There are really three types of games: those that create a new experience, those that imitate these games, and rereleases of memorable games of the past. Cobra Command clearly falls in the latter category, but in such a way that makes it stand out from the attack of the clones. Instead of merely pushing out a carbon copy of the Sega CD version (the only home version released until now), it went straight back to the source, the arcade original, and added fun new iPhone-specific gimmicks to make a game 25 years old feel new again.
Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair come from the same school, full motion video Laserdisc games, but Cobra Command manages to differentiate itself by being more than one big quick-time event. Other games have you play through the bulk of the stages in random order, but other than mirroring the image, they always played out the same way. Cobra Command is certainly linear, but for being little more than an interactive cartoon, it features a great deal more action and, thus, interaction.
Destroy machinery just like a Joe.
Taking flight in your helicopter, you fly through ten cities and locations ranging from New York City to Easter Island and the Himalayas, shooting down enemies with an arsenal of guns and missiles. This is in addition to the button presses or device tilts to hurl your helicopter in the desired direction, keeping you from crashing and burning according to scripted sequences. Your mission never changes, and the same enemies always appear, but with multiple targets often on the screen at once, you do get to choose the order in which you shoot them down.
What makes the game particularly impressive is how all this takes place in a seamless experience. Transitions between animated scenes move along without any visible hitch. Watching helicopters that you shot down explode in beautiful, hand-drawn animation looks fantastic and is perfectly overlaid against the scrolling backgrounds. What you end up with feels more than ever like a Saturday morning cartoon that you are actively directing. The animation isn’t on par with the unique style and set pieces of Don Bluth’s aforementioned games, but the gritty anime style fits the theme so well that you won’t care.
Avoid wiping out landmarks.
The only problem is really the same that we had with Space Ace, and that’s the lack of viable replayability. Most of us who grew up in the 80s remember Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair because they were either more prevalent in arcades or more readily available via home releases throughout the years. Bluth’s animation is also so distinct that it makes them immediately recognizable. This being the case, it was much easier to form a nostalgic bond with these games that keeps us coming back to them well after we’ve saved the princess numerous times.
Cobra Command lacks some of that charm, but is ultimately more of a game than the others. You might not find yourself returning for the nostalgia as much as you will for the experience that it offers. It’s not often that we can play a game like this and forget that it’s a cartoon over which we have such limited control. The motion of the helicopters, the sweeping vistas, and constant action are engaging, beautiful, and fun. You owe it to yourself to experience a classic, probably for the first time, in its finest presentation in more than two decades.