Growing up I had both of these games on NES and I played them in the arcade whenever I could, always dreaming of having the arcade version in my house. Well now that I’m old and apparently going through some sort of mid-life crisis, I decided to pick these up off eBay. Pretty much every arcade you went to in the 80s had a Commando machine, however I only remember seeing a Gun.Smoke machine once at a Wal-Mart near my grandma’s house in Caldwell, Texas. I’m guessing the western theme made it a good choice for a Wal-Mart in Texas.
So other than nostalgia, are these games any good? Gun.Smoke is actually a decent shmup: the theme is unique and the 3-button control scheme for firing in different directions works really well. Commando holds up pretty well, but the controls can be frustrating since you only fire in the direction you are facing so you have to do a lot of twitchy joystick work to shoot where you need. This is not a flaw of Commando though since most run’n’gun style games use this kind of control scheme, but I just don’t care for it since it makes deaths feel cheap.
I totally love the graphical style and music from these games. Clearly this is based on nostalgia, but there’s just something about the sprite art and the way the music sounds. Both of these games run on the same hardware platform, which system16.com refers to as the “Capcom Commando Hardware”, probably since Commando was the first game released using this hardware. The sound chip is the Yahama YM2203, which was used in a lot of other games from this era.
One cool thing about owning the real hardware is how gigantic the games are. The Commando board set is three boards connected via ribbon cable, making it the largest game I own and most awkward to handle. Gun.Smoke, despite being the same hardware, is only two boards. This makes for an interesting storage challenge, but it’s cool to see all the different chips that were needed to make a game back in 1985. It makes me wonder which board in the set is doing what, and I’m tempted to take Commando and just start unplugging things to see what happens.
So while I’m glad to add these two games to my collection, I’ll probably never play either of them seriously. I’ll definitely get some mileage out of Gun.Smoke just because it’s more my cup of tea than Commando.