Anthony Burch faces a personal dilemma. He acknowledges that gaming's evolution into a fully realized medium of emotional and scholarly merit is impeded by the community's affinity towards the violent male power fantasy. However, as the owner of two functioning testicles, not even he is immune to the allure of the simple pleasures. I wish him well in his quest to balance enlightenment and primal desire. It takes a braver man than I to shoulder the plight of the human condition while dancing in front of a green screen.
In any case, Commando: Steel Disaster wants to be your violent male power fantasy, but its idea of a power fantasy involves a lot of lube, a lot of screaming, and a lot of bleeding. From your anus. Because it raped you.
If the game was merely hard then I would have no concerns. Instead, it has staked a whole new territory beyond remorselessness. On the surface, it looks every bit like Metal Slug, yet it has replaced all the humor and charm with a cold, vacuous chasm through which all color in your life is drained despite every attempt to draw yourself away. Like maybe you just need to invest a liiiiiitle more time before the good stuff happens.
You lose before you begin.
OFFENDER: Commando: Steel Disaster DEVELOPED BY: ManaSoft RELEASED ON: Nintendo DS, 2008 TASTES LIKE: Metal Slug
Commando: Steel Disaster is the first release for a major gaming platform from Chinese cell phone software developer ManaSoft. China, as you know, is a hotbed of all manner of questionable activity. Shopping alleys are stocked with more boots than an outdoor sporting goods store. When a console called the Vii hits shelves, no one bats an eye. When an 8-bit demake of a 32-bit classic is released, it's business as usual. So that Commando: Steel Disaster is the spitting image of SNK's Metal Slug is no surprise to me. In fact, I was excited when I first caught word of a DS game in the vein of one the greatest run-and-guns next to Contra. I purchased this game completely unironically because I was in the mood for some old-school blood-letting.
Rather than a team of highly trained soldiers, the game drops a single wise-cracking, smack-talking, no-nonsense commando by the alias Storm. Before each mission, he is briefed by the token female operations officer Jessica. Playing the role of General Morden is Rattlesnake, a graduate from the University of Megalomania with a degree in "big robot equals big boom." It is his goal to rule the world with a "disaster of steel and iron" because the auto heap he stole his materials from was a bit short on weapons-grade plutonium.
When an experimental giant robot crab goes rogue at Snow Lab, Storm rides into battle on his pimped-out moped and tears the house down, but not before uncovering a scheme so unabashedly tepid that I just spoiled the entire game in the previous paragraph. With the ability to pick up and cycle between two weapons, to throw grenades with all the strength of someone in the advanced stages of muscle atrophy, and to escape damage from the most hazardous traps known to man by the simple act of rolling, Storm is a force to be reckoned with if you consider your typical one-man army to be a Chia Pet.
HOW SHAMELESS IS IT?
ManaSoft is a cell phone software company and Commando: Steel Disaster is a cell phone game. You know those iPhone apps that are clearly "inspired" by something else and play exactly the same except... don't? It's something you can't quite describe, some small niggling detail of the core gameplay that somehow didn't translate. Like the uncanny valley, only in relation to programming code instead of human likeness.
Not for lack of trying, mind. The art and animation certainly evoke a Metal Slug vibe, but the characters exhibit zero emotion. There are no exaggerated facial features or overacted death throes; every enemy is masked and enemy variety is lacking. You visit many of the same locales like caverns and deserts and Middle Eastern streets, but the colors are dull and subdued, casting a great big gloom cloud over what should be a pleasant romp through the killing fields. Weapon selection is similar minus the more incredible pieces like the Iron Lizard, and a melee attack can be performed when in close proximity with a baddie. Levels even end with the same "Mission Complete" text across the screen, "Final Mission Complete" splashed after conquering the final level.
I guess I can describe it.
The most curious carry-over from Metal Slug is the inability to shoot diagonally with the default weapon. You are provided an automatic rifle as opposed to a pistol that requires constant hammering of the fire button, so why the insistence on copying one of the stupidest design choice in video game history? I'm sorry SNK, but it's fucking stupid. Is there a lock-out feature on these guns that prevents discharge when not held parallel or perpendicular to a level surface?
