Review: Commando (Atari 7800)

In this review, we check out the top down shooter action game Commando for the Atari 7800. We find out if this is one of those games worth a revisit.

This particular game was released in 1990.

Basically, you are a commando and your mission is to stop the enemy. That’s about what I gathered while playing this game.

You start off with a simple rifle after you get dropped off by a helicopter. You have to press the fire button for every shot you take. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you are staring down legions of enemies, it’s not impossible for you to get overwhelmed with such little weaponry. Luckily, there are weapons you can pick up along the way. One weapon is the knife. The knife allows you to have a chance at killing enemies by touching them. Unfortunately, most of the time, the enemies are also armed with knives. So, there is a possibility that you’ll die along with the enemy when touching. An additional item is the automatic rifle. This weapon makes your life a lot easier because you can simply hold down the fire button to unleash a steady stream of bullets as you run through enemy territory. The final item you can pick up are grenades. These are found through the flashing crates you can collect along the way. Grenades can be used to take out enemies hiding behind sand bags, enemies hidden in bodies of water, enemies hidden in holes, gun placements (requires two hits to take out) or you can take out a few enemies at the same time who happen to be concentrated in a small area. The grenade usually lands and explodes half way up the screen and you can only aim directly ahead.

The only other thing you can earn in this game are precious free lives. For every 60,000 points, you gain a free life. Since you operate on a one hit kill basis for yourself, you can probably take any free lives you can get your hands on.

The enemies are numerous in this game. There’s the standard grey soldiers that shoot randomly. They also man small protected areas such as behind sand bag walls and inside bodies of water. They can also use fixed gun placements (typically mortar cannons). The good news is that if you run past them, those enemies will flee. Additionally, there are green soldiers that can stab. Typically, they run off of the screen, but if you kill them in your trek north, you get a nice sizable 2000 points. There’s also fortified gun emplacements that fire at you too. On occasion, you’ll come across a grey soldier that fires an RPG at you. These are just as easy to take out as normal enemies, but their fire power is increased. to add to this are vehicles that can travel left to right or up to down. It’s easy to get run over by them and it takes multiple shots to destroy them as well. At the end of each level is a sort of boss area. Sometimes it’s a small building, but often it’s just a giant door. You have to kill every enemy that runs out as well as other enemies that happen to pop up along the sides of the screen. Not an easy task to say the least.

After completing an “area”, you’ll get a small animation of your commando taking a break along with a message that goes along the descriptive lines of “broke through the 1st area, now rush to the 2nd area”. There are four area’s to complete. If you complete all four areas, you’ve completed your first of two duties. The second duty also has four area’s (so, 8 areas in total). Complete the second duty and you basically “win” the game. You are then transported to your first duty in the first area and you get to complete the levels you’ve already been to all over again while retaining your high score. At that point, the only point of continuing is to get the highest score.

For a game of its time, it was definitely a game that had some thought behind it. Unfortunately, games like Super Mario Bros 3 and Snow Brothers were around at the same time. So, while there was some entertainment value to be had here, there were more developed games to be had at the time.

Graphically, the game did have some interesting cutscenes. A lot of what was seen in game was decently designed, but I think hardware limitations held this game back a lot compared to other games released in the same era.

There is some decent music in this game. While no one track stands out in particular for me, the music did add a nice element of action to this game. The sound effects were fairly basic.

Overall, if this game was released a few years earlier, I would say that this was a great game. Unfortunately, technology was moving in leaps and bounds and this game seemed to be held back by the hardware limitations found in the Atari 7800 console. It’s an interesting way to blow through an hour or so, but beyond that, the game loses its shine. There’s better games to be had that were released at around this time.


Furthest point in game: Completed game with a score of 397,500.

General gameplay: 15/25
Replay value: 5/10
Graphics: 3/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 52%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85

8 thoughts on “Review: Commando (Atari 7800)”

  1. What are you talking about, there is music in the game.You must be using an bad emulator to play it.Some emulators cut out the music because the cartridge uses a special sound chip.Look it up on youtube.

    1. Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. I actually confused this game with another when I wrote those comments about the audio. Good catch. I have amended the article accordingly.

  2. “For a game of its time, it was definitely a game that had some thought behind it. Unfortunately, games like Super Mario Bros 3 and Snow Brothers were around at the same time. So, while there was some entertainment value to be had here, there were more developed games to be had at the time.”

