Five years. Five years I've been writing VGJunk now. "I'll write about videogames," I thought to myself all that time ago, "it'll be fun." And you know what? It has been fun, even with the occasional Imagine Doctor or *NSYNC: Get to the Show to remind me of the ultimate futility of human existence. There'll be nothing so unpleasant today, though, because as always I like to treat myself on VGJunk's birthday by writing about a game I like a lot. Last year it was hyperviolent murdertainment classic Smash TV, but for today I'm returning to the purest and deepest of my loves - the Capcom beat-em-up, and so the VGJunk Fifth Birthday Special is all about their 1991 arcade brawler Captain Commando!
The Captain Commando logo is tired, so it's just having a little lie down.
So, Captain Commando - Capcom's follow-up to the extremely successful and genre-defining Final Fight, and I would argue that it's the closest thing to an arcade sequel that Final Fight ever received. The two games play very similarly and I've seen some sources say that Captain Commando takes place in Metro City, albeit in the year 2026. If that's the case then Mike Haggar must have relinquished his mayoral office, because a new criminal gang has risen to plague the city and you wouldn't think they'd be stupid enough to do that if the Mayor of Justice was still busting heads in the corridors of power. Instead the responsibility of protecting the most crime-filled place outside Professor Moriarty's to-do list falls to the heroic Captain Commando and his Commando Companions. Let's meet them now!
With a tough body, a sharp brain and a hairstyle produced by a wind tunnel, it's Captain Commando himself. I'd call him the game's most average character, but none of the other playable characters are wildly different in terms of statistics, and the usual beat-em-up roster of an average guy, a fast but weak guy and a strong, slow guy is ignored in favour of having four similarly-powered commandoes. Not that Captain Commando is an ordinary man, of course - he's a tireless crusader for justice, a bane of evil and presumed puppy-rescuer who fights crime with his fire- and electricity-producing Captain Gauntlets. He wears the Captain Protector on his chest and scans for bad guys with his Captain Goggles. Does he call his boots "Captain Boots"? You bet your ass he does. Captain Boots is also a pretty good name for a kitten.
His occupation is listed as "unknown," which is odd because he is a commando. "Commando" is an occupation, right? Maybe he's trying to preserve the secrecy of his other occupation: as a Capcom advertising mascot.
Yes, Captain Commando started life as a promotional character for Capcom's early NES games, looking completely different than he does in this game. I think we can agree that the change of design was for the best, and the game's version of Captain Commando is a much more visually appealing character than a disinterested space pirate with a bizarre hairline and questionable taste in medallions. He's not even looking where he's firing those guns. No wonder he has to resort to punching people in this game, he's been stripped of his firearms license.
Ginzu the Ninja is a ninja. He's very good at being a videogame ninja, but he's still "just" a ninja and that makes him the least interesting character of the four. It's not his fault, it's just that the standard of the competition is very high. His name is Sho in the Japanese version of the game, and I'm going to assume it was changed to Ginzu overseas in reference to the famous knife brand Ginsu. You know, sharp blades and all that. His bio says that he can cut enemies in half with a single stroke of his sword. He can, but he doesn't. You still have to hit them multiple times, which kinda feels like Ginzu is just making extra work for himself. Also, to further the Final Fight connection, Captain Commando's arcade flyer claims that Ginzu is a master of Bushinryu-style ninjitsu, just like Final Fight's Guy.
Why do they call you Mack the Knife? Oh, because of the knives, I see. Okay, so he was originally called Jennety in the Japanese version of the game, but in this version he's named after a showtune and I'm fine with that. No word on whether Mack is fine with that, because he's the most mysterious member of the team - an alien mummy from outer space. See, Ginzu, this is why you're way down the pecking order of the Commando team. Mack's outer wrappings are actually a "genetic bandage," necessary for his continued survival here on Earth, and his knives are special weapons which can apparently "melt all matter." As far as I'm aware, his cap is just a regular cap. Captain Commando gave it to him. Why yes, it is called the Captain Cap.
