reviews\ Sep 24, 2008 at 8:00 pm

Commando: Steel Disaster - NDS - Review

Seven minutes, forty-two seconds. That’s how long it took to finish the first stage in Commando: Steel Disaster. But that statement only tells half the story. Though the level itself is short (as are all levels in this game), it will take you five to 10 times as long to get skilled enough, or maybe just lucky enough, to actually complete any given stage.

If this turns you off, leave now. If the retro screenshots, Metal Slug-inspired appearance and Metal Slug-inspired difficulty are music to your ears, then this just might be the best DS game you’ve had in months.

Good Enough to Shoot

Remember what it was like to play with GI Joe? You keep shooting at his plastic enemies (fictitiously, of course – plastic ammo and spring-loaded guns weren’t always available), but in the end, the toy soldiers never stop coming. That’s kind of what it’s like to go through a level in Commando. Enemies are a never-ending occurrence; you can’t avoid more than a handful of them, and those that are avoided may prove to be the deadliest of all. Bullet streams are unleashed at a near-continuous pace.

Save slots – those handy areas for recording game progress – are non-existent until a stage is fully completed. Mid-level success is not recorded, and with only one life to get you through the entire game, expect to start over several dozen times per stage. This is how Commando makes up for its insanely short length – by not allowing the player to achieve any victories without mourning his or her own death 30 times over.

Again, if this isn’t for you (and wasn’t an appealing feature in Metal Slug, a series that doesn’t record your progress at all), Commando won’t spend much time in your DS. But if you’re still here and curious to know more, keep reading. This game is just getting warmed up.

Gamer Tested, Sanity Disapproved

Each stage is divided into several different areas, each with a special, player-annihilating treat waiting for anyone who makes it there in one piece. Most areas begin with just a few enemies, but you can be sure that many more are just around the corner. Normal range fire can be evaded by ducking, causing some to shoot while crouching. All grenades bounce in Commando – this is great when trying to bounce one into a foxhole but is terrible when two or three enemy grenades are bouncing in your direction.

Special weapons – flamethrowers, machineguns, rockets, etc. – are about the only advantage that can be gained over opposing forces. But the joy of receiving them is limited by the dearth of ammunition, infrequent level placement, and the ability to accidentally override them (only two weapons can be carried at one time; if you conserve ammo, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll mistakenly erase one of them with a new weapon down the road). And then there’s the biggest joy-crusher of all – the fact that enemies have tanks, helicopters, mechanical monsters and other giant threats that make your puny weapons seem insignificant.

Incredibly, boss battles are not the biggest threat in Commando. The challenge comes from everything encountered up until that point. That’s not to say that any of the bosses are easy. But after fighting through several areas on low health without any hope for survival, an oversized monster with an obvious weak point isn’t all that threatening.

Even so, the overall experience of playing Commando can be overwhelming. You won’t be able to just sit down and finish this game in an afternoon. There might be some players who can – those unimaginably gifted souls that finished each Metal Slug in a day – but they are not the norm, even among the hardcore.

For $20, Commando isn’t a bad deal. It won’t appeal to every gamer. And it’s certainly not for the casual types (don’t buy this for your friend or relative whose favorite game is Madden, Halo or Smash Bros.). But when placed in the hands of those it was developed for, the experience is golden – even if you spend every minute pounding on the wall and wondering if you’ll ever finish the current stage.

Review Scoring Details for Commando: Steel Disaster

Gameplay: 8
Stellar controls that subtly improve on the Metal Slug formula. Fast, responsive, and a leading cause of STS: Sore Thumb Syndrome.

Graphics: 7
Attractive Metal Slug-inspired visuals. Purely two-dimensional and not at all something DS players haven't seen before.

Sound: 5
The NES-quality sound effects are tolerable, but what's with the enemy groans every time one of 'em dies? Isn't the player the one who should be groaning? (See "Difficulty: Hard" for more.)

Difficulty: Hard
I'm using Christmas lights to form a large message on my roof: "Send help!"

Concept: 5
A great game for the Metal Slug crowd, but would Commando even be here if it weren't for Metal Slug? Probably not.

Overall: 8
Commando isn't for everyone. But fans of Metal Slug and other pound-you-into-the-ground, never-let-you-win shooters will appreciate what the developers have done with this game.

Great

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