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Posted on Jul 17th 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (bombatomba)
Posted under Arcade ports, console, port, hidden gem, SNES, NES, Super Nintendo

One of these things is not like the other...

Once upon a time, the most desired trait of any home console gamer was to play arcade ports.  In this fashion, one could say that arcades ruled the jungles of electronic video game entertainment.  While complete faithfulness to the arcade original was the holy grail, it was certainly not a requirement, though individual interpretation on the quality of the port was certainly in place, especially in the playgrounds and hallways of schools.

Another episode of But I Like Those Ports! follows, and another three games are presented for your reading pleasure.  In a way, these were the most ambiguous of the small list I drew up of possible games, but it was still hard.  Out of the games left, I might have one more episode left, but who knows.  Perhaps I should start branching out a bit into other territories.

Game #1 "The Safe One" - U.N. Squadron

The Arcade Original: To be honest, I am not so sure if this one could be considered a "safe" pick.  A little background:  I played this back in 1996, almost almost seven years after it's original 1989 arcade release, at a local mall arcade called Insert Coin.  I remember it said Area 88 on the cabinet, but it had the proper U.N. Squadron board in it.  At this point, I had already played and loved the SNES port back in 1992, but seeing this in the arcade was a bit of a surprise, and also a bit of a letdown.  It's not that the game is bad, but rather that it feels very barebones compared to the SNES port. 

U.N. Squadron/Area 88 is a realistic side-scrolling shooter (a shmup).  Instead of having a Gradius-like power-up system, which was the trend at the time, the game lets you pick one of three characters to start, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and you buy power-ups in a "shop" similar to other Capcom games from this time.  In this way the game feels a bit like a certain beat'em up from the same era.  Shin Kazama in his F-20 Tigershark is the most balanced of the trio, and has fast forward firing guns.  Mickey Simon in his F-14 Tomcat is the powerhouse character, inflicting more damage with wider shots, but is slower.  Finally, Greg Gates flies a A-10 Thunderbolt, which allows for firing both forward and slightly down for ground strafing.

To be upfront, I had a lot of fun playing this game, and sunk many quarters into it before the cab eventually disappeared.  For what it is, the arcade original is very fun, fast, and colorful.  Giving the player a choice of a starting character/ship was a bit of a novelty in arcades in my neck of the woods, where only the classics lived (Galaga up to Truxton).  But despite all of this, I don't think it holds up to the console port.

The Console Port:  This game is all kinds of lovely.  Ditching the rigid gameplay choices in the arcade, Capcom managed to make a shmup action/adventure game of sorts.  You still pick a character at the start of the game, but you now have the ability to purchase airplanes as upgrades along with power-ups, so that one now has to balance what you think the stage might require as far as power-ups, as well as that $1,000,000 F-2000 Efreet you've been eyeballing for the past hour.  The characters still retain some personality (for example Greg Gates, perhaps mirroring the A-10 he flew in the arcade, can take a lot more damage than the other characters, as well as carry more weapons) which is a lot of fun.  Still, for me it was about the jet fighters, and while there was only six jets total to buy and utilize, this always brought me back for more, trying to beat the game with less powerful aircraft, or seeing how far I could get only utilizing the main weapon.

This was one of my main SNES rentals, and one that I followed up with a purchase some time later (there were really too many good games on this console too quickly).  I still remember thumbing through the Nintendo Power SNES Player's Guide and thinking how cool that in the third stage you literally fight an entire mercenary air force called Wolfpack, which culminates with a stealth bomber boss fight (that is waaay out of scale), and thinking about picking it up for the weekend from BlockBuster Video and playing through it for the millionth time.  For myself, U.N. Squadron for the SNES is easily the top (perhaps second only to Final Fantasys II & III on the SNES) beaten games on the platform.  Despite the sheer amount of times I have played through this U.N. Squadron, I would rather play the port than the original, any day of the week.

Game #2 "The Controversial One" - Contra

The Arcade Original:  Contra is a side-scrolling and overhead shooter that just so happens to be one of the original games that kicked off the Japanese "raster" craze in my neck of the woods.  Like most arcade titles, the game is very simple in execution, but very deep in style.  You play one of two commandos sent to destroy an invading alien menace known as Red Falcon.  Their only help?  Four different and highly stylish weapon drops, three lives per credit, and a fat stack of quarters/tokens, because this game is not easy.  Still, we managed, and with a serious amount of practice (which is where the fat stack of quarters/tokens came into play) it could be done on a single quarter.  I've never seen it, but I have heard tales.