The biggest difference from this game and Metal Slug is the inclusion of a health gauge. You have 99 hit points and can replenish health with med kits, and extra protection can be added by collecting helmets and vests to fill a separate shield gauge for a supposed total of 198 hit points. I say "supposed" because... well, you would assume that your safety is assured as long as you have a shield up, but not in this game! Some attacks damage your shield, some drain your shield and health, and others give a big "bite me" and deal damage directly. The ones that do direct damage are typically the ones that are hardest to avoid, so what protection do you gain from a tool that flakes out when you need it the most? Damn Kevlar has confidence issues.
Nevertheless, having a health gauge should offer some wiggle room, right? Right. No. Wrong. Oh sure, Metal Slug is all about the one-hit K.O., but once your lives are depleted and the countdown timer begins, all it takes is another quarter in the slot to continue the mission. If you are playing a home port, you have the added convenience of opting for unlimited continues. Commando: Steel Disaster gives you one life to live and then it's back to the title screen. No matter how close to the end you may be, remember that this isn't horseshoes and "close" counts for horseSHIT.
Your progress is saved upon completion of a level, so some concession towards your sanity is allowed. To balance that out, each of the game's five missions will run you at least ten minutes apiece. They never end. You may THINK you've hit the end. You haven't. I am reminded of the final level in Metal Slug 3 when just when you think everything is over... BAM... zombie clones. Think about that, only minus zombie clones. Instead, think about the same canned scream sound effects that sound like they were recorded in the bathroom. One sounds less like a scream and more like someone threw up after too much sambuca.
You will be running these levels over and over and over and over again until your brain rents out the space in your head and moves to Fiji. Meanwhile, the butt rock that plays in the background... oh, did I mention that there are only two audio tracks shared among all the levels and that which one plays is totally random yet makes no difference because both sound like open mic night at a deaf-mute bar? The only good track in the entire game is the main theme, and the only reason it is good is because it was stolen. It was stolen from a Gundam Wing game for the Super Famicom. I guess ManaSoft thought no one would notice.
Should you make it to the end, what are you treated to? Nothing. No justification. No redemption. Just a sad credits screen with only five dudes listed. Usually, I would champion small dev teams but seeing them gathered in one place just puts to whole debacle into sad, sad perspective.
There is a way to extend the life of your product, however. Each mission contains four, five, maybe seven data disks hidden in destructible containers about the environment and come in gold, green, brown, and red varieties. You must collect all of a specific color to unlock its nuggets, but where to find them? Some disks will fall in your lap. Others are uncovered by firing a specific weapon at the container in which they are housed. You are not told which weapon it is. There are no clues. Sometimes the weapon you need is nowhere nearby. The game gives you fuck all.
So it's off the GameFAQs we go. Hey! Look! Only one guide. It happens to be a disc location guide. The only FAQ available and it is prefaced by a warning that basically says, "I'm not telling you how to beat this game. I had to suffer through this and so will you, fucker."
The disk hunt is brilliant. You can't just quit once you've collected the disks. You have to clear the level in its entirety in order to retain your spoils. Once you've collected all of one color, you get... nothing. Next step, in each of the five levels is a console specific to a disk color. You have to carry the specific disk to the specific console (and I hope you remember which is which the first time through), activate the machine, and then beat the level once again. You'll probably play through some of the levels three times on this bullshit fetch quest.
Finally, you are "rewarded" with two bonus levels (read: crucibles of torture) as well as two items that you must carry into said levels in order to complete them. The last item you receive is a VIP card that can be taken to VIP consoles scattered throughout the world that dispense life-restoring med kits. Fantastic. I could have used that hours ago when I was getting my manhood juiced in the blender, but thanks anyway, you pricks.
Why didn't I just stop playing if the game was so clearly driving me insane? I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm more than a little OCD. This game is a vacuum. You so dearly want to love it, but you can't, yet you can't stop playing because it taunts you. It taunts you so much. It keeps pushing and pushing and pushing and you just want to crawl into a corner and cry until your tears dry up and you pass out from dehydration. Worst of all, it really is Metal Slug. It could have been a good game if small little details were corrected, like one or two checkpoints per level, for instance.
I wanted to crack some jokes. I wanted to tell you all about the horrible Engrish that just gets worse as the game goes on, as if the five sad clowns responsible for this inanity descended into the same madness that I did. I can't. I'm too mad. I want to cry. I want to stop. But I haven't beaten Mission 7. Oh God, it's calling me fat.
This was normal mode, by the way. There's a hard mode. FUCK THAT.