Ninja Commando is often confused for Ninja Combat or even its sequel, but in fact, it's neither. Ninja Commando is basically an overheard run 'n gun game that feels a lot like the arcade classic Ikari Warriors at times, although it doesn't quite have the same level of playability. While the game is an earlier Neo Geo title, it's actually one of the better ones and offers up a nostalgic trip down memory lane for classic arcade fans that were weaned on such legendary overhead shooter titles like Commando and Ikari Warriors.
In Ninja Commando you take control of one of three characters. Each character has his/her own unique firepower and special attacks, but they all function basically the same. You can even team up with another player and play cooperatively which will definitely make the game a lot easier than going it alone. Your goal is to shoot your way through each stage and face off against a boss at the end of each level. While your basic firepower can't really be upgraded, it does have a unique feature where it becomes more powerful the faster you press the fire button.
You can also make use of a somersault move that can get you out of a tight spot, but normally just ends up getting you killed. If all else fails each character has a smart bomb-style special attack that can be used a certain number of times that will generally damage most enemies on screen. These come in quite handy during the game's more difficult boss encounters later in the game.
The play control in Ninja Commando is plenty smooth, and features some really unique ideas, but with these unique ideas comes a few faults as well. For one thing your character can only fire in a forward direction. While the enemies can fire diagonally, you're relegated to firing only in front of you, which can make taking out enemies off to the side or just behind you a real pain. You also cannot scroll backwards, so if you miss something, you're basically out of luck.
The boss fights are very pattern-based and generally only require you to memorize the movements and attacks of the boss in order to dispatch of them. The actual levels themselves tend to be more difficult than the boss fights, but the intensity does pick up quite a bit near the end of the game. Despite the few shortcomings, Ninja Commando is still a solid game play experience that's as much fun to play now as it ever was.
The visuals in Ninja Commando are pretty much like most other arcade titles from the 16-bit era. There are some areas in the game that look better than others, but for the most part it's pretty standard visual fare. The bosses in the game are the graphical high point and are very detailed and colorful in their construction. Even their animations are very well executed and show that the Neo Geo has some serious graphics power under the hood when it's used correctly, even in some of these early generation titles. The good news is that the game tends to get better looking the further into it you get, so there's at least a good reason to keep playing the game.
The musical score in Ninja Commando is basically all over the map. There are some levels that feature really catchy tunes and then there are a few that you'd just as soon turn the sound completely off while you're playing. The sound effects are about the same. The character voices aren't terribly realistic and sometimes they don't even play at all. There are many times when various sound effects will just inadvertently cut out completely. As strange as this is, it's not something that really takes anything away from the overall experience since you'll likely be concentrating on the action at hand instead of wondering why your character didn't scream out in agony the last time you died.
If you're an overhead shooter fan or like to relive the classic arcade shooting games, Ninja Commando is a game you'll likely want to consider picking up for the Virtual Console. It's a solid game and is challenging enough to keep you coming back for more. The game is a bit on the short side, but it's a lot of fun while it lasts. It's not quite on par with the likes of Ikari Warriors or Contra, but it still features enough unique game play to be considered yet another worthy Neo Geo Virtual Console release.