Last but by no means least - no-one who can launch missiles from their knees can ever be the least - is Baby Head, AKA Hoover. Baby Head overcomes the handicap of being a small child, something which usually forces you to stay out of the thug-punching business unless your parents are a) extremely pushy or b) Batman, by riding around in a robotic battle suit with extending arms and the aforementioned rocket-knees. Baby Head also built his robot suit, because he is a genius baby. Not enough of a genius to add some kind of protective cockpit to his robo-suit, but maybe he's relying on the enemies' hesitation to punch a baby to protect him.
The villain of the piece is an evil overlord who likes fiddling with DNA. His name is Scumocide, or Genocide in the Japanese version. Genocide is a more threatening name. "Scumocide" makes it sound like he's either going to thoroughly clean the toilet or kill all the scum, and that's my job. The scum-killing, not the toilet-cleaning. I suppose I'd better get on with it. The scum-killing. Yes.
I knew this was a city plagued by crime, but is that bad guy smoking? A cigarette? That's beyond the pale, even for a low-level gang enforcer. Doesn't he know that he's not only damaging his own health but the health of those around him? It's just disrespectful, that's what it is, and it's up to Captain Commando to teach this young man some manners through his own extreme brand of electro-shock therapy.
The ground-zapping attack is Captain Commando's "Sure-Killing Technique," a curious title for a move that doesn't even kill the weakest grunts in one hit. Between this and Ginzu's unsubstantiated claims about being able to slice through anything, I think the Commando Comrades have been inaccurately fluffing up their collective CV. If it turns out that Baby Head isn't a genius baby but just a regular baby then I'm going to have to make a formal complaint.
The "Sure-Killing Technique" is, of course, just the usual beat-em-up special move activated by pressing jump and attack together, the move that knocks away any nearby enemies at the cost of some of the player's health. For a game that is the direct descendant of Final Fight it's no surprise that Captain Commando shares the same fighting system. There's an attack button, and attacking an enemy repeatedly results in a short combo. We've already discussed the special move, and you can grab enemies by walking into them and then either hit them a couple of times or throw them to the ground. Captain Commando's major addition to this familiar formula is the inclusion of dashing moves - tapping the joystick left or right twice makes you character run and allows them to execute a running attack (in Captain Commando's case, a running kick) and even a running jumping attack. Captain Commando's running jump attack is a wrist-mounted flamethrower called, you guessed it, Captain Fire, which is where his special move of the same name in the Marvel vs. Capcom games comes from. It's all very intuitive, and the first couple of screens feature exactly the kind of goon-clobbering action you'd expect.
Then, suddenly I've stolen a robot from one of these strange, yellow-hooded little men and I'm using its large pneumatic fists to pound away at Dolg, the first stage's boss. I haven't really skipped anything, either - the stage is just a few short screen patrolled by a couple of generic grunts to help you get into the swing of things and them bam, you're stomping around the place in a precursor to Mega Man X's Ride Armors, trying to foil a bank robbery.
This whipcrack pace is one of the things I like the most about Captain Commando, especially when coupled with the insanity of its locations. Don't like fighting in the street? Not to worry, you'll soon have moved on to somewhere different and kinda weird, like a bank whose vault sort of looks like a giant teddy bear's head with a yawning, cash-stuffed mouth and wires pouring from its eye-sockets. There's little nose at the top, see? No? Just me on this one? Okay, let's look at Dolg instead, then. The legs and feet of a very large Native American man combined with the facepaint, spiked chest harness and receding hairline of an ageing wrestler. Standard beat-em-up first boss fare, if you ask me, and his unusually powerful punches are balanced out for the most part by Captain Commando having access to a robot. Not too difficult a test, then, and soon Captain Commando will be on his way to the museum that makes up the second stage, where no doubt his run of convincing and effortless victories over evil will continue.
