Inside Pulse 12

Review: Bionic Commando Re-Armed (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Bionic Commando Re-Armed
Genre: 2D Platformer
Developer: GRIN
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 08/13/08


Bionic Commando is one of those franchises that lots of people have heard of and played that, somehow, has managed to avoid becoming an oversaturated name brand, despite the owners of said franchise being known for doing that very thing (I mean, there are like six Final Fight titles, for crying out loud). Aside from the original arcade and NES games, a Gameboy port and a Gameboy Color sequel, not a lot has been done with the franchise for whatever reason. In the absence of any additional titles to work on, however, Capcom has apparently decided the world is ready for a 3D Bionic Commando, which we should be seeing sometime next year, as well as a remake of the original game, titled Bionic Commando Re-Armed, in hopes of introducing anyone under the age of thirty to the franchise.

Now, a good many of us loved the old NES game, but it probably needs to be spelled out in advance: a lot of people are not going to understand the weird mechanics of Bionic Commando Re-Armed, because they don’t really make sense. So that you’re aware, despite being a full-on remake of a classic, this does not immediately mean that you’re going to love it, simply because a lot of the mechanics of the experience are, frankly, bizarre, and most of the bizarre mechanics from the old game have made the transition completely intact. This needs to be understood because unless you are of the correct mindset for this sort of a game, IE you’re willing to understand why the character simply cannot do certain things for example, you’re going to be put off immediately. As we go on, you’ll understand what I mean, but it needs to be said: this is not a game for everyone, even for the low price of ten dollars.

Still here? Okay, let’s begin.

The story of Bionic Commando Re-Armed more or less goes like this: you take on the role of Nathan “Rad” Spencer, the titular Bionic Commando himself, as he is sent behind enemy lines for one purpose: rescue “Super Joe”, Joe Gibson, from the hands of the enemy forces. Using your bionic arm, whatever weaponry you can acquire, and the assistance of Haley, your top-tier helicopter pilot, you will fly into enemy territory, destroy whatever needs destroying, and liberate Super Joe, and ultimately save the world. The basic story is more or less Rambo if written by the Japanese, though it’s been significantly fleshed out from the original game, both to make the experience a bit deeper than the original game and to add in some plot elements that will, presumably, play into the coming sequel. As it is, the story is very stereotypical; Spencer is a wise-cracking tough guy with a heart of gold and a tragic past, Haley is a likable partner, Super Joe is a tough-as-nails patriot, and the various bad guys are all over-confident dorks, and it all comes off in an endearing, not overly cheesy manner. For those who are wondering, yes, this game ends in EXACTLY the same way as the original game (which, if you beat it, is probably reason enough for you to play this one), yes, that’s the reason for the big M rating the game has received, yes, it is COMPLETELY awesome, and yes, while the main big bad is never expressly identified as such, he is pretty much who he is supposed to be. In short: if any of the preceding sentence made any sense, you should probably buy this on principle, and if it didn’t, well, the ending is pretty awesome, if kinda clichéd.

Bionic Commando Re-Armed is also one of the nicer looking games on the Xbox Live Arcade service; the entire experience more or less takes place on either a side-scrolling or overhead 2D plane, but everything is rendered in 3D, giving the game a suitably high-tech look that is exceptionally nice in most respects. Every one and thing is reasonably well animated, the various backgrounds are lively and nicely varied up for the most part, and in general, the overall visual feel of the experience is top-notch, which is further complimented with talking-head cutscenes of various characters featuring some VERY nice artwork thanks to Shinkiro, who you’ll either recognize as the awesome Capcom artist behind a bunch of Street Fighter art or the awesome SNK artist behind a bunch of King of Fighters art. Anyway, there’s only one notable flaw with the visuals, that being the enemies tend to look kind of generic after a while, but aside from that, Bionic Commando Re-Armed looks pretty sweet. It sounds it, too, thanks to a phenomenal soundtrack, composed by one Simon Viklund, that combines generally solid techno tracks with several remixed tunes from the original game, as well as some generally solid sound effects and a few vocal samples here and there when appropriate. There’s no actual voice acting per say in the game, though, again, there are a few voice clips that pop up here and there that, surprisingly, are a lot more effective because you aren’t expecting them, surprisingly enough.

