Publisher: XS Games
Developer: Mana Computer Software
Release Date: September 2, 2008
If you took one glance at the screenshots or videos of Commando: Steel Disaster and thought, "Hey, there's a new Metal Slug game," then I wouldn't blame you in the least. On the surface, Steel Disaster looks exactly like SNK's long running side-scrolling shooter, and the developers obviously have no qualms about taking the gameplay and design and running with it for this title. However, while everything on the surface resembles Metal Slug, the actual gameplay is pretty stale and way too difficult to even attempt to be fun, leaving the end result a masochistic mess of bullets and unnecessary deaths.
To be honest, I'm glad to see someone try and take the Metal Slug formula and do anything with it, and I'm pretty surprised that previous attempts haven't already been made. Sure, you could compare a couple of Treasure titles, like Gunstar Heroes or something along those lines, but nothing's really stepped into the Metal Slug shoes before. Then again, I can't really commend Steel Disaster for just copying the franchise, either. It's the equivalent of a gaming homunculus, sure, it looks like Metal Slug, but it definitely doesn't act like it.
The story of Steel Disaster is just as laughably bad as the core gameplay. You play the titular Commando character, a young man known as Storm, as he fights against the evil Rattlesnake and his hordes (and hordes) of faceless minions, all the while keeping in radio contact with your operations officer, Jessica. There's not a lot of dialogue, but when it does pop up in the form of small talking head boxes, it's pretty bad. There are also some odd punctuation and spelling errors, so you can tell the translation could have used a little clean-up. For the most part, the story is pretty sub-par; a shooter doesn't need to have a fantastic, Oscar-winning plot, but if you're going to put a story in there, at least try to make it fun.
Visually, the 2D sprite work looks really solid at first, and the animation is great throughout. However, you soon realize that you're seeing the same three or four enemies endlessly recycled, along with a larger tank mini-boss, and soon, the only real variety comes from the larger-than-life bosses, most of which look pretty cool. The environment you get to play around in is just as bland as the enemies, so it's hard to tell if it's just being recycled or if the assets look really similar, but regardless, it's not that great to look at.
You'll be looking at the enemies and the environment quite a bit, by the way. Granted, Steel Disaster only features five different levels, but they're all pretty long, and it's probably the toughest 2D experience you're going to have outside of the "bullet hell" genre of shoot-'em-ups. This is the toughest time I've had reviewing a title in recent months, and usually it's because I find the gameplay bland, but with Steel Disaster, I had to do so many level restarts that I lost count. You only get one life, and once you die, you start the entire mission over again. There are no checkpoints, no save system, no passwords, and nothing at all to lower the difficulty. You have two difficulty options, one of which is hard, and I didn't even make it 10 minutes into the hard mode every time I tried.
This difficulty doesn't come about as something that you can learn to adapt to, either. A lot of it is a result of sheer luck or memorizing where certain enemies will crop up, which is usually the whole reason you end up dying over and over again. Steel Disaster loves to surprise its players with bullets or projectiles out of left field whenever it gets the chance, so if you haven't played the level before, get ready to die and die again until you remember which direction you need to face so you can plan ahead to dodge incoming fire you can't even see yet. Numerous cheap deaths abound in Steel Disaster, and it's going to take some hardened players to stomach checking out these levels over and over again in an attempt to play Memory with the cheap AI.
Along the way, you obtain multiple weapons to try out, all of which perform different functions and are certainly more useful than your default weapon. You fire up, diagonally, side-to-side, or even downwards when you're jumping. Along with that, and straight out of Metal Slug, if you're close enough to an enemy, you'll knife him instead of firing, which can be useful when a larger group of enemies starts to fill the screen. However, there's also a fair amount of slow motion that kicks in when the game attempts to render a lot of on-screen action, but it's also a merciful side effect that you can use to your advantage in staying alive a bit longer than usual. There is also a dodge roll, which can be useful in keeping away from enemy fire, but be prepared to figure out when that dodge roll will end, as you'll often accidentally try to dodge one stream of bullets, only to arrive in the midst of another. There's also a secondary set of grenades that you can toss, which is useful for ferreting out enemies above or below; it'll also come in handy for those who like to hunker down behind bunkers and toss out their own grenades.
The sound of Steel Disaster is just as derivative as anything else in the game, with a soundtrack that could have been lifted from countless other generic 2D action titles. Nothing manages to stick in your mind, even after countless reattempts at the various levels. The one thing that does manage to stick, however, is the incredibly annoying screams that killed soldiers will bellow out every single time you kill them. There are about three different sound bites, and you will hear them hundreds of times within a single stage. If that's not enough to make you turn off the sound on your DS, I don't know what will.
Basically, I went from looking forward to checking out Commando: Steel Disaster based on the screenshots I had seen, to wishing I hadn't wasted the hours on it. While I love the idea of someone creating a Metal Slug clone, I still want at least an ounce of originality from it, and I definitely don't want to feel like I'm being put through some type of cruel punishment in the form of a side-scrolling shooter. The difficulty, bland enemy and environment design, and overall poor quality really bring down what could have been a stellar DS title, but unfortunately, Commando: Steel Disaster fails to deliver on anything.
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