Bionic Commando sits in a very special place in many a gamers' heart. It wasn't too long ago that several gamers attempted to cut their teeth on the game's incredibly technique-oriented gameplay. Bionic Commando was a game that, by removing aerial control of the player, emphasized intuition just as much as good, old fashioned manual dexterity. Throw in an overworld map that gave players a nonlinear level structure (also uncommon at the time), a quirky story and a memorable soundtrack, and it's no wonder the franchise is still respected today.
Fast forward twenty years. Swedish development studio GRIN (as well as some friends from Capcom) take up the reigns and release Bionic Commando Rearmed, an evolutionary update of the seminal first release. The game is available on the PSN as well as the 360, and as such all of the benefits of the appropriate (no trophies, unfortunately).
The overworld map has remained from the original, giving the player a bit of freedom as to how they'd like to start their game. While every area isn't open from the start, thanks to the larger budget allotted to this game, much of the text explaining where you need to go and what you need to do is largely free of broken English and at some places I would even call a bit humorous. As you tool around from place to place, your pilot will occasionally interject to give you pointers on new equipment, the mission at hand, and even some insight into the protagonist (Nathan Spencer). The interaction between the limited cast is actually fairly entertaining, but it's just a footnote to the real attraction: the platforming.
While people complained about Arthur in Ghosts and Goblins being unable to change direction in the air, this nuance has more or less made the Bionic Commando games great. The game puts you through several stages that are similar to the original Bionic Commando. There are times when this means you'll be facing a difficulty level more akin to 1988 than today. The thing to remember about Bionic Commando is that it's always been about planning your actions before you do them (something still quite uncommon, even/especially today). Once you commit to a swing/jump, you lose most of the wiggle room afforded by other games in the genre. Does this mean you're going to go careening off ledges often? Honestly yeah, if you're unfamiliar with the arm and the mechanic then it does create a pretty noticeable skill gap. Is this kind of challenge inappropriate? I would think not, as it creates a very gratifying level of risk and reward, and on top of that allows for several different levels of mastery on the players behalf.
The combat in the game has transitioned well also. Thanks to the implementation of new weapons and a few items, a health bar (as opposed to the previously used expandable health dots) and some new arm abilities the combat has become much more versatile. While some of the abilities are novelties, things like chucking grenades and using the shotgun to propel yourself whilst hanging really help make the combat more than an afterthought. The AI has come a long ways as well, doing things like jumping down from platforms to flank the player as well taking cover when it can. In fact, on higher difficulty levels the AI can be quite merciless, raining bullets and grenades upon the player with little chance of respite.
The AI, while improved, isn't the only thing given a kick into the next century in the game. Bionic Commando Rearmed is a very good looking game. The character animations are smooth and the environmental interaction is fairly fluid despite occasionally clipping into a ceiling now and again (which is not only intentional, but necessary for certain puzzles). Aurally the game succeeds as well. Occasionally reusing some of the sound effects from the previous game when appropriate, but featuring a surprisingly excellent soundtrack. Actually, the soundtrack deserves some special mention, as many of the tracks found on it are really well done; though I'm no music critic.
If there is any fault that can be found in this game it could be its difficulty. As mentioned previously, some of the puzzles found in the later areas and challenges demand pixel perfect swinging. This can mean a lot of restarting and that can be frustrating for some. There are varying difficulty levels offered, and the easiest level actually gives you additional platforms to fall back on in areas where one whiffed swing means a bit of lost progress. The game is cruel in places, and the very swing mechanic the game is based on offers little margin for error once you've left the ground. Overall, though, it's almost to be expected from a game of this particular pedigree.
The game does offer a fleshed out challenge mode for those really looking to hone their skills. After seeing some of them, this facet of the game reminds me more of a puzzle game than a platformer, and that's not a bad thing. There are over 50 challenges found throughout the main game in the civilian areas, once you activate them, you can enter them from the main menu. It's a nice addition, and for what you're paying it puts the games “content to cost” ratio well into the positive.
The multiplayer mode to the game is a fun distraction, and it's a shame that no online component was included. Surprisingly, however, there are reasons to play through the game co-op as you are treated to a few special exchanges through the course of the adventure.
Bionic Commando Rearmed is probably the best use of $10 I can think of in recent history. Tons of challenges for those willing to face them; a great single player story with the same nuanced gameplay expected of the franchise and a great soundtrack make this game incredibly appealing. If you're a fan of the franchise, or just really dig platforming, you could do a whole lot worse than Bionic Commando. You have my support.
As a final aside, I found it a bit poetic that Shinkiro, former SNK alumni and rival of Capcom's, did the character art for this game. Not a bad thing, just pretty serendipitous considering their history.
Capcom yet again proves that they are one of the few companies that knows how to resurrect a classic franchise. Twenty years may have passed between the original release and this remake, but Bionic Commando: Rearmed feels just as relevant today as it did back in the late 1980s. At a mere $10 this is one game you can't afford to ignore!
This product was submitted by the publisher for review. As a rule, Defunct Games does not review games we spent money on. However, that does not always apply to classic/retro games. This specific product, however, came straight from a PR guy for the purposes of being reviewed!