The gameplay of Bionic Commando Re-Armed is more or less similar to the gameplay in the original Bionic Commando: you run around through 2D platforming stage after 2D platforming stage, shooting enemies, dodging bullets, vaulting chasms and fighting fearsome bosses… but with one major difference: you can’t jump. Instead, Spencer is equipped with the Bionic Arm, which, aside from being a really bizarre conversation piece, is capable of projecting a tendril of sorts in various directions, allowing you to, among other things, pull yourself onto ledges, swing across holes and chasms, and grab into ledges at the last moment to save yourself from death. This is where most of the quirks in the gameplay come from; pits where simple jumping in other platformers might save you now have to be carefully considered, as you’ll have to make all sorts of timed swings to save yourself, and one wrong swing can spell instant death (or significant loss of life) for your hero. That’s not all the arm is good for, though; you can also, among other things, deflect enemy bullets and attacks with it, pick up barrels and (with an upgrade) enemies with it for use as shields or projectiles, and use it to pull levers and move obstacles, making it an all-purpose tool that comes in handy a significant amount of the time across the various sections of the game.

You’re also offered various weapons with which to do your business, of course, and each is more interesting and useful than the last. You start out with a fairly basic pistol, but as you progress through the thirteen stages of battle, you’ll find yourself with all sorts of neat weapons, including a plasma rifle, grenades, a shotgun, and a ridiculously powerful machine gun, each with its own positive and negative points (the plasma rifle only works well against machines and shielded soldiers, the shotgun only works at close range and has wicked kick, the machine gun has hideously overpowered kick and a huge reload time, and so on), thus making them useful for different scenarios. You’ll also find various other items, ranging from flares to communication chips to body armor and beyond, and all of these items are incredibly useful and are nice additions to the product or are items that will feel welcome to old players from the original experience.

You’ll certainly need them too, as the game throws all sorts of different foes at you, from normal enemies like the standard foot soldiers, small tanks and invincible slimes, to some interesting and amusing bosses, like a giant tank with weak treads, a general who’s so armored up that you can’t possibly shoot him in the chest, and a floating robot with projectile rockets, among others. Aside from the normal side-scrolling stages, there are also overhead shooting sections, which will feel familiar to fans of old-school shooters like Commando or Ikari Warriors, though they’re shorter and serve more as a diversion than anything else. Much like in the original Bionic Commando, you’ll encounter both types of sections by traversing the overhead map, by way of your helicopter which carries you from location to location; from here, you can parachute into enemy territory, land in friendly camps for chances to collect 1Ups, intel, items and other goodies, or you can cross paths with enemy transports, throwing you into the overhead shooting sections to clear the way for your helicopter. You’ll also be given the option to do some hacking during missions to gather enemy intel, which is represented by way of puzzles that involves moving a glowing ball into a green block by bouncing it around red and blue blocks to get it there, which is an amusing diversion, if nothing else.

For those wondering about the depth of the experience, no worries; Bionic Commando Re-Armed offers plenty of bang for the buck. You’re offered three default difficulty levels as well as a fourth that’s unlocked when you complete the main game, each more challenging than the last (with the easiest difficulty offering extra blocks to make certain jumping sections easier to do, and the hardest adding in more enemies to face and upping the challenge of even the lowliest grunt enough to make the game a strong challenge). You’re also offered full offline co-op for two players (similar to how Toe Jam and Earl did things, where when both characters are on screen they share the screen, but when they separate, things go split-screen) as well as deathmatch-style offline play for up to four people at once, to get your friends in on the experience. Further, there are also all sorts of challenges to complete via VR-style challenge rooms, as well as a ton of secrets to unlock that will require some careful backtracking and bionic arm usage, some of which will actually unlock (presumably) cool stuff in the new Bionic Commando that’s coming out. In short: there’s a whole lot to do here, both in the main game and beyond, to make this well worth the money spent on it.