Jesus Christ! Given the colourful comic-book action and cheesy pulp sci-fi atmosphere of the first stage - the first stage of a game where you can play as a baby, I might add - I was not expecting to see our hero sliced into two bloody chunks of extremely dead meat. Captain Chunks, if you will. Oh well, it was time for me to try out one of the other characters anyway.
Extending the maxim "fight fire with fire" to its logical conclusion, I decided to fight knives with knives and give Mack the Knife a chance to shine. I immediately warmed to the mummified space-stabber thanks to his long range (which might not actually be any longer than Captain Commando's) and his Sure-Killing Technique, which sees him pirouette around the screen with his knives outstretched. You can even control where he moves when he's spinning, which is very helpful. These scantily-clad women don't seem too impressed by Mack, mind you, possibly because his knives pale in comparison to their two-pronged, electrified tuning forks. That explains their outfits. Those rubber boots are designed to ground them and protect against any stray electric shocks, you see.
Deep in the museum's caveman exhibit, Mack fights against short, fat men who can breathe fire. I have still yet to see a convincing explanation why it's always the fat enemies in beat-em-ups who can breathe fire. Is gasoline particularly packed with calories or something? Also, the enemies with the beards aren't animatronic museum cavemen who have come to life in order to protect the sanctity of the diorama they call home or anything, they're just hairy. All their flesh melts off their bones once you've hit them a few times, which makes it strange that so many of them have signed up for a life as a gang enforcer. Hired goonery must have been all that was available at the job centre.
The boss is Shtrom Jr, an amphibian harpoonist with the air of an unsuccessful auditionee for a villain role on Captain Planet. He would have represented, I dunno, the twin evils of water pollution and harpoon fishing? Anyway, Shtrom Jr. fights by launching waves of harpoons at the player and then jumping away. You can hit the harpoons out of the air but the whole experience is still faintly annoying as it feels more like you're chasing the boss around in a playground game of tag than having a stand-up fight, and the fact that he's Shtrom Junior implies that I'll have to fight Shtrom Senior at some point and the thought of a palette-swapped version of this encounter isn't exactly setting my heart ablaze.
The next stage is the Ninja House, where all the ninjas live together in a communal setting, devising rotas for the household chores and arguing about who drank Fuuma-san's milk out of the fridge even though it was clearly stamped with his family seal. No ninjas here, though, just a plethora of troops I've clobbered before with the addition of Mardia, the large lady with the Sideshow Bob hair.
As this is the Ninja House, I thought it would be fitting to switch to Ginzu for this stage, so that he can test his mastery of the shadowy arts of assassination against his similarly-trained peers.
Then he picked up a gun and shot a samurai in the face. Good work, Ginzu. Joe Musashi would be proud. No, wait, not proud, horrified. You can't just shoot your opponents, at least not with a handgun and standing in broad daylight! That has to out a significant dent in your clan's honour, falling between "giving up information under torture" and "betraying the lord who has hired you" on the You Have Shamed Your Ancestors chart.
Ginzu does get to fight some actual ninjas in this stage, engaging them in the traditional method of ninja combat - throwing comically oversized shurikens at them. I think I preferred the gun.
Kabuki theatre reaches new depths of violence with this boss fight against Yamato and his giant spear, hurr hurr. It didn't go very well for Ginzu, and I haven't taken a beating like this from someone in a tabard since the school dinnerlady caught me trying to steal an extra portion of custard. It's Yamato's huge weapon, hee hee, that's the problem - attacking from the front is suicide, because the spear's range is extremely large and any assault from that direction will see you immediately cut down. Instead you have to bide your time and try to get in at Yamato's sides, which is easier said than done when he's forever spawning minions to run interference. I didn't expect him to just let me stab him to death but, c'mon, a little one-on-one battle between two followers of the noble martial arts isn't too much to ask, is it?
It's fun for all the family, a cavalcade of chaotic clowning and mistreated animals, the thrill of the Big Top and the stomach problems that come from eating carnival food - yes, it's the Circus! Metro City has a circus now. The current administration has definitely gone soft, Mike Haggar would never have let such a bad element into his town. I bet the Ninja House aren't happy either, a circus pitching up next door can't be good for local real estate prices.
