Strip off your BVDs and throw your pants back on because today we’re running with Captain Commando and his “Commando Companions”. I kid you not, that’s canon. Capcom’s 1991 side-scrolling beat ‘em up made the leap from arcade to home consoles when it came to the SNES in ’95, the PlayStation in ’98, and the PS2, Xbox, and PSP in 2006.
The game’s eponymous character was a fictional superhero intended to be used as Capcom’s original mascot and digital spokesman in the US of A in the late 1980’s but I guess somehow that didn’t fly. That left the Captain and his three compatriots with an obscure but fun co-op and coin-drop title.
Set in the future of 2026 reminiscent of Blade Runner, Earth’s citizens live in terror in the despicably crime-infested Metro City (pronounced “metratrocity”, ask Megamind). Captain Commando and his Commando Companions are tasked with defeating a gang of super-criminals. In all honesty, who cares, so long as you get to punch evil in the face for your hard-earned quarters.
Leader of the Commando Team, Captain Commando is a lithe and deadly brawler/martial artist equipped with gloves that can blast fire and lightning. Mack the Knife (“Jennety” in Japan), the game’s resident mummy, is actually an alien. He brandishes twin sub-sonic blades which melt into his foes as he strikes. Ginzu the Ninja (“Sho” in Japan) is a highly skilled heir of Bushin-ryu Ninpo and master of ninjutsu, armed with a deadly, razor-sharp katana. And finally, my favorite character: Baby Head (“Hoover” in Japan) is a tiny tot mounted on a giant, green, bipedal mech. The infant is a genius who designed this robot body to combat the enemies of peace. The arcade version supported up to four players at once, allowing a group of buddies to choose every character in the Commando Team.
Each of the four characters have their own special techniques executed by different combinations of button inputs, and also unique special attacks. The Captain can smash his fist into the ground to cause an electric shockwave, the Mummy can spin around like a top, bandages striking like whips, the Ninja tosses a Smoke Bomb which explodes and kills enemies nearby, and the Baby can launch a missile straight from his robot’s knee. Go figure. Using these special attacks will drain a bit of your health, so choosing the best and most efficient moment to initiate them is wise.
Don’t fret too much, though. The odd barrel or crate hides bonus items and foodstuffs, some of which recover lost health. There are numerous weapons that can be picked up and players can even acquire robotic mounts, the Baby too, by K.O.ing the enemies inside them and procuring the robots for themselves, punching or flaming or freezing with a set of new attacks when inside, until the robotic mount is destroyed.
Beyond the wonky characters inhabiting Captain Commando, the game follows the same format of gameplay as Capcom’s earlier release, Final Fight. Captain Commando almost seems like a spin-off of sorts. In the spirit of the classic side-scrolling beat ‘em up, the Commando Companions move horizontally across the screen, fighting criminals and avoiding traps, until they reach the final boss on each of the game’s nine stages. The stages are: City, Museum, Ninja House, Circus Camp, Sea Port, Aquarium, Underground Base, Enemy’s Spaceship, and Callisto (as in the second-largest moon of Jove, Callisto).
Wading through the brightly colored and generic punks, the Commando Team faces down bosses who fit right in with a game as bizarre as this. Souped-up thugs and titans and genetic mutants, they’re an assortment of over-the-top Saturday morning action figures. Captain Commando culminates in a face off with the last boss: Scumocide, a dude so beefy and so bad, he probably never remembers to call his mother back in Jersey.
Captain Commando himself wouldn’t see much more action beyond the arcade game and its various ports, though he would appear in Marvel vs. Capcom in 1998 as a playable character. Beyond that, he showed his face in a few more cross-overs. He exists in an obscure but instantly memorable corner of gaming, if you’ve had the pleasure of his action-packed romp yourself, that is. He’s nowhere near as recognizable or popular as another certain blue hero under Capcom’s jurisdiction, but his game is remembered fondly as a cult classic and it is still a raucous, 80’s influenced, palm-sweating, hyper-macho, colorful experience today.
I’d suggest you look up a local arcade and play Captain Commando for yourself in its original, undiluted form, but that’s nigh impossible. Like Dylan said: “Oh the time’s they are a-chaaaaaangin’.”
The 8-Bit Review
Science-fiction dystopia dominates the atmosphere of Captain Commando. The graphics were never hugely impressive or anything but they were colorful and the sprites were interesting, if not the least stiffly animated at the time. They would look better later on the SNES where the dark outlines and shadows in the background popped a little more. What you’re really getting is a heap of eccentricity, rather than cutting-edge graphics.
It’s some kind of Asian infused, industrial rock with a recurring melody through most of its tracks. There’s no new ground being plowed here as it’s fairly typical of the action game of the early 90’s, while still sounding like a Capcom game. It isn’t that the soundtrack is bad. It perfectly resembles the beat ’em up that it belongs to. I just can’t find anything particularly memorable about it. Favorite track at 14:05.
This kind of gameplay is always a pleasure. The playable characters move and attack at acceptable speeds. The enemies present a decent challenge. There are enough power ups and weapons to grab to mix up the stage walkthroughs a little bit, so they don’t become boring hallways. That’s a step up over the X-Men arcade game, where there were no such procurable weapons. And finally, you can’t argue with the simple pick up and play appeal of coin-dropping arcade brawlers like this, provided you had enough coinage, of course.
Four player co-op is the best way to play Captain Commando, though that unfortunately didn’t translate to all of its ports. There are few things more fun than having three of your friends fighting alongside you. It’s an old school brand of multiplayer that needs to come back with a vengeance, if they could just make console controllers a tad cheaper!
I didn’t recall Captain Commando being too excruciating and a quick replay confirmed I was correct. Casually, I can get to about the second or third to the last stages, which is about what I remember reaching as a lad before I began to question the merits of spending so much money on a single game for yet another life.
Captain Commando is designed to make you want to play more, punch in another token, play another level. Even if you’ve beaten it before, like any good beat ’em up, you’ll still be able to come back and simply enjoy kicking punks to the curb.
Captain Commando was born to be bizarre, a portrait of the Japanese sensibility of America as a neo-New York, crime ridden, super city with its gilded haired action hero (complete with gold sherrif’s star) and spokesman for the West. It was like they made a game in our image (if you’re from the US) and just went crazy with it. I’m not sure you’ve ever played a game with a superhero, a mummy, a ninja and a baby as your weapons of choice, but if you have I’d like to know about it. It’s odd that it wears its influences on its sleeve, yet it’s like a combination of things you’d only dream about after eating too much bratwurst.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
Capcom’s Captain Commando is like most (not all) of the company’s franchises: obscure but lovable if you’ve touched them. The side-scrolling beat ‘em up is one of my favorite video game genres for its accessibility and instant gratification. I remember Captain Commando fondly on those afternoons after school, along with other arcade brawlers like Double Dragon, Alien vs Predator, the Simpsons, Golden Axe, and the poster children of the late-eighties/early-nineties: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Rest in peace, ye olde arcades.
Aggregated Score: 7.4