decorative graphics are okay for this particular machine, but otherwise, I can't really tell whether it's good or not, since it has the cracker group's huge tag stuck in the middle of the screen. If anyone's seen the original, throw me a link so I can check it out, okay?

The INTELLIVISION title screen (or loader, if indeed, it loads anything while waiting for input) looks kind of okay. For some reason, they've taken the first level transition break picture to represent the game in the title screen. Weird, but kind of funny. Too bad the graphics aren't very good, and there's no logo to speak of (except INtv), just everything in plain text. It's just way too lifeless with it's black background and boring font as a loading/intro picture.

The last of the first bunch is the title screen for the infamous DOS version. Here, you've got the logo (ugly but representative), a bunch of text including the options, and a soldier sitting on a box, holding a... what, a grenade? Maybe he's having a Hamlet moment right there. Instead of a skull, he's got a weapon of self-destruction right at hand. Oh well. Maybe it's a cup of coffee, who knows. Either way, it's simple and funny in a weird way.



Okay, here we have three versions of the same loading screen, two of which are from the Acorn Electron and BBC Micro, and one of which is from the ZX Spectrum. See if you can guess which one is which. If it weren't for the Acorn and BBC versions being so damn ugly, I'd say we have a standard loading screen here. But clearly, the two were straight on copies from the SPECTRUM version, and they just scratched out the "KAZ" watermark from the bottom. Anyway, this loader screen is probably the most representative of the game itself. On the Speccy, it's even quite a looker as well.

As usual, the loader picture doesn't affect the final score. Next up, we'll take a look at the title screens for conversions that didn't have their own loading screen, which similarly doesn't affect the final score.


The middle one is from the arcade version, in which so much stuff happens in the background and the fore, so I'd be writing about it for the next two days. In short, it's the one every other version is trying to copy if possible.

Up left corner, we have the unreleased ATARI 800 XE intro screen. It's a slightly comical look at the starring character going on about his business. Even the title logo has taken a weird comical look, as if the game is supposed to be about having fun. Well, of course it's what makes anyone tick, so if your idea of having fun is slaughtering millions of enemy soldiers, then go for it. This might be your thing then. =P Sure, it's fun, and slightly pink, but I wouldn't call it respectful of the original. Maybe that's why it wasn't released?

The only version I could find for the MSX was the Japanese release, so in case you were wondering about the one with a weird looking logo, that's the one. Not much else to say about it - it's a standard starting screen which so many other console games have that it could be anything, if you didn't know it's Commando.

ATARI 2600 falls into its own league here, because it doesn't have any sort of loading or intro screen  per se - it's just a "get ready" sort of screen, with option numbers at the top, which you can edit to  your liking.

The NES version follows the same idea as the MSX one, but has two more options and some more text on the screen. The logo looks very good, probably the closest to the original what any 8-bit version has been so far.

C16/+4 probably couldn't handle any better than the consolesque intro screen with nothing but the logo and a bunch of text. At least the text at the bottom is a scroller. Or maybe the programmers couldn't handle anything more on the machine. Who knows.



Of course, we still have the other intro screens for versions that do have their loaders, and above are pictured what's left. The most basic one on the top left is the BBC version, which isn't much to talk about really.

The C64 intro shows you around the game areas after the credit screen, and it's a nice effect copied from the original, even if the logo is a bit on the ugly side.

The two on the top right corner are from the Amstrad CPC and Spectrum versions, bother pretty much the same, except from a slightly different use of colours. They are the only ones of the whole lot to have the high score table in the intro screen, mostly because they don't have the demo thing going on in the background. It's not a bad compromise at all.

The final two on the bottom are from the Amiga and ST versions, the other one taken from before the demo roll and the other during it. I really can't tell which one is which, but my filenames say that the left one is from Atari ST.

But let's proceed to the game itself... finally!