    So in other words, we’re not going to actually evaluate “Commando”, but criticize it for not being SMB 3 or Snow Brothers. Got it. By that metric, few games can ever achieve a high score even if they’re good aracde ports because somewhere, out there, there were “more developed” games on other systems, even if they were completely different genres. And of course you apply logic to all other games on all other systems, right? No? Oh.

  3. By that metric, not at all. But that is not what this review does. How is comparing a run-and-gun vertical shooter to platformers reasonable in any way? Find the 7800 port of “Commando” lacking in comparison to the NES or the arcade version? Great — review that! But faulting a game because you personally find the game mechanics of a port of an arcade game with the same mechanics to be “dated” or “not as advanced” as other games that existed at the same time is pointless. People buy and play run-and-gun shooters because they like them, not because they can’t get their hands on tetrominos or rhythmic puzzlers or platformers or dance games. It’s like complaining about Zork because it isn’t Donkey Kong, or carping about Flappy Bird because you find Astrobot VR to be more “advanced”.

    I’ll say this: “Commando” for the 7800 is a terrible platformer. It is, however, a pretty good port of the arcade game even though it has controller issues with Atari’s own ProLine controllers. How about that?

    1. “But faulting a game because you personally find the game mechanics of a port of an arcade game with the same mechanics to be “dated” or “not as advanced” as other games that existed at the same time is pointless.”

      Going to have to disagree with that. There is actually a very good reason to do this. First of all, if one were to compare, say, Pac Man to Ratchet and Clank, Ratchet and Clank would easily trounce Pac Man and Pac Man would score incredibly poorly. That would be an entirely unfair comparison because both games come from different era’s and operates on entirely different hardware.

      So, the solution to this is to look at games that existed at roughly the same time. This is especially true with video games that existed between the 80’s and late 90’s where technology was rapidly developing. We’ve gone from simple sprites and limited audio voices to early 3D gaming.

      Moving over to your point of comparing the arcade port to the Atari 7800 port, I would argue that simply comparing those two versions is also unfair because you have a full fledged cabinet to house the technology vs a console which is meant to be more portable than the arcade cabinet. It’s the same reason why I don’t compare handheld games to console ports for the purpose of scoring. The technology limitations and expectations are substantially different.

      Furthermore, by limiting the comparisons to simply other versions of the same game is problematic. What if a game happens to be a really good port of the arcade version? Great, so we score it a hypothetical 86%. Then, when we review, say, a NES game that is actually technically superior, then it’s more than possible to score it something like a 78%. At that point, I’m basically scoring one game higher than the other for no actual reason. I mean, how ridiculous would it be to say, “I thought the game I scored 78% is better than the game I gave a 86%.” It really doesn’t make any sense.

      The only way I found to fairly judge a game is to see what is available on the market at that time, find out what systems are technically comparable, and judge accordingly. That way, every game is on an even playing field.

      Of course, there are reasons why the NES completely dominated in the world of consoles back then: the technology and the games in general are superior. It doesn’t surprise me that Nintendo became an absolutely dominant player over Atari back then. This is not saying that all Atari games are bad. I think there are some very good games on those systems. This is not to say that all Nintendo games are gold either. Heck, I’ve given my fair share of failing scores to games on the Nintendo already. This is just me, as a third party person, objectively looking at the game and reacting to it accordingly.

      You obviously disagree with my opinion. That’s fine by me. I can tell you are an Atari enthusiast. I have no problem with that. I personally started reviewing games like this with absolutely no knowledge of what Atari games are like. I ended up coming out of it with a new appreciation for what was, in fact, accomplished back then. I simply don’t have a preconceived notion that Atari games are good or bad outside of some people saying that it was an awful system in general. Those opinions, from my perspective, got disregarded completely.

      So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that someone coming in with a clean slate will come across games that some people thought were great and I end up not liking it (or the opposite where I liked a game people thought was garbage). I can’t think of a single system I’ve reviewed where that didn’t happen (i.e. hated Final Fantasy 7 on Playstation, liked Hybrid Heaven on the N64, didn’t like Dragon Quest on the NES, liked Mystic Quest on the SNES, didn’t like Super Mario Sunshine on the GameCube, etc.) Simply put, no one is going to agree with everything.

      This might very well be an instance where we won’t agree on this particular game. In my opinion, by the time this port came around, technology was already moving on. Unfortunately, this one ended up getting left behind as advances were happening. I personally stand by that perspective.

  4. If you’re truly interested in reviewing a great platformer for the Atari 7800, though, I’ll send you one: Rikki & Vikki. Just provide me with a mailing address and it’s yours in an exchange for a review.

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