I would have to say that Contra in the arcade was very instrumental in my love for arcade games, and in turn console games (and in turn computer games).  See, until 1987 any visit to the arcade also saw me accompanied by an adult, and my parents just weren't too hip on giving this kid too many quarters.  I don't think it was a "brain rotting" thing, but there was certainly a dearth of pocket change in my early youth.  But on my tenth birthday I was finally allowed out on my own, and I vividly remember the first group of arcade games that I first dropped my own quarters into:  Double Dragon, Ghost N' Goblins, and Contra.  There were many arcade titles after (many I still can recall), but those three, especially Contra, really stand out.  I even remember laying in bed at night and realizing that if I held down on the joystick and pressed the jump button Bill (or Lance) would jump down to the platform underneath.  Seems simple, I know, but it opened up gaming more to me, and I vowed to try it in every game I would play after.

The Console Port:  I hope in the paragraph above that I was able to convey just how special Contra in the arcades was to me.  Personally speaking, it was the spark that started my love for run and gun shooter games.  But as much as I love it, it pales in comparison to the NES port.  At least in my mind.   This wasn't always so, as I do remember a friend showing me the port on his NES (a strange device in my eyes) and thinking it was a poor imitation. 

"The Nintendo thing should just stick to original games and stay out of my arcade!  I mean, it just looks like crap and they can't even get the jumping animation right," said the ten or eleven year-old nerd that is still me, probably pushing my glasses up the bridge of my nose and sneering while he vigorously chewed gum from my latest pack of Garbage Pail Kids cards.  Gosh I was a complete dork.

But time has a very funny effect on human memories, and less than five years after I made that statement, I had played the NES console port so much that it had effectively become the arcade original in my head.  I knew that I had played the arcade original a great deal, but every time I thought of the music, graphics, or gameplay, it was always that of the NES port, not the arcade original.  Do you remember that Bill and Lance dress differently than each other in the arcade original (and the different is not their color of pants)?  Me neither until one day I was watching the Contra "Let's Compare" video on YouTube by Gaming History Source.  Bill is blonde and sports a blue bandana and tank top, while Lance has dark hair, a red bandana, and sports no tank top (or any chest-wear to speak of).  It was a very strange feeling to have, especially as I had held onto that illusion for so long.  And I am not the only one.  After watching the YouTube video I searched on Google for one of those online game websites, and even though it advertised the arcade original it was clearly the NES port!

So basically, Contra on NES is not only more iconic than the arcade original, it is also more important in the long run of video gaming history.  Sure, everyone knows (and has a t-shirt) about the dang Konami code, but the NES port contains the very heart and soul of the genre.  Much like Super Mario Bros. and  Contra on NES didn't invent the run and gun subgenre, but it did define it.   I would rather play the port than the original, any day of the week.

Game #3 "The Garbage One" -  Commando

The Arcade Original:  I think this is important to get out on the table now, but I feel about that Commando is kind of the opposite of Contra in a way.  See, most gamers (and even some non-gamers) will not only remember Contra in the arcades of the late 80's and early 90's, but will be able to extol the contributions Contra has made to gaming.  Not so with Commando.  Out of all the people I talked to, not one could recall ever playing it in the arcades, though some insisted they did but instead described the NES port when asked (the flickering and slow bullets were the tip-offs for me).

For a quick refresher, Commando was released in the arcades in mid 1985, though as for in which territories it appeared in, that is a mystery to me.  However, this release makes it one of the first of the Japanese "invasion" raster games in the West.  I wasn't a big frequenter of large arcades in '85 and '86 (for reasons mentioned above), but I don't remember it appearing in my local convenience stores during those days.  The first (and last) time I played it was in the late 90's in an arcade called, The Red Baron.  It was fun, but it didn't really stick out amongst the games that surrounded it, such as the D&D: Shadows over Mystara, Magic Sword, and The Punisher (I still remember it so vividly).  I think most people first played this game when Capcom started releasing their arcade games in compilations on during the PS2 age.

Anyway, Commando was an overhead run and gun shooter with no power-ups.  You have a fast-firing machine gun, a limited stock of grenades (that can only be thrown towards the top of the screen), and your own wits, and you must use them to avoid the incoming hail of grenades and fast bullets from your enemies.  Really, this game is hard, and I have never been able to make any sort of real progress in the stages.  Sometimes it seems best to creep along and use foliage and obstacles for cover, and sometimes you just need to make a break for it and rush the enemy lines.  In a way this is pretty cool, as it forces you to make quick tactical decisions for every inch of ground you take.  Those interested in pure challenge would love this, but the real flaw here is that the Commando is an arcade title, and thus designed to drink quarters.  With that in mind, I judge Commando to be a fun, though flawed, gem.