I switched to the mechanical munchkin Baby Head for this stage as he's the only Commando yet to see action, and he seems to be settling in nicely as he uses a ray gun to hypnotise one of Scumocide's footsoldiers before unleashing the knee-rockets. I could have just punched the guy to death but hey, knee-rockets. I did worry that exposing such a tender young mind to the unspeakable horrors of the circus might lead to deep psychological scarring, but it all seems fairly benign and clown-free so far.
Ah. Well, look, Baby Head is a genius baby, right? So I'm sure he'll have to the mental fortitude needed to process the ramifications of this slaughter. The agonised screams of his barbecued victims and the stench of burning flesh that he can never clean off his robot battlesuit no matter how much he scrubs and scrubs and scrubs will definitely not haunt Baby Head for the rest of his life. The Circus, ladies and gentlemen!
And lest you think I'm allowing my personal issues with the circus to cloud my opinion of Captain Commando's fourth stage, I think this door shows that Capcom are on-board when it comes to understanding the clown menace.
The boss of the circus is (thankfully) not a mutant battle-clown. Instead it's just the regular mutant monster. His name is Monster. Normally I'd complain about the lack of creativity expending in naming this thing but it did hatch from it's containment pod mere seconds ago so I'll let Monster's mad scientist creator off with not coming up with something more intimidating.
A much more enjoyable fight than the previous two, Monster is a tough opponent without being frustratingly cheap, and it's always nice to do battle with a boss who is, if not your equal, then at least doesn't seem to regard the player with complete contempt. He might look like he's built from cacti, but Monster has a warrior's heart and an admirable appreciation for the linchpins of the beat-em-up setting, skilfully incorporating oil drums into his fighting style. What, you didn't think we'd get through this whole article without mentioning oil drums, did you?
Things all get a bit Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for this stage, as our heroes pursue the scientist who create Monster across the open water on their motorized surfboards. The game never actually says "cowabunga," but you can tell it wants to. This is more of a bonus round than a full-blown stage, with the surfin' ninjas being dispatched in a single hit and the focus being shifted from surviving the hordes of enemies to racking up a respectable score by knocking as many ninjas as possible into the water. This task is made easier by the regular supply of weaponry that floats past. These weapons also make Captain Commando possibly the only game in existence that lets you play as a genius baby in a robotic suit who guns ninjas down with an M16.
I caught up with the mad scientist. His name is Dr. T. W., which I'm going to assume stands for Doctor Time Waster. I definitely feel like I wasted my time chasing him into the sewers and kicking his speedboat a few times. Okay, so that's a bit unfair - the surfing stage is a nice change of pace, a fun mid-game break that refreshes the mental palate in preparation for further beat-em-up violence.
Before we leave this stage, take another look at the screenshot above and notice that Baby Head has drawn lapels on the front of his robosuit. The kid likes to look sharp, I guess.
Here in the aquarium, Captain Commando settles into a jolly little groove of thug-slapping action, with a variety of different enemy types attacking from all directions and each of them requiring your attention, giving you something to think about as you try to keep away from the big, powerful enemies while making sure you don't line yourself up with the bad guys who have long-range attacks. The smooth controls and multi-hit properties of your dashing attacks mean that the combat's main juggling act, that of trying to keep all the enemies clumped together either by knocking them around the screen or throwing them into each other so that they can't surround you, is a slick, fast-paced and enjoyable experience. It can't quite match Alien vs. Predator for fluidity or the Dungeons and Dragons games for sheer depth, but the action is still great fun for the most part and any cracks are patched up by the weirdness of the setting. For example, look at the background. What are they doing to that whale? A whale, of all things? I know Scumocide is into genetics and yes, that is a killer whale but I don't think there's going to be much you can harvest from a whale's DNA that's going to help him create a race of unstoppable warriors or what have you. Maybe Scumocide spectacularly misunderstood what a SEAL Team is. Also pictured in the above screenshot: the result of a xenomorph infestation on a world populated solely by speed-skaters.
