8-Bit Commando is a retro-style side-scrolling run and gun without its own identity. Its weapons are from Contra, its art and level design are from various Contras. I just wish that it had something more other than what Contra has done better before it. Sure there is no Contra on the PC, but to really blossom, it needs to be its own game. With that being said, if you are going to clone a game or gimmick its style, there is no better side-scrolling run and gun action game than Contra.
Even the controls are straight out of Contra. You have eight-way shooting when you jump. If you press down, you’ll prawn on the ground like Contra. There are levels that require you to hang from ropes and that mixes things up nicely. You still have the ability to jump while hanging. To the game’s credit, it does feel good and easy to pick up and play. The art style and controls do make the game feel true to the 8-bit games.
Unlike Contra though, you have health, which does make the game forgiving. You can take a good amount of damage and you still have lives and that feels like the game becomes too easy. Then there is your jump, which is higher than jumps in most games, so leaping over gaps becomes a snap, but there are a lot of narrow moving platforms that become tricky.
There are a few different weapons you can find throughout the game, but nothing feels that much different than what you have. Everything feels about the same, so its best to just keep your default weapon.
Another real downside is the game is short. So short that I’d call it a proof of concept. Brief levels, all geared toward one specific franchise with a boss at the end. After each level, you are kicked back to a stage select screen. Instead of a MegaMan style screen, its just bland text to select. The entire game breezes by in around fifteen minutes. In fact, each level has a five minute timer.
The bosses just are forgettable and dare I say generic. A wrecking ball, a cylinder with three parts, a helicopter, a tank. Sure other games have those common bosses, but these are just bland and uninspired.
There are six levels, the first of which is an abandon city where you’ll get to blast through barrels and climb through air ducts. Some of the buildings feel reminiscent of Ghosts and Goblin’s deserted city. Other than snipers and standard soldiers, jets will attempt to bomb you. There are troop carriers to destroy, guns with homing missiles, so the game knows what its doing. It just all feels like I’ve done it before.
The second level feels like its straight out of the first Contra, minus the bright and vibrant colors. Instead its a cement gray with only enemies to accent colors. Here you’ll find standing snipers, soldiers hiding behind shields with large projectile launchers. Toward the middle of the level, there are narrow moving platforms to really test your leaping skills.
The next level takes place on top of a train, which was a level in Contra’s Advance Wars. The real highlights here are taking out vehicles that run along side of the train and fighting a helicopter at the end. They’re things that have become common in run and gun games that other games just do better. The color scheme is also very brown. There’s a real focus on a single color for this level and the previous one.
The fourth level is on a mountainside cliff. Here you’ll find ropes to shimmy across and probably the toughest part of the game when you need to jump up narrow moving logs falling down a waterfall. You may need to reread that line again. At least with this area, there is gray rock, green grass, blue water and brown structures. I thought the game had forgotten what the rainbow looked like.
With the fifth, there’s finally a sense of changing pace, because you ride on a motorcycle down a hostile highway. You can can even control the lane you’re in! You can blow up civilian vehicles as you ride down one of the drabbest countrysides I’ve ever seen. Airplanes and missile launchers will try to take you out, but you’re too much of a man to go down without a fight. Even fuel drums will come loose off of trucks and roll down the road at you.
The final level is probably the most well rounded. There is color and everything! Well that is until you board a gray battleship. Its gray as far as the eye can see! The majority of the level is still an industrial port with shipping containers, soldiers and traps. If you wonder what’s the final boss, oh let me answer for you, a gun that’s below you. So you need to jump and shoot down. Again, its all just uninspiring.
This is a great stepping stone to make a superior game with its own identity. I just hope it gets to that point. Until then, its just a quick, ride that will make you miss Contra.