With overhead run 'n gun titles like Ikari Warriors and Commando snatching up large numbers of tokens in arcades, it comes as no real surprise that Sega would have to create one of their own for their Sega Master System. The game was originally released under the name "Secret Command" in Europe, where the Sega Master System was selling extremely well, and would later be brought to the US as "Rambo: First Blood II" in an effort to cash in on the success of the Rambo motion pictures.
Unfortunately, the Sega Master System was getting absolutely throttled by Nintendo's NES console in the US, so very few US gamers actually know about the game, and even fewer have actually played it. Now, over two decades later, Sega has decided to resurrect their little-known shooter on the Virtual console service. But how does a game that didn't exactly light up the sales charts during the 8-bit era fare all these years later?
The game play system in Secret Command is fairly basic. You run around the various landscapes, ranging from forests to swampland, shooting your way through the constant barrage of enemies who are trying to stop you. Your ultimate goal is to rescue the many POWs that are being held hostage and somehow reach the end of the level where you can finally escape to the next area. You can even grab another player and play the game in two-player co-op mode, which brings a bit more intensity to the overall experience.
You basically have two types of weapons to make use of. Your assault rifle will command the majority of your time since you have an unlimited amount of ammo available for it. If you feel like shaking things up a bit, you can also grab your trusty bow and fire a few explosive-tipped arrows at your enemies to make a real splash. Since you have a limited number of these grenade arrows, you'll have to grab the extra arrows that the liberated POWs will toss your way as you rescue them. You'll definitely want to keep a steady supply of these arrows in your arsenal if you expect to make it through some of the later stages in the game where enemy attacks become more hectic and frequent.
The control is smooth in Secret Command, albeit a bit on the slow-paced side. You have to remember that this is an 8-bit title so it's best to keep your expectations in check. The firepower isn't quite as intense as that found in other arcade run 'n gun titles like Ikari Warriors or Commando, but there's still enough variety in the game play to keep things somewhat interesting. Think of Secret Command as a dumbed-down version of the aforementioned arcade titles and you'll have a good idea what to expect from the game. It's certainly a decent 8-bit shooter title, but nothing to get overly excited about it.
The visuals in Secret Command are actually pretty solid considering it's a Sega Master System release. There's a lot of detail in the various landscapes you'll have to traverse, and there's also quite a bit of variety between the different areas in the game. The character and enemy animations are about what you'd expect from an 8-bit title, but in the end the game still looks better than many NES releases of the same time period, thanks to the more powerful graphical power of Sega's hardware.
The quality of the music is similar to the visuals in the game; it's good considering it's 8-bit, but the fact that the tunes are fairly short in length means they end up repeating quite often which can make them a bit annoying after long periods of play. You'll get a different track as you change areas, which helps, but in the end the music still comes off sounding quite average, even by the Master System's pretty low standards.
Secret Command is typical of the overhead run 'n gun titles of the era, but it still manages to do an adequate job of replicating some of the intensity found in many of the arcade hits that obviously influenced it. If you like a good run 'n gun shooter and don't mind the play control being a bit on the bland side, you'll probably get your money's worth out of Secret Command. It's not too shabby for the mere 500 Nintendo Points it costs and will be a nice piece of nostalgia for those who enjoyed it the first time around.