Bionic Commando Rearmed

Back in the day, the first NES game my brother and I purchased (beyond SMB and Duck Hunt, which came with the system) was Bionic Commando. To be quite honest, I have no idea what possessed us to pick that particular game. It’s not like we weren’t familiar with the other popular games of the era (i.e. Zelda, Contra, etc…), so I’m not sure what it was about that game that caught our interest, but I’m glad it did. And it turns out that it is something of a cult classic on the NES system – not a top tier title that spawned a massive franchise like Mario or Zelda, but a very well received game that had a big following.

The game was essentially a side-scrolling platformer, but the twist was that your character couldn’t jump. Instead, you’re given a bionic arm which can shoot out and latch on to stuff, allowing you to swing or climb over various obstacles. It’s amazing how lost you can feel without the ability to jump, but the core mechanic of swinging and climbing is actually pretty intuitive and once you get used to the idea, the game becomes a blast. It’s something I’ve revisited many times over the years. Not too long ago, someone decided it was time to give the game a facelift and release it on the next gen consoles. The result was Bionic Commando Rearmed. The game is technically a remake, with several key differences:

  • The graphics have been updated to modern standards. The game is still a 2d platformer, but the graphics engine is 3d and displays a lot more detail. The music has also been given a contemporary facelift. In both cases, the level design and feel of the game has been preserved, while at the same time giving the game a more modern look and feel. The music, in particular, is fantastic – so much so that Capcom has made it available for sale by itself…
  • Many of the annoyances of the NES era have been smoothed over and revised. The game automatically saves after each level, and while you’re in the level, if you die, you respawn where you were last standing (usually – there were some times I got sent back further and didn’t know why, but in any case, it’s an improvement over the original). One of the frustrating things about the original game was that you could only take one of each piece of equipment into a zone (i.e. only 1 gun, only 1 communicator, only 1 special item), but in Rearmed, you always carry everything. There are no “continues” and you don’t need to collect extra lives (at least, at the default difficulty you don’t).
  • The Boss battles have been completely revamped. There are minor similarities and some of the bosses resemble their original counterparts, but the way the boss battles work is now completely different. I could go either way on this. The new boss battles are definitely good and they can be challenging and fun, but I also enjoyed the originals. One of the things that I always thought was interesting about the original was that in some cases, you didn’t even need to defeat the boss in order to win the level – you just needed to destroy each level’s reactor to win… but that detail has been left out here. Still, the new Bosses do ensure a freshness to the game that would have been missing if the originals were simply copied.
  • The weapons have been updated, in some cases making them more powerful and also allowing for a few new ideas to make their way into the game. When combined with the ability to access all weapons during a given level, there are some interesting consequences to this variety. For instance, if you’re hanging out somewhere and you need to start swinging, you can change to the shotgun and fire off a blast that will get you swinging and allow you to jump to another area, etc…
  • The game features a couple of new modes, including something called Challenge Rooms which are unlockable obstacle courses. These start out pretty easy but quickly become nigh impossible. With a lot of practice and lightning fast reflexes and muscle memory, you’ll be able to get far, but man, these things get hard. There are 56 rooms in total (plus some bonus rooms), but by the time you get to the 10th or 11th room, you’ll be hurting, and it doesn’t get any easier from there. There’s also apparently a cooperative mode where two players can play through the game, but I haven’t tried that part yet…
  • There are a ton of secrets and weapon upgrades, etc… in the game. In some cases, these are fun to find, in others, I have to wonder how anyone would find them without some sort of walkthrough.

There are lots of other changes, but overall these updates to the game are for the best. The developer, Grin, managed to keep the essence of what made the original great, while jettisoning the stuff that is no longer necessary. The result is a game that retains the feel of its predecessor while still carving out an identity of its own. This isn’t a point for point, near identical remake, which ends up being a good thing.

Interestingly enough, the thing that struck me the most about this game is that it represented the return of sweaty palms to gaming for me. I haven’t had that sort of feeling for many years and definitely not on this latest generation of consoles. Given my predilection for cheating, I have to wonder how much I’d like this game if I wasn’t already in love with the original, but in any case, I think I can recommend the game. It should be available for download on XBLA or PSN for a paltry $5-10 (it sometimes goes on sale).

Update: Check out these comparison videos to see the similarities and differences in action. I swear, the transitions between the two different music styles are sometimes seamless, which is pretty amazing (though it’s annoying that they play so much of the Rearmed soundtrack over the original game visuals).