Commandos from arcade’s past – Captain Commando

Both the European flyer (courtesy of the Arcade Flyer Archive) and the Japanese one shared relatively the same art — all four of the main characters prominently placed on the cover. The difference was that the Japanese version had a large, white border that filled in most of the sheet around the characters reducing the dark “space setting” to only a slice behind them. The American flyer consisted of only two pages and was far less exciting which was pretty much to be expected.

The European flyer was chock full of information on the characters and the “story” of the main game. It broke down the characters into something akin to a proposal that you might expect to see for a cartoon series with a lot of extra info on things that really didn’t impact the game itself but might be fodder for a Saturday morning episode. Or an RPG.

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.

Ghosts 'n Goblins was ported over to the Famicom/NES in 1986 and here's Captain Commando on the cover of the manual. Pew pew pew!

Ghosts ‘n Goblins was ported over to the Famicom/NES in 1986 and here’s Captain Commando on the cover of the manual. Pew pew pew!

Here's the Captain on the inside the manual, wielding the Capcom flag of imperial power!

Here’s the Captain on the inside the manual wielding the Capcom flag in the Mega Man manual hitting NA in 1987.

And here's the Captain inside the manual for Mega Man 2 which arrived in North America in 1989 (it came out first in Japan in 1988). This time around, the Captain was promoted from a stylized drawing to a more fleshed out and hyper detailed mini-painting.

And here’s the Captain inside the manual for Mega Man 2 which arrived in North America in 1989 (it came out first in Japan in 1988). This time around, the Captain was promoted from a stylized drawing to a more fleshed out and hyper detailed mini-painting, giving up his open breasted coat and lion locks for a more clean cut image. And thanks to unwashedmass’ post below, we can give a Capcom salute to artist Marc Ericksen who gave Cap his dramatic makeover.

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.

The Captain and his squad of expendables.

The Captain and his squad of expendables on their first, and last, mission together.

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.

What would a Capcom beat 'em up be without a giant roll of meat? The game also had weapon drops and you could even hop on a mech for some extra punching fun.

What would a Capcom beat ’em up be without a giant roll of meat? The game also had weapon drops and you could even hop on a mech for some extra punching fun.

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.

Captain Commando's adventure was pretty big in terms of how many levels it had, though they didn't take very long to go through. Capcom also scores points here for creativity in mixing together some really odd combinations from a futuristic city to...a Ninja House?

Captain Commando’s adventure was pretty big in terms of how many levels it had though they didn’t take very long to go through. Capcom also scores points here for creativity in mixing together some really odd combinations from a futuristic city to…a Ninja House?

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.

Here's Baby kicking around the clone army of thugs in the basement of the museum.

These clone thugs have no chance against a genius baby and his 12,000 horsepower robot body.

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.

"Oh, wow, I didn't mean to... You can stitch him back together, right doc?"

“Oh, wow, sorry about your monster, doc. I just kind of get carried away sometimes.”

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.

In what almost becomes something of a beat 'em up tradition, we've got a racing stage. Ginzu's on a hoverboard racing across water in a bonus round. Points are multiplied by how many ninja you take out.

Ginzu’s on a hoverboard racing across water in a bonus round. Points are multiplied by how many ninja you take out.

The background was actually moving to the left in this stage creating a neat effect. As for why they need an army of robot samurai, your guess is as good as mine.

The detail in this stage was pretty cool stuff to fight against it as the backdrop. As for why they need an army of robot samurai, your guess is as good as mine.

This boss would split into two and both of those would morph into your teammates for added pain.

This boss would split into two and both of those would morph into your teammates for added pain.

"Don't worry, no one will notice the stains on this carpet."

“Don’t worry, no one will notice the stains on this carpet.”

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.

Of all the things that Scumocide could have picked to wear in the last battle -- a sky blue leopard cape.

Of all the things that Scumocide could have picked to wear in the last battle — a sky blue leopard cape. Still, if that had a description in the European flyer, it’d probably be some kind of “Hyper Radiated Mega Leopard Plasma Cape”.

Captain Commando's last appearance was in 2050 where he was being congratulated for saving Earth. Suspected of joining fighting circuit to pay for armor polish several years later.

“Captain Commando’s last appearance was in 2050 where he was being congratulated for saving Earth. The former mascot is Suspected of joining fighting circuit to pay for armor polish several years later.”

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.

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3 responses to “Commandos from arcade’s past – Captain Commando

  1. This time around, the Captain was promoted from a stylized drawing to a more fleshed out and hyper detailed mini-painting, giving up his open breasted coat and lion locks for a more clean cut image.

    If you like that version of Cap, it might be of interest to you to learn that the artist maintains a blog talking about his old game-related commissions — Cap Com is touched on at http://www.retrogameart.com/2013/02/takin-walk-on-ad-sideephemera-et-al.html

    • Very awesome! Thanks for sharing this (that Pitfall poster is fantastic). I’ve also updated the blurb for the manual excerpt above as well with Marc’s name.

  2. Pingback: A Look at Legends: Capcom vs. Konami – The Arcade Beat Down | World 1-1·

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