In 1991, Capcom and Konami went at it with beat ’em up broadsides. Konami had the edge when it came to licenses with two hard shots in the form of The Simpsons Arcade Game and the sequel to their 1989 TMNT game, Turtles in Time.
As for Capcom, they relied instead on original scenarios dreamt up by their teams and hit arcades with two fantasy offerings — Knights of the Round and The King of Dragons — and a game starring their mascot, Captain Commando, set in a future urban blight beat ’em up.
I’d seen Captain Commando’s sketched face in the NES manuals and box packaging for Capcom’s games like Mega Man and Ghosts ‘n Goblins. He also went through a few changes before disappearing entirely later on. By the time Mega Man 3 came out, it seemed that his career had come to a sudden end.
The impression was that Captain Commando was supposed to be Capcom’s mascot but it was kind of hard for him to get the job after Capcom seemed to lose interest in the Captain by the time Mega Man 3 rolled around for the Famicom/NES in 1990. But a year later, he’d get his own game in the arcade.
Captain Commando ran on Capcom’s CPS arcade hardware, the same type that Final Fight debuted on in 1989, which was their attempt to provide a standard in an otherwise heavily fragmented scene. As was the norm at the time, many arcade manufacturers created custom boards for their games creating a smorgasbord of diverse combinations. Konami, for example, would sometimes create a hardware board that might run two games and then move on to develop something else. Getting a new arcade game often meant replacing the guts of a cabinet, if not buying an entirely new one.
Capcom’s CPS-1 hardware could run different games via a game ROM stored on a removable cartridge. It was like the arcade’s version of a game console in terms of functionality set up around Motorola’s incredibly popular 68000 16-bit CPU with the sound being handled by Zilog’s Z80 CPU and Yamaha sound chips. The thinking behind this was that it would help cut down on costs for Capcom and arcade owners and many of what would become Capcom’s most iconic games used the hardware such as Street Fighter II: Champion Edition and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. SNK would also take a stab at the same concept with their Neo Geo MVS.
Four characters split the action between four players in co-op, or you could just cycle through each one in turn whenever you died (continuing saved your score and picked up right where you died by default) if you were solo without having to change your spot on the cabinet. Each character had their own attack style and special attack activated by hitting the attack and jump buttons at the same time at the cost of a little health.
As noted above, the arcade flyer for the Europe was loaded with extra info on the game’s characters. There was the lanky Mack the Knife who attacked with a Genetic Knife that “melts all matter” that also gave him decent range, was an alien from outer space, wrapped up like a purple mummy in bandages that acted as “life-sustaining equipment for survival on Earth”, and had a spinning super attack. Then you had Baby Head who is a “super-genius baby” piloting a mech body with “fuzzy-logic control” and “12,000 horsepower”, a knee rocket super attack, and was decently fast in action.
Ginzu the Ninja was armed with the “Lightning Light” Servant Sword, a ninja suit that was “tougher than iron” and “softer than silk”, and who was a successor to “Bushin-ryu- Ninpo” armed with a smoke bomb special. He was fast, too, and killing some enemies actually split them in half. Last, but not least, was their leader — Captain Commando. He was armed with Captain Goggles that can “identify a criminal’s face at a distance of 2km”, wore a Captain Protector “made of super-tough Captain Ceramic” that can “stand up to trillion degree heat”. His special was a shocking current around him on the ground. He had decent speed, damage, and was pretty much the “balanced” character out of the troupe.
Controls were pretty much a carbon copy of 1988’s Final Fight with an eight-way joystick and two buttons, one for attack and the other for jumping. Each character’s main difference was in their fighting styles. Ginzu was the fastest with his attacks and had a solid dash attack with his sword. Mack had pretty good range with his long limbs and knife attacks though wasn’t quite as fast as Ginzu. The Captain had decent speed, power, and range making him a great all around character along with his special. Baby’s mechanized suit was cool to play as, had decent power, range, and his special attack was solid enough to be a lifesaver.
Gameplay stretched across nine stages as the Captain and his team attempt to wipe out crime on Earth, ultimately following it to its source on Callisto after a harrowing journey through space. The action took players to places like a Circus, Ninja Temple, an Underwater Base, and even a spaceship, each filled with a mix of foes. Thugs, ninjas, samurai warriors, more ninjas, guys dressed up in HR Giger inspired suits with giant claws, more ninjas…you get the idea.
After Final Fight, one thing that players will notice is that the scale of the characters are smaller. This had the weird effect of making the graphics seem a bit more plain than they should have been. Final Fight’s larger characters and backdrops appeared to boast much better detailing because the size difference allowed more nuances to be worked into their overall art direction.
There’s also didn’t appear to be as much variety when it came to pick-ups with only a few food items and point items given for breaking things. The backdrops were neat, though a few relied on heavy tiling and perspective tricks that didn’t quite flesh themselves out well. The rideable mechs were a nice touch, however.
The weapons consisted of rocket launchers, assault rifles, and a funky ray gun that stunned enemies which wasn’t all that neat to have other than in looking like something out of a 50’s sci-fi flick. The continue screen also didn’t boast any creative license the way that Final Fight’s dynamite did — it was just a plain countdown until you dropped in the coins.
On the other hand, the bosses were actually pretty cool featuring dynamic and challenging attacks that gave them a lot of personality, though the game did tend to recycle one of them by throwing several in your face towards the end. The last boss, though, seemed to rely more on keep away attacks that slowly ground the player down, but compared to the other bosses, wasn’t quite that exciting, either. The game also used a lot of “temporary invincibility” for foes, like the bosses, whenever they picked themselves up from a beating forcing you to run away for a few seconds before charging back in.
Unlike the rest of the game, the game saved all of its story for an actual ending with text congratulating the player which was really the only piece of written narrative that they would get to see. It was 1991 and Capcom was still learning how to rope in story and action in a beat ’em up which would become a hallmark with later games such as The Punisher and Cadillacs and Dinosaurs in ’93.
The game ended after the credits rolled and the music played out, but it wasn’t the end of the game. It saw ports to the SNES in ’95 (with only two player co-op) and was added to volume 2 of the Capcom Classics Collection which came out for the PS2 and the Xbox in 2006. It even came out in another collection, the Capcom Classics Collection: Remixed, for the PSP.
Although his arcade coming out party was pretty standard stuff as far as beat ’em ups went without as much flash as Final Fight or quite as much daring action as The Punisher two years later, Capcom didn’t completely retire him the way it did the rest of his squad.
Capcom dug him back up in 1998 as a character in Marvel vs. Capcom. Since then, he’d sporadically show up in other titles and cross overs such as Namco x Capcom in 2005, turning him into something of a token mascot making cameo appearances in the occasional game in the Capcom family much like a theme park character that no one quite remembers their starring role in but shows up when you least expect it while looking for the next ride.
It’s probably not the most glorious career that the former mascot had expected when he arrived on the scene, but at least he’s in good company wherever he goes which is a lot more than can be said for his former companions.