Review by xenodolf
"Another alumni from the golden age of beat 'em ups, Captain Commando adds guns, mechs and gore to the solid brawler game-play expected from Capcom."
Despite most people associating Capcom with Ryu or Megaman - Captain Commando has been around for decades in various incarnations as the American branch's "spokesperson", often appearing on game manuals and getting inserted into the English localization of Section Z. While he eventually found himself in the roster of Marvel vs Capcom 2, his first real outing in the fighting genre was in the eponymous beat 'em up Captain Commando. Released within a few years of Capcom's brawler line-up of Final Fight, Knights of the Round, and The King of Dragons - I often compare these four games with its each other to grade their merits and I will again be doing so in this review.
In the distant future, title-character Captain Commando leads an elite force of commandos from various races and backgrounds as an extra-planetary set of marshals or policing agents. This game's plot focuses on a nefarious genetic scientist who builds an army of clones and sets himself up as the kingpin of a massive crime syndicate with his lab creations running amok causing problems. The battle begins in a much less gritty version of Final Fight's Metro City on Earth and links together a number of terrestrial environments before a showdown in the reaches of space. While most of this plot is pretty paper-thin, Captain Commando earns a few points for its interesting cast design. Alongside the bionic title character and a generic ninja, there is a mummy who wears a backwards cap and fights with body-melting knives and a super-genius baby piloting a mechanized suit.
As usual with Capcom's beloved brawler titles - the visuals are sharp, and the sprites are large and well-animated. The backgrounds are especially nice looking, even if some of them are pretty heavy on the copy & paste usage. What Captain Commando does not seen in those other beat 'em ups I mentioned in my review introduction is implementing a bit of gore when destroying the enemies. The bodies of friend and foe alike are sliced in half with bloodied ends and dissolved into a pile of bones and molten goo. So while knocking some dude onto the floor may cut it in other beat 'em ups, watching your final blow blast a Kabuki warrior into pieces is pretty satisfying. As I mentioned in my SNES review of this game, it is also a nice graphical touch that bodies that are knocked against walls or barriers slump over as they would in real life. In some stages you can also interact with the background - shattering storefront windows for instance, as seen later in Batman Returns for the SNES. About the only thing I didn't like about this area of the game was that there could have been a few more enemy designs (I believe this has one or two models shy of Capcom's earlier beat 'em up standards) and that the Baby Head and Captain Commando sprites don't look as refined as the rest of them.
The weakest section of the game is without a doubt the audio department. Whereas Final Fight had a memorable synth-rock soundtrack and Knights of the Round and The King of Dragons had engaging melodies - Captain Commando has merely passable music that seems like it would serve as a filler track from the aforementioned games. The sound effects aren't as good either, with the battle din pretty average and some of the misc. noise coming off kind of fuzzy. While this by no means ruins the game, it is significant enough to add to Captain Commando's small assortment of problems that keep it from obtaining a 9 or 10 out of 10 rating.
For the most part, Captain Commando is spot-on when it comes to keeping the control tight and fluid. My only complaints are that sometimes the desperate attacks don't register when you input the commands and I wish that it was easier to climb into the mechs.
Using the typical Capcom-flavored side-scrolling beat 'em up action you've grown to love - Captain Commando allows up to three people at a time to join into a fray of fists, blades, bullets, and explosions as the space police fight for the galaxy's sake. While the normal combat doesn't seem too different than what was featured in Final Fight or Knights of the Round, Captain Commando mixes it up by putting projectile weapons and mechs into the fold. Grabbing a pipe as Mike Haggar and bashing some punk's head in felt nice enough, but how about spraying shots from a laser pistol or assault rifle, merking a dude with giant shuriken, or blasting frag-ordinance from a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher? The prospect of all these guns in a melee-domination genre may seem a bit off-putting - but this game manages to keep the focus on short-range combat with the projectile weapons as the occasional treat. I found it refreshing that you could keep weapons in your possession throughout an entire level instead of discarding them after each scene like Double Dragon or Final Fight. You also come around a few instances when an enemy is piloting a mech, which sounds like trouble until you knock him out and take over the robotic war-machine for yourself. Riding the mechs can be a little hard due to their more cumbersome moving nature - but they can unleash super-damaging metal-fist strikes as well as ice beams and flame spray. All this (combined with the gore I pointed out in the graphic portion of the review) makes the brawling action quite chaotically engaging. For some reason, though, the game doesn't click 100% with me like most of Capcom's other classic beat 'em ups. Maybe the bosses and stages lack personality or the style balances out at a level of seriousness more comical than Final Fight and Streets of Rage but not absurd enough to be set alongside Gourmet Sentai Barayarou, Pu*Li*Ru*La, or Trio the Punch. Either way, I don't feel justified giving it a nine out of ten rating even if the game-play is just about top-notch for the genre and time.
Replay value 4/10
Captain Commando has four distinct characters to choose from, all that can be played with at the same time in co-op. However, as much as they are different - the playing styles between each one aren't quite as significant as those found in The King of Dragons or even Final Fight. The ninja is the only character who can use the shuriken, Captain Commando has the widest field for his desperate attack, the mummy has the longest reach, and the baby is.. uh.. the cutest? There is also only one ending to obtain, and no leveling system like some of Capcom's other brawlers. That, combined with the fact that Captain Commando is less interesting than the other games I mentioned puts the amount of time you want to re-invest into this game at a less than relatively less than average amount.
Captain Commando's visual flair, unusual characters, and satisfying 4-player combat puts it head and shoulders above many other beat 'em ups than came before and after it - although it isn't quite the best Capcom has put out. If you can live with a brawler that is "just" very good instead of great - then track down a copy Captain Commando on the SNES, PS1, or on the Capcom Classics Collection 2. I advise selecting the final choice, unless you have a good team to play with on MAME - it is the closest to the actual arcade experience.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/08/10, Updated 02/09/10
Game Release: Captain Commando (US, 12/31/91)
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