Oh look, it's Shtrom Senior. What a surprise, he's the same as Shtrom Junior only lavender. He's brought along another relative called Druk, because what I really wanted was to fight two of an uninspired earlier boss at the same time. Capcom didn't even bother to update Shtrom and Druk's portrait picture to reflect their new, more relaxing colour scheme, which was lazy of them and thus nicely fits into this, the laziest of boss battles.
The underground base now, a sinister den of transparent walkways, secret experiments (possibly on other large sea mammals) and rocket launchers. Enough rocket launchers for everyone to experience the rocket-propelled fun of being in a terrorist militia without the insane religious fundamentalism! There are rocket launchers for the bad guys, rocket launchers all over the floor and even enough rocket launchers left over for Ginzu to use them for pretty much the entirety of the stage. Ginzu doesn't do much actual ninja-ing, does he? I'm beginning to suspect he only got into the ninja business because black robes are slimming.
No rocket launchers here, only a conveyor belt leading through Scumocide's Play-doh Squeezy-Shape Minion Maker or whatever this place is supposed to be. I've played Captain Commando many times in the past, but I've never realised before that the enemies being constructed in the background are the big samurai lummoxes. It's the boxy arm-guards that give it away. I had assumed this meant the samurai I'm fighting here are fresh off the assembly line, but their backs are already filled with arrows so that must be part of their design, I suppose? No, that doesn't sound right. Let me talk to the factory foreman, we'll soon get this sorted out.
Okay, I know this is an informal meeting but I wasn't expecting quite that much crotch to be thrust at me. There doesn't even appear to be that much down there, either, certainly not enough to prompt this rather vulgar display. Oh, I'm sorry, your desk is too small? Well then get a bigger desk, you weirdo. Head office is not going to like you greeting prospective customers with your Action Man-smooth fun area. We're going to fight now, aren't we?
The boss' name is Blood, his knees are extremely square and he fights mostly by kicking, which I didn't expect because the most arresting part of Blood's character design is that he's had his arms replaced by two even larger arms. You can see where they're stitched on around the shoulders and everything, because if you're not bothered about about finding an arm donor who matches your skin tone then you're probably also unconcerned about a bit of conspicuous needlework.
Blood at least has the decency to fight your chosen Commando one-on-one, which makes a nice change. The boss fights really are Captain Commando's weakest aspect, and while the bosses generally look interesting they're rarely much fun to fight, with each battle muddied by the inclusion of too many extra grunts and the overly-powerful and awkward-to-avoid attacks of the bosses. It's not that they're too difficult, it's that they're not challenging in an interesting way, and it's ironic that Blood is probably the most enjoyably straight-forward fight despite being the least interesting boss visually. I think fighting him atop a space shuttle might be clouding my opinion of how cool he is, mind you.
Here we are aboard said space shuttle, where Captain Commando's later stages have comfortably settled into a pattern of throwing large numbers of bad guys at you, often in waves of identical type. As before, the combat mostly revolves around corralling the enemies into one clump, which is easier said than done because they're like the metaphorical herd of cats, albeit very violent cats with shoulder-mounted rocket launchers. There's definitely more of an emphasis on picking up and using weapons in these later areas of the game, and I'm not sure how I feel. There's a lot of fun to be had in using the weapons, honestly, but it can feel a bit like the beating-em-up part of the beat-em-up formula has been cast aside.
The space shuttled is guarded by Doppel, a fat man in a very unflattering green suit who has the power to transform himself into one of more of the Commando team. It's a fight to the death against your greatest enemy... yourself! Except this fairly common videogame power has always felt really dumb to me, because surely if there's one person for whom a fighter is going to have intimate knowledge of their every weakness and flaw, it's themselves. If not, and Doppel just assumes the surface appearance of opponents, then that's even dumber. You could have been Batman or something! Actually, in that situation, you should turn into your opponent's mother. Who's going to be able to punch their mother? Exactly.