The original is set in a sort of Vietnam-type place, I would guess. It's basically a tropical/sub-tropical area with random patches of jungle alternating with random patches of muddy dirt sort of thing. Some enemy structures and bridges across small rivers or creeks come by, and you can clearly see some small cliffs around, from where some of the enemy soldiers attack you. Everything is as good-looking as you would expect from an arcade game from 1985. All the text on screen is printed in a semi-military style font, close to Stencil, but not exactly. Very fitting, though.

Naturally, the arcade original is the yardstick to go by here. 16-bit home versions come very close, but somehow feel more generic. Maybe it's just the bad font, but it does make a difference. All the sprites and animations look as spot on as anything, but the score font looks kind of off. Between the two 16-bits, though, if you didn't know which one was which, you could easily be mistaken. The Atari ST version has a smaller playing screen, and shaped more to accommodate the television, rather than trying to look more like the arcade screen. But it all depends on what kind of screen you're playing it on, so I can't decide which one of the two is the best.

Left to right: Intellivision, DOS, Apple ][, Atari 2600


In details, the INTELLIVISION and ATARI 2600 are two opposites, INTV having not much else but badly executed details and A2600 no details at all. At least they both scroll quite well, and the animations are surprisingly good. They both seem to have a similar lack of different types of enemies or POW's to rescue, so it's really a bare-bones deal here. Colourwise, INTV version looks mostly green with blocks of "details" in different colours, and the A2600 version is a weird desert type thing with random palmtrees and bumps.

APPLE ][ and DOS versions only come slightly above the other two, because the characters look somewhat closer to the original, and there's more detail in the terrain and obstacles. It's still not very good on either of them; both have playing areas that are a bit too small for the other graphics, so it's harder to navigate through the jungle than on any other proper conversion. It doesn't help that the collision detection is a bit more off in both than usual.

Left to right: MSX, ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro/Acorn Electron, Commodore 16/+4


On the MSX, you will experience blocky scrolling and flickery sprites in the scale you've never seen before. It's not nearly as unplayable as the DOS, C16 or BBC versions, but it's pretty bad. Most of the enemy units are present, and they are coloured accordingly to their job. Well, kinda. The colours are a bit weird overall, but at least it doesn't look quite like it's located in the desert. There's even some texture on the ground, which is a plus.

Which brings us to the SPECTRUM version. It's awkwardly coloured - the whole area is mostly yellow, which would mean the game is set in some desert. There's no details either - no debris, no small rocks, just yellow blandness. But you do get some trees and bushes and something else, of which I'm not quite sure what are supposed to be. Blocks of strangely located dense forests or something. It just doesn't feel like the kind of place you're supposed to be at. Or much of anything at all. Jungle and desert don't live together. But if you don't count that, everything else looks very nice and recognizable as what they're supposed to represent. The animations are nice, and the scrolling works as good as on the C64, which is a huge deal. Disregarding the colours and lack of detail, it's very good.

BBC/ACORN version falls somewhere in between the two above. It's flickery and glitchy, and the scrolling could be called quick, but it's strangely gradual. The colours are very weird - it's like there's both, jungle and desert bits kind of randomly scattered all over. The enemies are coloured bright red, which makes them look slightly more menacing than on the other versions, but looks weird. Nothing looks quite as clearly of what they should look like, but it's still playable.

The C16/+4 version doesn't exactly look bad, but the problem is... it's a different game. There's no scrolling - a level is just one screen. There's barely any animation at all. Even the logo in the title screen looks kind of halfway done. There doesn't seem to be much of background elements, that I got around to see, anyway. It's just bland and boring as anything. Feels like a really bad SEUCK title, if you know what I mean.

While the gameplay is pretty much the quickest on the C64, or at least the same speed as on the ZX Spectrum, it's not exactly a tour de force in graphic sense. It's very blocky, and slightly glitchy, but the colour scheme is very close to the original, only perhaps darker and greyer. Bonus points should be given for the little debris and rocks on the ground, but it's still blocky. While it's not too hi-res, everything looks and animates pretty much how they're supposed to, and most importantly, it scrolls very nicely.

The AMSTRAD version takes the safe route, and looks kind of bland, more towards the Spectrum version, and it scrolls more like the original. It's definitely more colourful than the C64 version, but it lacks in detail and everything is just too bright for a war game like this. Still, not bad for Amstrad.



