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A while ago, I reviewed the Capcom Game Arcade pack on the iPhone - an overpriced collection of old arcade hits let down by badly implemented controls. In particular, I lamented that the superb Commando was rendered virtually unplayable by the twitchy controls. As ever, if a company can't look after its own intellectual property correctly, there is always someone waiting in the wings to show how it should be done.
Assault Commando is a blatant *ahem* "tribute" to Capcom's classic shooter and is little more than a new-century update of the original 80s coin-op. The graphics and sound might have been given a lick of next-gen paint, but the core gameplay remains the same. Get your lone soldier to the end of each level alive, whilst fending off hordes of well-equipped enemy soldiers who attack you on foot, in jeeps or from boats.
As befits a Commando clone, the game is rock hard with wave after wave of attacking soldiers determined to stop you in your tracks. On your first few turns, you will be assaulted by so many enemies and bullets that you probably won't get very far. Perseverance brings its own rewards, however because, whilst the game only gets harder, the more you play it, the better you get and the more addictive it becomes. As you start to get the hang of the controls and start to learn the attack patterns for each stage (their routine never varies between games) you will find yourself making inroads. Each time you get that little bit further, it drives you on to have another go, determined that you'll get to the end of the level this time.
The levels are very well designed. Although linear (your route through is governed by a set route through each level) this actually makes them good fun to complete, as you are never in danger of getting lost or not knowing what to do next. There is also good use made of checkpoints - reaching one of these restores your health back to 100%, giving you a fighting chance of making further progress. The frequency of checkpoints is also well balanced - they are not so numerous as to make the game too easy, but neither are they so sparse as to render it impossible. Mind you, there's nothing more annoying than dying within a few inches of your next checkpoint!
There are a few other niggles too. As if the quantity of enemies the game throws at you is not difficult enough, it can sometimes be tricky to see them coming. Enemies will respond to your presence as soon as they see you and start shooting. Annoyingly they can sometimes be off-screen when they start doing this, meaning you can suddenly be hit by bullets with no real idea where they are coming from. In fairness, though, you can shoot off-screen enemies too, so it's not all bad news!
Graphically, the game is not much to shout about, but what it does, it does well. The action is viewed from a pseudo 3D perspective above your solider, so you can see plenty of the surrounding play area. Although mostly limited to jungle colours of greens and browns, the graphics are quite atmospheric and capture the graphical style of the original Commando.
Sound, too, is highly appropriate. An adrenalin pumping tune plays throughout which really adds to the atmosphere; your soldier makes a few Duke Nukem-style quips when he sends soldiers to meet their maker, whilst the various guns you can pick up along the way make suitably meaty noises when fired or when things explode. Presentation might be nothing special in today's gaming world, but they are suitable for the game they are in.
Where Assault Commando really gets it though is where the Capcom version got it so, so wrong: the controls. Although there is a tuition level, this is actually quite unnecessary as the controls are so intuitive. It uses a virtual joystick to control basic movement, but unlike Capcom's version, this one actually works, proving highly responsive and making it easy to manoeuvre your character around the screen. Using the various weapons you collect is also well handled, with each gun given its own virtual button on screen which just needs to be pressed to fire that weapon. This rids the game of eh fiddly "cycle through all currently held weapons until you find the one you want" which is the technique favoured by too many games. True, in the heat of battle, it can be a little awkward to remember exactly which button relates to which weapon and accidentally press the wrong one (sometimes with fatal consequences) and lobbing grenades takes a little bit of practice before you are confident it will head in the direction you want it to. Despite these small flaws, the controls are generally responsive and intuitive and light years ahead of the Capcom version.
After the disappointment of the official iPhone conversion, I didn't really expect much from this and ended up pleasantly surprised. This was everything Capcom's game should have been but wasn't. Tremendous fun and tough as old boots, this is old-fashioned gameplay at its best given a new lick of paint. If you like 80s style shooters, this is definitely worth splashing out £1.99 on. It might be more expensive than some iPhone games, but the rock hard (but addictive) gameplay will give you hours of entertainment.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2011