Wow, I feel pretty bad. Last week I said, “Hey Internet! Check out Commando: Steel Disaster! I haven’t played it, but maybe it’s good!” And then both Nadia and Simon and I think a few other people pointed to it and said, hey, if Parish says it might be good, it’s probably pretty good!
It isn’t very good.
Commando isn’t precisely terrible, mind you. It is a shameless, guileless clone of Metal Slug, precisely as it appears to be. You are a guy who runs and shoots and kills very animated bad guys. Sometimes you drive a vehicle. You can power up your peashooter with temporary ammo upgrades (like, say, heavy machine guns and rocket “lawn-chairs”), and you have grenades, and when you attack an enemy standing within arm’s reach you go all stabby with your pocketknife instead of shooting. Sound familiar?
Honestly, if it played exactly like Metal Slug, that would be just peachy. But it’s not a one-hit-kill kind of game like Metal Slug in the arcade; it plays more like the series’ NGPC titles (1st and 2nd Mission) wherein you have a lifebar. Those were fantastic games! But Commando makes a crucial mistake that SNK never did: its levels are endless. They seriously go on and on, and you have a single life to make it through them before you can continue. I tried several times and couldn’t even make it through the first mission. I think maybe I was close to the end, but there’s no way to tell. You die, you’re booted back to the title screen. No checkpoints, no second chances, just ten minutes of marathon shooting — all lost to a couple of unlucky hits.
I mentioned last week that I have an endless wellspring of patience for tough games whose mechanics were drilled into my skull (and my fast-twitch muscle tissue) years ago, so maybe that’s why I just don’t feel motivated to slog through the same levels over and over again until I finally squeeze through. I think, though, that quality of design is also a factor. When I played through part of Mega Man 9 last week, I was impressed by how measured the challenges were; it’s a difficult game and death comes frequently, but for the most part the major obstacles are arranged craftily around checkpoints. When you die, you lose maybe two or three minutes of effort, and you understand why you died and what can be done to avoid it the second time. For instance, I fell prey to a trap in Galaxy Man’s stage that resulted in an instant death — but a very avoidable death once I knew it was coming. And that instant death sent me back all of two screens, so I didn’t have any reservations about jumping back in and taking another stab at it. Next life, I cleared the challenge with no trouble and finished up the stage.
Compare that to (I think) Ghouls ‘N Ghosts on Genesis, which I very randomly played a bit of on Virtual Console last week (at a Nyko event, of all places). I breezed through the first level on my first attempt, making it all the way to what seemed to be very nearly the end of the stage. Then a giant wave crashed against the foreground, washing out the ground without warning — ground I was standing on. Oops: instant, untelegraphed death. No problem, I thought. It was a cheap way to go, but I’ll have another try. But no; the game sent me alllll the way back to the start, which crossed over the line between “challenging” and “demoralizing.”
Anyway, I guess I’m just old and cranky and impatient. I’m sure people who relish dashing their minds out against a brick wall will love Steel Disaster, but for me it stands on the wrong side of that all-important divide. Alas!