Captain Commando is one of those weird arcade games from the 90s that I honestly thought I’d just imagined. The reason for this is that Captain Commando is so brazenly silly that part of me felt that it was impossible it could have existed. For years I’d attributed some of the more bizarre things in it to my youthful mind exaggerating things. But no, Captain Commando is a real game that exists, and after playing it again for the purposes of this article, I’m not entirely sure whether I like it or not.
At a glance, Captain Commando is your standard Capcom side scrolling beat-em-up. You have the same 8 axis movement, a button for attack and another for jump, and if you get close enough to bad guys, you can momentarily grab them and then fling them at their evil colleagues with a bone-crunching throw. In some ways the game isn’t even remotely unusual when it comes to the genre in question. If you’ve played a game like this from Capcom before, such as Final Fight or Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, then it shouldn’t take you long to get up to speed.
However, what makes Captain Commando stand out is that it’s unapologetically weird. I’m talking balls to the wall, not giving an absolute sandwich weird. I’m talking putting cream on the scone before the jam weird.
The game’s story follows the pursuits of the titular Captain and his, frankly bizarre, group of commandos as they try to take down an intergalactic crime syndicate that has caused futuristic Metro City to lay in battered ruins. To do this, they have to fight their way through yellow-masked Hydra Bob-like lackeys called “Wookies”, big, muscular female fighters, chubby fire-breathers and horrifying, amphibious creatures in breathing apparatuses, who try to shoot them with harpoon guns.
Not just content with making the game’s enemies deliberately odd, the cast of heroes are equally as outlandish, with a mummified knife expert and super intelligent baby in a robot suit being the strangest two open for selection. It was with the lumbering mummy, known as “Mack the Knife”, that I first played the game many moons ago. Even as a young boy, I knew things were a bit “off” with Captain Commando, pretty much around the moment I noticed that one of the characters was a chuffing BABY in a robot suit!!!
When I played the game for this feature, I once again found myself gravitating towards Mack, mainly because his special attack is by far the best of the four selectable characters, and he also has good reach, which makes up somewhat for his comparative lack of speed. Sadly, “Baby Head” (yes, that’s his name; someone clearly spent hours coming up with that one) is probably the least enjoyable character to play as, which is a bit of shame considering he’s by far the most interesting to look at.
Captain Commando himself is a decent all-rounder, and “Ginzu” the ninja commando has ferocious attacks, but I always found him to have a relatively shorter reach with attacks, which means it can be easy to be overwhelmed when you play as him. The arcade version of the game allows four players to play at once, meaning all four of the commandos can be in play if you have three friends to play with. The game also saw ports to the home consoles, such as the Super Nintendo and PlayStation, but unfortunately, neither of these versions support four player mode. The PlayStation version only saw release in Japan. As usual with Nintendo, the SNES version was censored to tone down some of the more violent scenes.
And there’s certainly no shortage of graphic violence, with both the commandos and the enemies regularly getting cut in half, burnt to a crisp or literally melting on the spot depending on what cause of death befalls them. There’s plenty of dark humour on display with some of the level and enemy designs, and there are also some great set pieces in certain sections. A personal favourite of mine would be where you have to fight a small army of Wookies armed with mechanised tanks under a circus tent. Another would be a Mortal Kombat-styled fight with a ninja in front of a baying crowd demanding slaughter. Both of these sections of the game are very fun indeed and present a nice break from the usual side-scrolling mayhem.
As with most Capcom games, the enemies will almost always try to swarm you and catch you in a pincer movement, taking chunks of your health away in the process. At times the game can be eye-wateringly difficult, especially if you happen to be playing in single-player and don’t have any pals to help you out. Somehow as a kid I managed to get about halfway through the game on a single credit, but either that cabinet had its difficulty toned down, or my advanced age has slowed my reactions considerably because I struggled to get past the second stage without dying this time around.
Captain Commando is a standard Capcom beat-em-up at heart, so if you like those styles of games, then there’s no reason I could see why you wouldn’t like this one also. It certainly stands out with its bizarre characters and unapologetic violence, but the harsh difficulty might put more casual players off. It’s certainly confident in what it wants to be and fully embraces its silliness at all times, which part of me respects. However, I’d be lying if I said I really enjoyed playing it. It was nice to discover that the ridiculous game I played all those years ago wasn’t a figment of my imagination, but I can’t say it’s a game I’ll return to very often.
PAL cartridges for the game on eBay start around the £30-40 mark, but if you’re American, then you might be able to grab an NTSC cartridge for little more than $10 depending on how lucky you are. If you want to play the CPS arcade version, you can do so by purchasing the Capcom Classics Collection Volume 2 for Xbox or PS2. You can find both the arcade and SNES versions of the game on the Retro Gaming Box.
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