With Doppel defeated, the space shuttle reaches it's ultimate destination and Captain Commando's final stage - Callisto, fourth moon of Jupiter and it's opulent and oxygen-rich lunar habitat! It his here that Captain Commando bonks a man on the head with a comedy mallet, because this game is truly strange - but it plays everything completely straight, which is one of my favourite things about it. There's no evidence that any of this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and we're expected to take it at face value that an alien mummy and a genius baby are Earth's mightiest defenders... and I do, wholeheartedly.
It's Dolg, again. Hi, Dolg. Thankfully this isn't the beginning of a tedious boss rush - Captain Commando feels fairly long for a beat-em-up anyway and doesn't need any padding - but to get to Scumocide you have to go through both Dolg Redux and the portrait of what I'm assuming is supposed to be Jesus with a strange facial expression. Christ the Redeemer is not angry at Captain Commando, he's just disappointed. The rest of the background doesn't make much more sense, either. My adventures have become mere after-dinner entertainment for a race of identical, hyper-muscular aristocrats? Check out how tiny that Martini glass looks in the big lug's hand. Could you not find him a pitcher or something?
Just beyond the painting of Jesus, which was actually a door all along, waits the final battle with the powerful and ruthless Scumocide, master of Callisto and also master of getting right on my nerves. You'll notice that Captain Commando is on fire in this screenshot, as he was in all the screenshots I took of this fight, or at least the ones where he wasn't encased in ice. You see, Scumocide's main move - his only move, really - is to fly around the screen launching extremely powerful fire/ice balls from his hands before hovering just out of reach of your attacks. It is not a fun experience, a boring grind that has little to do with the gameplay found in the rest of the game. Scumocide reminds me of a prototype version of Gill from Street Fighter III, and Gill's a pain in the arse to fight, too. It feels less like a final boss battle and more like a fight against a mobile gun turret, but with the application of enough running jump attacks I eventually managed to whittle Scumocide's health down until he was defeated.
The game ends with a press conference, and if this game is set in Metro City then maybe this is Mike Haggar. He seems to have the moustache, and the incredibly broad shoulders of a former pro wrestler / vigilante justice dispenser. The sprite lacks the detail required for me to state outright that this is Haggar with any real confidence, but as a special treat to myself I'm going to pretend that is definitely is Haggar. Well, this is the birthday article, so I'm treating myself.
Oh, so you put the plot of your game right at the end, huh Capcom? Clever, that means people have to play all the way through if the want to know what the hell is going on. That ought to keep the quarters rollin' in!
With the world declared safe, Mayor Maybe-Haggar turns to the screen behind him and asks "hey... who are you, anyway?" The answer?
Why, it's Captain Commando, of course - Capcom mascot, semi-forgotten arcade star and one of my go-to characters in Marvel vs. Capcom. He's not blowing the audience a kiss in the above screenshot, it's just the way his lip animation happened to be at the time. Oh, okay, you can pretend Captain Commando is blowing you a kiss if you want. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone.
As the credits roll and the Commando Chums show off their moves, I'm left to reflect on one of those gaming experiences that isn't perfect but that I still love. My major issues with the game, the disappointing boss fights and the occasional over-reliance on using weaponry, don't do much to detract from the game's overall sense of fun. The over-the-top action is never dull thanks to excellent controls and a great cast of characters, and Capcom's graphical prowess shines brightly in this one - it's beautifully detailed and animated, a real joy to look at. It's videogame comfort food, the arcade equivalent of cheese on toast - perhaps not the most balanced or complete meal, but one that makes me feel a little warm inside and which goes well with a nice cup of tea. Give Captain Commando a go, you'll probably enjoy it. I know I do.
So, that's the end of this year's birthday article, and what a treat it was. For me, I mean. Possibly not so much for you. Anyway, many thanks as always to all VGJunk readers, and hopefully you'll stick with me as I ramble my way through another five years. Five years! I still can't quite get over it.