The Console Port:  First, I must specify for this part in the article I am referring to the NES port.  There were many ports of Commando to home consoles and computers, some good, some bad, some great or terrible.  Personal preference plays a huge part here, I think, so this may not apply or appeal to many.  But, for my two cents, I think the C64 port featuring music by Rob Hubbard is probably the best for tunes, and mileage will vary as far as gameplay, likely based purely on nostalgia.

For a very long time I held the NES port of Commando in very high esteem.  I remember defending it more than once on the playground (which is silly in retrospect, as I was only familiar with the 7800 port in those early days), but I don't think I played it more than a few times outside of the late 80's, and then maybe once or twice after I started collecting NES games around 2003, and then only (likely) because I needed to clean and test the game after purchase.  Then, in late January of this year I decided to tackle it again, this time emulated on my Mac with my new 8bitdo controller and its Turbo functionality.  I was able to finish the game, but what I saw during that time pretty much killed any nostalgic appreciation I had.  Following the first stage (my traditional stop for testing any purchased game) all enjoyment I had for Commando disappeared, and I was finally able to see the large cracks the game has, as far as gameplay and graphics are concerned.  I guess taken on its own as an early release on the NES it is fine, but It just feels so sloppy in comparison to the arcade original, and for once my nostalgia was not enough to carry it forward.  I forced myself to finish it, more out of the need for closure than anything else, and though I did play my original cart on my NES, it didn't change anything; I still don't like the game anymore.

So, with that last bit, I can happily say for the squandered potential that it had and for the part of my gaming youth that I can never regain, I would rather cut the entire front lawn of Windsor Castle with a blunted pair of handheld garden pruners than to play this port over the original, any day of the week. Goodbye, Commando, perhaps I never really liked you to begin with.

And another one bites the dust.  You know, I truly do love coming down memory lane with you all.  These are just so much fun to write, with the only annoying part being finding a appropriate "meta" pic to lead with (and picking what game(s) to include in it).  I branched out from the NES a little bit, and maybe that is what I will do next time.

Thanks for reading!

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I love this series. I always enjoy reading the perspectives of others on these games. Unfortunately, I haven't played the arcade version of UN Squadron, so I can't compare to the SNES rework, but I do know that I'm terrible at the latter, so I need practice either way. I would have to totally agree with you on the Contra front. I didn't play the arcade game, because I never had access to it, but I distinctly remember a family vacation to Branson, MO, and getting to play a bunch of arcade games in various shops, restaurants, etc. because we had time. One of the arcades we visited had Super Contra. I had previously played the original Contra port on NES, and hurriedly plunked my quarters into the machine to give it a go. I was instantly disappointed that it wasn't as fast and frantic as the NES game, and I thought the character sprite looked goofy. The music didn't stand out, the way the NES tunes had, and despite the awesome graphics, it just didn't wow me the way I thought it would. Had a local establishment sported a Contra arcade cabinet, I probably would have given it more of a fair shake, but in my mind, the NES Contra games were the gold standard, much the same way that Bionic Commando on NES is leagues above its arcade progenitor.

As for Commando, that's a hard one. Again, I never played the arcade version as a kid, and only came to it a few years ago with a Capcom compilation. I didn't play it very long, because it's still a very simplistic game, and I was more interested in the other arcade games anyway. But I do have memories of playing, and enjoying, the NES version as a kid. This was another game a friend owned, and we used to pull it out and play from time to time, just to see how far we could get. Sure, it was overly simplistic, and also a flickering mess, but it was good fun. I haven't revisited the game in years, though I probably should. This would be another good one for me to play around with via the NES Max. Also, I really need to boot up the 2600 port at some juncture, because I've heard it's actually competent.

Great article, dude!
Thanks for commenting FRO, and also for the nostalgia!  Commando was a last minute addition, as I had just played (and after decades) managed to finish it, so it bumped the two remaining contenders in that category.  I think the NES Commando is only disappointing when considering what it could have been (and comparing it to different versions, which my only experience is for the arcade).  I will say this, the NES port is a lot easier, as in most situations you can just walk to the top of the screen, firing only minimally.  It did get hard in some parts, but I also stink at these games now (old age?).  Crabby I am not.

I'd say that the 2600 version is one of the best (though not as good as the 7800).  After seeing the Donkey Kong games you'd want to write it off, but it not only plays and sounds good, it actually looks pretty good.  It even has music (though maybe a little repetitive).  I watched the excellent "Let's Compare: Commando" video by Gaming History Source to prep for this (I hadn't realized it was included in Activision Anthology for the PS2 until then) and I do recommend that video for those that don't own multiple versions.

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