Outnumbered and outgunned, the player controls commando Joseph "Super Joe" Gibson. His job is to blast his way through levels filled with paramilitary scum and save the hostages, using only a few grenades and his trusty rifle. Some will run at Joe, guns blazing, while others will be smart enough to hide from him. The maps are varied with trees, rivers, and bridges, and grenades can be found scattered around the map.
Beating the main sequence will loop the game back around to the beginning in the style of the classic Arcade.
The NES version of Commando contains several secret rooms that weren't found in the Arcade original. It was the first Capcom NES conversion that they themselves performed, rather than giving it to developers-for-hire Micronics to handle as had been the case with their previous NES games. As such, the NES version of Commando might be seen as Capcom's first foray into console game development.
The Atari 7800 version was produced by Sculptured Software under license from Data East USA. It contains weapon power-ups, such as a rapid-fire rifle.
The Commodore 64 version features different music by Rob Hubbard. The C64 music was later referenced in a track on the Bionic Commando Rearmed soundtrack. A hacker group known as DSE produced a bootleg sequel (which they called "Commando: The Second Version") by hacking new levels into the game.
A modified version of the game was released in West German arcades under the name "Space Invasion." Enemies were replaced with robots to comply with local law. Similar modifications would be made for home computer versions released in the same country, including Commodore 64, BBC Micro, Amstrad, and ZX Spectrum.