Again, we go over the three enhanced games last. The ATARI 800 XE version is, surprisingly, the brownest version of them all - even most of the enemies are brown-shaded in their greyness. Every obstacle has an element of brown in them somehow. But it's a weird light shade of brown, that makes you think of something not entirely unrelated to dirt. Of course, we have the new underground areas here, which are mostly different shades of grey, so it's not all brown. The info panel is divided into two: the above section has indicators for weapon upgrades and high score in between, and the below secion has lives and grenades indicators, and scores for each player. The only thing that looks out of place is the player character in his gleaming light blue outfit. They really didn't think of the colours here. But hey, it was unreleased, so you can't expect much.

The A7800 version, pictured on the left there, is more logical in its presentation, and is much more pleasing to watch. The playing area is shaded darker, which suits the depicted location, and your suit is a much darker shade of blue. The info panel is logically complete at the top of the screen, with indicators compact yet recognizable. High score is bravely coloured purple. Maybe because Jimi Hendrix is very much related in spirit to the Vietnam war, so they paid this weird tribute to Jimi's "Purple Haze" this way? Who knows. It's all good, even if a bit blocky.

Last but not least, the NES version is clearly built of blocks, which are mostly very nice, but looks lazy. It's a bit more orange than brown, so it's not entirely clear what were they thinking here. Otherwise, the colouring is pretty familiar. Every enemy soldier is grey and you are light blue. Any text is very scarce, and indicators are minimal. Of course, as a NES game, it looks very like a NES game. Feels like a NES game as well, graphic glitches and all.

This is a bit difficult to judge, because the differences are sometimes so vast, you can't really put all of them in the same lot. But here's pretty much how I see it:

1. ARCADE
2. AMIGA/ST
3. ATARI 7800
4. C64
5. AMSTRAD
6. SPECTRUM
7. NES
8. ATARI 800 XE
9. MSX
10. APPLE ][
11. BBC/ACORN
12. DOS
13. ATARI 2600
14. INTELLIVISION
15. C16/+4

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SOUNDS

One might think that the arcade version is the definitive one in every way, and that's the way it really should be. But perhaps it isn't quite as black and white in this case?

Although the arcade was the original, and spawned many great conversions, the soundtrack and effects on it were a bit plastic, at least in my opinion. Sure enough, the theme song is as militant as you could possibly want it, so there's nothing wrong with that, considering the game's overall style. You could say that the composed, Tamayo Kawamoto, did what was expected of him. The sound effects are exactly what you could expect from an arcade military shooter in 1985, and somehow you'd think you couldn't beat that with home computers.

Well, let's start the comparison process with the worst of the bunch. C16/+4 is definitely on a roll here, aiming to grab the price for crappiest conversion ever. You get two sound effect: one for shooting and one for dying. I had to watch a playthrough video on YouTube just to hear if there's anything more, and sure enough, when you finish the game, you'll get a weird sort of vibrating explosion -type noise over the end message before the game loops. Oh, and no music, even in the intro.

APPLE ][ doesn't have much of anything to speak of either, when it comes to sounds. Naturally, the theme song isn't present, and the sound effects are horrible - two different pitches of quick and short bips for shooting and dying, and a similar descending effect for explosions, but you can barely tell them apart. The only one I could hear that resembled something else was picking up the grenade box, which was more chirpy. I couldn't bother to play past the first stage to find out if there were other sounds to be heard later on, and I couldn't find any YouTube video to show any further either.

It's not exactly a surprise that the 48k SPECTRUM comes closer to the bottom, since it only has a one-channel sound processor, like the old PC's. Still, it's better than the Apple ][ version - at least you'll get a much wider range of crappy sound effects.

The BBC/ACORN version doesn't really get much better from the 48k Speccy, all you get are effects for walking, shooting and a third one for pretty much everything else - dying, exploding, whatever. They are a bit closer to what they should sound like in a game like this than on the Speccy, but you can't say it enhances the game experience when it's already difficult to walk forwards.

