Overall Score 82%
Playing out like the script of a Rambo movie, the deliciously retro 8-bit Commando is a fast paced, side-scrolling run ‘n’ gun action game. In fact, the cammo-sporting, unnamed player character could well have been John Rambo if it weren’t for trademark and copyright legalities getting in the way. Still, if you want to play the game wearing your best bandana, topless and cursing that; “They drew first blood, not me… THEY TOOK FIRST BLOOD!” to your monitor, then go for it. It can only add to the experience. For the sake of the review and to avoid unnecessary legal complications though, I’ll call our hero 8-bit man.
8-bit man is your typical all-American mercenary hero. He’s sent on suicidally one-sided missions behind enemy lines to neutralise threats from rogue nations and terrorist organisations. All up, there are 6 missions that roughly tell a passable story when played in sequence. He’s initially armed with a combat rifle, but as the body count mounts and various crates and vehicles are blasted into a billion pieces, pickups allow rearming with more devastating weaponry high powered shotguns, flamers, rocket and grenade launchers. He can shoot up, down, left and right, as well as on the diagonals, and is athletic enough to jump onto platforms well above his head in a single bound. He can one-handedly cross chasms on a suspended wire, casually felling hordes with his M-16 in the other. He shows no fear of vicious attack dogs, armoured cars, gunship helicopters, battleship cannons or ballistic missile launching pads. He is one death dealing badass.
The gameplay is a good mixture of platforming and shooting. I like the variety of enemy types and the end of level battles are pretty novel. One feature of the game that stands out is the uncompromising initial difficulty level; 8-bit man has only one life. There are checkpoints at fixed points in each level, but there is also an overall time limit that ticks away. Although you can respawn from checkpoints as much as you like, when that time limit is up, you have to start over again. 8-bit man can take a few hits before incapacitation, and the odd health pack that can be found along the way is helpful too, but if he falls from the bottom of the screen, he’ll have to restart or respawn from a checkpoint. Once you’ve discovered the optimal path through each level though, the difficulty level becomes a lot easier, and you can almost speed run through. The enemy layouts and obstacles (but not the pickups) are exactly the same on each play.
The keyboard is sufficient for single player action, but the game supports joysticks (not tested) and gamepads as well. For co-op play, a non-keyboard device must be attached to your PC. There are options to resize the game on the desktop, to play in windowed or full screen mode and to control all audio options. You can also remap keys from the options screen, if desired.
The hand crafted sprites and animations are a wonderful throwback to gaming past, without simply looking retro for retro’s sake. All the levels are distinctively individual and look fantastic. I just love the look and sound of 8-bit Commando. There are some absolutely rocking chip tunes that accompany the action on each level which just fit perfectly.
8-bit Commando is not without fault. The game produces an error and dumps me to the desktop when I kill specific enemies on level 2, after pressing “OK” I’m allowed to continue with some graphical corruption in full screen mode. There seems to be no way to exit the game from full screen mode without a hard shutdown using Task Manager. There are no interface buttons that I can see and depressing the esc key has no effect. I’d suggest playing in windowed mode for these reasons. The 6 missions will provide an hour or so of action, but there’s little replay value in them. Perhaps more missions as DLC is an option? You seem to be able to play the missions out of order by using the mouse to select missions rather than the arrow keys. This would seem a bug rather than a feature, since later missions are greyed out at first and must normally be unlocked by completing the earlier ones first.
This one’s a diamond in the rough. If you’re old enough to remember games like Green Beret and Rockman (Megaman), then you’ll probably love 8-bit Commando. With a bit of spit and polish, and a tad more content, this would have earned Gold.
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