Commando video game advert by Elite from Crash Magazine (1985)

Commando Video Game - A Run and Gun Classic from the 80s

By Mark Nobes

The original Commando arcade game was released in 1985 by Capcom (who also produced the highly-rated NES version), with conversions being produced by Elite for the popular home computers and consoles of the time. An Atari 2600 version was produced by Activision, and a top notch 7800 version was released by Atari in 1989.

You can view a full page advert for Commando by Elite at the top of this page, which is from Crash magazine (1985).

The video game is a top down, vertically scrolling shooter set during World War II, in which the player controls a commando named Super Joe, who has been dropped into the jungle from a chopper, and who must fight his way through enemy territory - the poor guy has to do this all by himself! Thankfully, his machine gun has unlimited ammo, and he has a limited supply of grenades. Along the way, Joe can also free prisoners of war.
The arcade version features eight unique levels, and is noted for its high difficulty level, with enemies coming at the player from all directions, and they are relentless! This can be a daunting challenge for even the most seasoned gamers.
Commando was designed by the Japanese video game designer Tokuro Fujiwara, who also worked on numerous other games for capcom, including Ghosts N' Goblins and the 2021 game Ghosts N' Goblins Resurrection for the Nintendo Switch.
Although it was not the first run and gun game, its commercial success and addictive gameplay made it highly influential, and helped to spawn countless clones and inspire other run and gun shooter games such as Ikari Warriors.
The game is not related to the Arnold Schwarzenegger action film Commando, which was released several months after the arcade game.
Commandp game play on the ZX Spectrum with yellow background

The brightly coloured ZX Spectrum version

Game play

Although the graphics are pretty average, it's the addictiveness of the game play that makes Commando stand out.
The best way to play the game is to stay on the move. Standing still will not only make you an easy target, but it will also prevent you from being able to dodge enemy fire. It can be tempting for the player to stop and shoot every enemy that he/she sees, but this is usually not the best course of action.
It's important for the player to remember to use their supply of grenades, which can clear groups of enemies in one blast.
The player can gain some cover from the bullet fire by walking in the line of various barricades, mounds and buildings.
At the end of each level, the scrolling stops and an army of soldiers streams towards the player, from behind a gate or fortress. Shooting the officer (who runs back towards the gates in a cowardly manner!) can gain the player bonus points.
Commando NES screenshit

Screen grab from the NES version

Home Computer and Console ConVersions

Versions for the 8-bit and 16-bit computers and consoles soon followed, although these were released by a range of different publishers. The most popular home computer version was published by Elite for the C64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST and Commodore Amiga.

An Atari 8-bit version was released in 1989 by the Utah based developer Sculptured Software, but a version for the XE game system by Atari Corporation was never released.
The NES version (by Capcom) is widely considered to be the best of all the ports, with some critics rating it more highly than the arcade version, due to the game having more depth and better music. This version sold 1.14 million copies worldwide.
Commando by Elite, C64 cassette case and inlay sleeve
The ZX Spectrum magazine Crash rated it as the "best shooting game of the year" in 1986, and in the same year, Commando won the "arcade-style game of the year" at the Golden Joystick Awards.
The game was also released for the Atari VCS/2600 by Activision, which also runs on the 7800 in 2600 mode. The VCS version was pretty basic compared to other conversions due to the limited capabilities of the machine. Nonetheless, it was still a decent challenge.
Programmed by Dwain Skinner, the 7800 version is a gem of a game, and is comparable to the NES conversion. It's rare in that it features a pokey chip built into the cartridge itself. This was released on Atari's own label.
For a time, Commando was bundled with the CPC 464, so it was one of the first games that Amstrad owners played. Thankfully it's a really decent conversion.
Commando was later included on the Hit Pak compilation alongside Airwolf, Bomb Jack and Frank Bruno's Boxing. This was released for the Commodore 16 and 64, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC computers.
Commando gameplay on the Amstrad CPC 464

Screen grab from the Amstrad CPC 464 version. 

Critical Response

Both the arcade game and the majority of home computer conversions received mainly very positive reviews from the critics of the day, making Commando a true 80s classic.
The Commodore 64 version (programmed by Chris Butler) was also particularly well received, receiving a rating of 37 out of 40 from Computer & Video Games magazine. They also gave the PC and ZX Spectrum versions a rating of 35.
The C64 version is also noted for it's brilliant soundtrack by the SID chip maestro Rob Hubbard.
The Atari VCS / 2600 version received some of the lowest ratings, although they were still just above average, with Computer & Video Games magazine awarding 77% in their special Complete Guide To Consoles (price £2.75), stating "It's challenging and addictive, even though it doesn't look up to much".
Commando Bridge scene from C64 version

Bridge scene from the C64 version