Since we're doing the one-channelers here, the DOS version is the only one of them left to examine, I believe. Well, you get the theme tune and the game over tune, all in glorious beep-style. The only sound effect I could come across was gunfire, which is a bit overwhelming, as it stops the beeping background music for the moment it plays. Really, when it comes to having a one-channel rendition of the game's sounds, I'd rather not have the music play all the time.

INTELLIVISION gets surprisingly good points here, when compared to other departments. The music is ever-present, and although it's only a two-channel version, it's better than nothing. You also get some nice sounds for everything that really needs it - shooting, throwing grenades and their explosions, enemy deaths, your death (way more dramatic of course), picking up grenades and all that. You can't really complain, when the game looks like it could be much worse.

On the ATARI 2600, it's the other way around. The music is there, but it's one-channeled, being alternately on the noise and beep channels. It's a fair presentation of a section of the original tune, but it just gets annoying after a while, because it only loops the march drum and the little melody section over and over. At least there are effects for most of the sounds required, but because there's not a lot of variety, it does get tiresome. So it looks better than it sounds.

Elite really seemed to buff up the C64's version where the sound department was concerned. Back in 1985, it wasn't exactly a walk in the park to code music and effects to be played simultaneously while playing. Of course, the SID has its limitations, but Rob Hubbard did a fine job of mixing both into the game: a few very fine tunes and a nice array of genre-specific sound effects - the only thing really missing is gunfire. In fact, while the theme tune is a rendition of the original arcade theme, Rob gave it his own touch with a bit of funky drums and bass line, and with that, made the ported game almost single-handedly the most well-known and popular version of the bunch. Not a bad feat, eh? Oh, and even the tape loader has an early example of loading music on the C64. Repetitive, but nice.

AMSTRAD, again, got the best of both worlds here, and somehow created a good-enough atmosphere. You have a rendition of the Hubbard remix, which works nicely, when you also get enough of that machine gun rat-a-tat and explosion effects to fill your requirements, but then, not much else.

The unreleased A800 version gets the same treatment in music as the Intellivision - two-channeled beeping (slightly incorrect even) - but there's a whole bunch of sound effects that don't quite sound correct. My main gripe is with the machine gun, which sloshes on like a water pistol or something. Otherwise, it's not a bad set for an unfinished product.

A7800 is the refined, finished product compared to the unreleased A800 version. Everything is as it should be, and as respective of the original version as you could get on an 8-bit machine.

Then again, if you want to have your music closer to what the C64 has to offer, but features the gunfire and some other all-important effects, you can try to get a hold of the 128k SPECTRUM version, which should give you pretty much everything you require in that department. It's not quite as funky as the C64, but it's close enough. The sound effects are exactly the same as in the 48k version.

On the AMIGA and ATARI ST, the soundtrack is very similar again, as in so many other cases. It's basically just the arcade version ported to the 16-bit home computers, and buffed up the effects a bit. So, whether you enjoy the funky C64 version or the original theme tune more, your preference lies almost entirely on that.

Finally, we take a look at the NES version. It's not bad, but it's definitely NES. Everything sounds the same as a thousand other NES games. It's not necessarily a bad thing, if you happen to like that stuff, but it's not exactly the most representative of the action. It feels more like a circus game if anything. Apart from the style of sounds, it's pretty close to what you get on the A7800, but faster and happier. BUT - I think the NES version is the only home conversion that has a completely different intro tune, besides incorporating the other tunes from the arcade original, so you really can't blame it for being repetitive. The array of sound effects is more plentiful and diverse than on any other home  conversion, but the fact that it all sounds like NES might hinder your enthusiasm about it a little.