The one major thing that could be said bad about the experience, as noted in the beginning of this review, is that the game, as it is, manufacturers its challenge by way of its archaic design; that is to say, the game is challenging not because of how you are asked to do things, but rather because of what you are NOT capable of doing. Spencer, despite being a cybernetic super-soldier, cannot jump or aim his gun up or down, which is meant to be where a lot of the challenge comes from, by way of using the bionic arm to resolve issues. The game is meant to be mentally challenging because of this, as commonplace situations become more complex and involved than they would be in other games of this type (for instance, shooting an enemy on a platform above you in other games would amount to shooting upward or jumping and shooting, while here it amounts to using the arm to pull yourself up at the right time to shoot the foe or something similar), making it more complex than one might initially think. This is absolutely awesome for the player who wants to do this sort of thing, but it needs to be understood: this is not going to be for everyone. If you’re not readily able to accept that your character is hobbled by the design elements, and that this is part of the challenge of the experience, Bionic Commando Re-Armed is not going to be for you.

Beyond that, any other complaints about the experience are minor, at best. Getting used to the controls of the bionic arm takes a little getting used to (even beyond the tutorial levels), and while there are plenty of challenge missions to take on to properly learn the control mechanics and get them down to a science, you’ll probably need to practice for a bit to get the mechanics down entirely. The game is also a loader, with a good minute of loading before you even start playing and some noticeable load times between missions, which can disrupt the feeling of the game somewhat. It’s also kind of disappointing that the multiplayer options are offline only; while it’s certainly understandable, as multiplayer wasn’t even a consideration in the product until half-way through the development cycle, and it’s awesome that we got what we got, it’s kind of sad that the game doesn’t have online gameplay support, as that would have made a good game even better. Also, it bears noting that the hacking puzzle sequences and the overhead shooting sections aren’t terribly important to the overall experience; while the latter is a part of the original game and thus is in the remake for that reason alone, the former is all-new to this game… and really didn’t need to be. The overhead sections disrupt the flow of the game occasionally, as they’re not particularly challenging in comparison to the normal sections of the game, and while they’re often amusing, had they been omitted, they probably wouldn’t have been missed too much. The puzzles, on the other hand, simply aren’t anything exciting at all; while they’re only a mild diversion, and at higher difficulties can be pretty challenging, in all honesty, they wouldn’t have been missed, and a simple option to turn them off and miss the points they provide would have been ideal.

These complaints are generally minor, however, and for the price, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better use of your money on XBLA than Bionic Commando Re-Armed. Between the solid story, awesome visual and aural presentation, and complex and challenging gameplay, you’ll have plenty of fun with the campaign of the game, and with the multiplayer options, hidden secrets, and challenge missions, you’ll also have more than enough of a reason to come back to the game for more. The game is, unfortunately, a bit archaic in its design (which may put you off, depending on if you’re willing to overlook this or not), has a bit of a learning curve, and features elements that aren’t as great as the core game while omitting elements that would have made the experience better, but frankly, for ten dollars, the good in Bionic Commando Re-Armed far, FAR outweighs the bad. Unless you’re the sort of gamer who can’t stand old-school design elements or long loading times, there’s absolutely no reason for you to ignore Bionic Commando Re-Armed, as it’s easily the best downloadable game to come out this year on any platform, and may well remain as such for the rest of the year.

The Scores:
Story: GOOD
Graphics: CLASSIC
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: GREAT
Balance: GREAT
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: UNPARALLELED

Final Score: VERY GOOD.

Short Attention Span Summary:
So, here it is: if you are either a fan of old-school gaming experiences, do not mind odd mechanical contrivances in your games, enjoy thinking about your timed jumps more than two seconds, or just generally like platforming games, Bionic Commando Re-Armed should be instantly purchased and downloaded to your hard drive, and played until utterly defeated. It looks, sounds, and plays exactly as a fan of the original would expect, it offers plenty of play and replay options, and it goes by faster than one would expect because of how engaging it is, yet offers so many reasons to come back and play it that it makes good use of your ten dollars. If you’re not a fan of odd game contrivances creating the challenge of the experience (IE you ask “Why can’t Mega Man duck?” a lot), you might not be into the experience as much as others, and the game has something of a learning curve to it that might put more casual players off. The game also lacks any sort of online play component and features gameplay modes that aren’t quite as fun as the core gameplay, to its detriment. But frankly, the core game is utterly fantastic and more than makes up for what flaws do exist in the game, and unless the idea of being unable to jump and fire upward annoys you immensely, there’s absolutely not to buy Bionic Commando Re-Armed the first chance you get; it’s money well spent.