Don't let the title fool you; Commando: Steel Disaster has nothing to do with Capcom's long-running series of Commando games. No, this game takes its inspiration from elsewhere. Actually, that's putting it far too gently. It would be more accurate to say that this game shamelessly rips off the Metal Slug series in its gameplay and art design, which will be immediately apparent to anyone who has played one of SNK's cartoony side-scrolling shooters. Still, if you're looking for a series of games to blatantly model your own game on, you could do a lot worse than Metal Slug. Although anything but original, Steel Disaster's gameplay is action-packed. It's just a shame that the outrageous difficulty level often makes the experience more maddening than enjoyable.
As the heroic Storm, you'll singlehandedly take on the innumerable agents of the evil mastermind Rattlesnake, who is determined to take over the world. The story certainly won't win any points for originality, and the telling of it--in horrendous, poorly punctuated dialogue presented under static character portraits--won't win any points for style. Thankfully, you can always skip these sequences and jump right into the action.
Storm is agile and has a good variety of moves at his disposal, which makes controlling him a treat. In addition to being able to run, jump, and duck, he has a forward roll that's very useful for dodging enemy fire. And, if enemies make the mistake of getting too close to him, he can dispatch them with a quick slash of his knife. Quick reflexes are a must in this game, and Steel Disaster nicely offers you the option to configure the controls as you see fit, though oddly, you need to complete the first level with the default controls before you can do so.
Storm starts each level with an ordinary gun, but there are a number of very cool, powerful weapons to be found throughout the game. These include typical weapons, such as rocket launchers and grenade launchers, as well as more ridiculous weapons, such as the cocktail gun, which shoots massive fireballs. You can carry two guns at a time, but the ammo in all of your special weapons is limited, and you'll want to have at least one powerful weapon on hand when you reach the massive boss at the end of each level. Thus, your choice of what gun to use and when is somewhat of a tactical consideration.
The game gets the fundamental action of running to the right and shooting bad guys down very well. The rank-and-file soldiers of Rattlesnake will come at you by ground and by air. They'll pop out from windows and fire at you from rooftops. They'll occasionally send a suicide bomber or sword-wielding, portal-opening ninja after you. The nonstop action will certainly keep you on your toes but there just isn't enough in the way of imposing minibosses, nifty vehicles, cinematic set-piece moments, or anything to make the action truly memorable. Yes, the boss you'll fight at the end of each level is large and very tough, but before you reach him, you'll spend a bit too much of your time just fighting waves of the same faceless grunts and armored vehicles.
Steel Disaster is brutally hard. Intense difficulty is par for the course in many run-and-gun shooters, which can be a virtue, but even the toughest of the tough typically give you some meager encouragement in the form of checkpoints, a few extra lives, or maybe a couple of continues. Commando: Steel Disaster is cruel and unforgiving, requiring you to get through each of its extremely challenging levels on just one life. If you die, you must start the entire stage over from the beginning, without exception. Even with the smattering of health and armor power-ups throughout each stage, that's a difficult, often extremely frustrating task. You've got to be a bit of a masochist to like your games this tough. Sure, you'll feel like a champ if you somehow manage to get through the game's five levels, but by then, your spirit will have been beaten to a pulp. If you're really insane, you can then hop into the game's Hard mode, the existence of which seems like a cruel joke.
The game's graphics are vibrant and attractive. The multilayered backgrounds, weather effects in the foreground, and a near-constant flurry of action onscreen keep things interesting. It's a bit disappointing, though, that all of Rattlesnake's grunts, perhaps taking a page from the handbook of fellow serpentine terrorist organization COBRA, have their faces hidden, making them all identical and without character. And throughout the game, the upper screen of the DS is wasted, displaying a useless map screen. The game's sound is perhaps its least original aspect. The electrifying title theme is copied almost note for note from music composed for a Gundam Wing game. And the enemy soldiers have exactly three screams to accompany their deaths, which quickly become grating.
Commando: Steel Disaster isn't a long game, but it will still take quite a long time to complete--assuming you can complete it at all. The intense difficulty of this game really limits its appeal, which is a shame, because if it were just a tad more forgiving, the solid gameplay would have been a lot more enjoyable.