NES Works finally gets to Capcom's good stuff with Commando

Farewell, outsourcing.

We're rapidly approaching the end of the current "season" of NES Works with the third and final of Capcom's 1986 releases: Commando, another arcade conversion. Unlike the previous two Capcom releases, Commando was created internally at the company with its new home development team rather than being outsourced.

The difference, I think, is clear. I realize that in the grand scheme of NES games, Commando seems a bit on the lackluster side. It's simple, the tech is a little wobbly, and different elements of the game were handled more impressively on other consoles. However, in the context of other 1986 releases, this is a downright masterpiece, arguably topped only in terms of design and content by Gradius.

Commando definitely strains at the limits of the NES hardware, it's true. This game came about before the advent of Nintendo's MMC-series enhancement chips, which radically improved the capacity and capabilities of NES software, so it's running on tech that isn't too far removed from the default of NES cartridges. That said, the development team carefully managed the inevitable compromises they had to make in a way that helped mitigate their impact. Everything runs at a faster, more stable framerate than 1942 and Ghosts ’N Goblins. Enemy sprites flicker and sometimes even drop out, but they tend to do so outside of the player's immediate sphere of influence, and never in a way that creates a disadvantage to the player.

The NES buckled and strained to handle this top-of-the-line arcade shooter, but the development team put a lot of thought into how to minimize the impact of those technical deficiencies. The result is a solid conversion of an inventive and influential game, handled smartly by some of the people who created the arcade original. It's a real step forward both for Capcom and NES third-party software to come, and the prospect of seeing more games of this caliber (and better) has me excited for NES Works 1987.