I do hold a great deal of importance on the sound effects, especially in shooters, so the final score will have to be built accordingly. So, my view on this would be:

1. AMIGA & ATARI ST
2. ARCADE
3. NES
4. C64
5. SPECTRUM 128k
6. ATARI 7800 / ATARI 800 XE
7. AMSTRAD CPC
8. INTELLIVISION
9. MSX
10. ATARI 2600
11. BBC MICRO/ELECTRON
12. DOS
13. SPECTRUM 48k
14. APPLE ][
15. C16/+4

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OVERALL

This is a tough one to make any clear opinions, or even calculated results on. There's so many differing factors in each section that you can't really put all of them on the same line, but I shall do it nevertheless, tell you to do otherwise afterwards. This time, I will not include loading times in the counting, because so too many versions would benefit from it uselessly this time.

Note that the Atari 800 XE version won't be included anywhere, because it wasn't officially released. Just for the record, I would definitely place it somewhere above the average.

1. ARCADE: Playability 10, Graphics 14, Sound 14 = TOTAL 38
2. AMIGA/ST: Playability 9, Graphics 13, Sound 15 = TOTAL 37
3. C64: Playability 11, Graphics 11, Sound 12 = TOTAL 34
4. SPECTRUM 128k: Playability 12, Graphics 9, Sound 11 = TOTAL 32
5. ATARI 7800: Playability 9, Graphics 12, Sound 10 = TOTAL 31
6. NES: Playability 8, Graphics 8, Sound 13 = TOTAL 29
7. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 8, Graphics 10, Sound 9 = TOTAL 27
8. SPECTRUM 48k: Playability 12, Graphics 9, Sound 3 = TOTAL 24
9. MSX: Playability 5, Graphics 7, Sound 7, = TOTAL 19
10. INTV: Playability 7, Graphics 2, Sound 8 = TOTAL 17
11. BBC/ACORN: Playability 6, Graphics 5, Sound 5 = TOTAL 16
12. APPLE ][: Playability 4, Graphics 6, Sound 2 = TOTAL 12
13. ATARI 2600: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sound 6 = TOTAL 12
14. MS-DOS: Playability 2, Graphics 4, Sound 4 = TOTAL 10
15. C16/+4: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sound 1 = TOTAL 3

But as I mentioned, it really isn't all that simple when it comes to this particular game. One of the biggest problems is the amount of levels in each particular version. I still don't know. The C64 version seems to have the least, but at least they can be called full level maps, unlike on the C16. BBC apparently has 4 levels, the newer console versions have more maps than the original... Then of course, there's the availability, not to mention the trouble to get each game to work properly... Phew.

Well, there you have it - one version of it anyway. We have a clear winner of the 16-bit home conversions, close rivals for the best 8-bit conversion (all ultimately depending on your preferences), and a very clear loser. Despite all this, the ones I play the most are the 48k Spectrum and C64 versions, because they're the ones I grew up with and have grown to love.

I've mentioned Mercs as being the official sequel to Commando, and of course you should check it out, but there's another one that's supposedly a sequel. That one was released on the NES, originally titled "Top Secret: Hitler no Fukkatsu", and us regular folks know it as "Bionic Commando", in which you're supposed to save Super Joe from an enemy base and kill Hitler, or whatever the end boss is in the game in the European version. But that's another story worth digging into later on, when I regain my energy.

UPDATE, 4th of August 2014: The comparison for Bionic Commando has been online for quite a while now, but I forgot to link it here until now.

UPDATE, 12th of November 2014: Here's another video link from Gaming History Source to go with the text. It features 8 different versions of Commando, so it's still missing about half of the other versions out there.



Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it!
Comments and suggestions are welcome!


4 comments:

  1. Nice comparison and very thourough! I think you posted it in the right place on Lemon64 :)

    plume

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  2. Loved Commando since the original arcade, so I enjoyed it later on my Spectrum 48 K, which was a really good conversion considering its hardware limitations.

    Now with MAME, I can remember those times, and to be honest, it is still a quite good game. Easy to play, and very addictive.

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  3. S.F.S. for the Commodore 64 contains visuals based on the Arcade game.
    http://csdb.dk/release/?id=136840

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    Replies
    1. Oh, nice catch. I'll have to take a look at that one to see if it could be considered a conversion of the original Commando game in any way. Since it's a SEUCK title, I have my doubts, but I'll take a look - thanks for the hint! =)

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