Review: Commando (Atari 2600)

In this review, we go solo in taking on enemy forces in the Atari 2600 game Commando. We find out if this top down shooter is worth trying.

This game was released in 1988 and is the Atari 2600 port of this arcade game. We previously reviewed the Atari 7800 version and found the game to be dated for the time of its release.

The game is fairly simple in concept. You are a commando and are tasked with taking on enemy forces. The goal is to get to the enemy outpost at the end of each level. This, of course, is the northern-most tip of the level.

Most of the enemies you encounter are foot soldiers that randomly run around the screen. They do shoot at you. Though enemy accuracy is pretty good, their bullets are slow. This means it is possible to run out of the way of enemy fire. Unfortunately for you, depending on the circumstances, this can be easier said than done.

Other enemies that can be found are the fixed position soldiers. These enemy soldiers can either be found behind sand-bagged walls or inside trenches. They fire pretty much in the same fashion as foot soldiers. The good news is that they don’t move. The bad news is that they are harder to hit because they are more protected.

Also throughout your run, you’ll come accross various hazards. One hazard is the moving vehicles. They always travel straight from the right hand side of the screen to the left hand side of the screen. You need to time your run between vehicles to get around them.

Another hazard in this game is the trenches themselves. If you fall into them, you end up dying.

In total, you have three lives. If you lose all three of these lives, it is game over. The good news is that it is possible to earn more lives. The bad news is that it requires 10,000 points. While it is more than possible to achieve such a score, it can be very tricky. For every 10,000 points you earn, you get a free life.

Points can be earned in one of two ways. The first way is killing enemies. The other method is collecting the occasional grenade pickup. Completing the levels don’t appear to earn you any extra points.

If you somehow survive to make it to the end of the level, you’ll encounter the enemy outpost. You cannot enter it right away. Instead, you have to shoot a predetermined number of enemies. You’ll know when the screen moves up a little higher. Just enter the door after to complete the level.

While you only have one button to fire, you actually have two different kinds of attacks. You have the regular gun which can be fired by tapping the attack button. The grenade is like a wider bullet. You need to hold down the fire button to throw a grenade. You do have an unlimited number of bullets to work with. Grenades, on the other hand, are limited.

Now, on the surface, this does seem like a fairly solid game for the Atari 2600. The movements are fairly smooth. While you can’t retreat back south, this is one of the few limitations found in this game. The thing to remember is that this game was released in the same year as Super Mario Bro’s 2 and Zelda II – The Adventures of Link. With that kind of context in mind, this game does seem pretty simplistic for its time.

Still, there is some enjoyment to be had with this game. This game will test your reflexes pretty rigorously. The unfortunate part is the fact that this game is also very difficult and may be considered off-putting to some gamers because of the difficulty.

The other side of this too is the fact that this game is also pretty short. All you need is 20 minutes of time to get a solid understanding of what the game is like. After that, it can get fairly repetitive once you begin to memorize enemy spawn locations.

Generally speaking, this game does serve as a challenging distraction. Unfortunately, the difficulty and limited gameplay may be a turn off to some gamers. Just beating level 1 without dying is, in and of itself, and accomplishment in my books.

Graphically speaking, this game is far from the ugliest game I’ve ever played on this system. There are plenty of games with worse graphics on this system. While the characters and scenery in this game are pretty easy to make out, this game was also released when the NES system is dominating the gaming scene. Games like Contra and Mega Man easily tops the graphics that are offered up in this game. So, while the graphics are decent for the system in question, it falls well short of expectations for its time.

The audio is pretty much in the same boat as graphics. While the sound effects are good for the system, there are much better games to be had out there. The music was very nice to hear on an Atari 2600 game, but it just can’t compete with the NES counterparts.

Overall, this game was pretty solid for the system in question. Unfortunately, it falls far short of what is expected for the game of its release year. Sure the concept is fairly straight forward, but gameplay can be difficult and short. The graphics and audio were nicely done for the system, but it just can’t compete with games on other home console systems at the time. It’s an OK play, but don’t expect to spend more than an hour on this one.

Furthest point in game: Fell into a trench just before the end on level 3.
High score: 16,800

General gameplay: 16/25
Replay value: 6/10
Graphics: 6/10
Audio: 2/5

Overall rating: 60%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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