Although recently we've begun to see some more mature strategy games for the Nintendo system, there's never been a good tactical war game available in Nintendo format. There still isn't, but Desert Commander is at least a step in the right direction. If you can live with its irritating little quirks and limitations, it's fun to play.
Desert Commander is set in North Africa during the 1942 desert campaigns of World War II.
This one- or two-player game consists of five battles in which you are often outnumbered by your computer or human opponent. You can alter the makeup of your army by adding certain types of weapons, but this always subtracts a like amount of other kinds of weapons. Once the campaign begins, you position your forces on the battlefield, and the enemy positions his. When your armies make contact, you fight it out. There are two ways to win: You can wipe out the enemy, or capture his headquarters. Even when you're badly outnumbered, a flank attack or rapid thrust with your fastest tanks can still salvage a victory.
During combat, the screen divides in half and shows a cartoonlike representation of the battle. Afterward, losses are displayed. Desert Commander could be significantly improved if these screens contained more realism and movement.
The game suffers from other drawbacks as well. Friendly units cannot pass through one another, which greatly hampers your maneuverability. The combat is sequential (one side fires, then the other replies), so whoever shoots first has an unreal advantage — unsupported infantry can massacre tanks! You can get away with other absurd tactics, too, such as attacking bombers with supply trucks. And the combat statistics on the final screen are so mysteriously worded that they're practically incomprehensible.
On the other hand, the importance of supply and the effect of terrain on movement are nicely simulated. In short: Desert Commander could be much better, but it's still entertaining, and it's a welcome gesture toward more realistic war games for the Nintendo system.