First...A Little History
Now, I don't know about you, but 'round my hood the original Bionic Commando
for NES was a bit of a hit or miss with the gamer crowd. Mostly miss. Seems a lotta folks couldn't quite wrap their heads around a concept that wasn't as simple as their Marios and Contras where you jumped on everything or simply blasted everything into oblivion. Bionic Commando
was some kind of new hoodoo witchery magic that seemed to just escape everyone but only a couple of us.
When you took away their jump button, they panicked, pissed their pants, and passed out with that "deer in the headlights" look still on their face, gamepad still clenched tightly in their hand. Run n' gun had turned into swing n' shoot and those of us that "got it" found ourselves as sort of the circus freaks of the neighborhood on display. The ones who didn't like the game would watch us gracefully swing over dangerous spiked pits and land on the other side completely unharmed only to follow up our feats of grace with acts of brutality, taking out an entire line of soldiers with one rocket launcher blast. We made it look good. Oh yes, we made it look good.
Not that it was really hard to look good, mind you. The Bionic Arm was a whole new approach to the platformer. Taking away the player's jump button back then, in the heat of Mario Mania no less, took some balls. Instead of the tried and true jump on top of enemies/jump over bullets approach, the Bionic Arm was a device the player used to latch onto platforms and swing or pull themselves in the direction that they needed to go in order to advance. As the game wore on, one had to get more and more creative with use of the new toy. The Bionic Arm introduced a finesse and precision to platforming that really just hadn't been there before.
This whole idea could have easily ended up being complete and utter shite. It turned out that there was little need to fear however, as our gracious captain Capcom was at the helm and had crafted this "gimmick" to nigh-perfection. The Bionic Arm was a whole new way to play the platformer in our eyes, and there was a bit of a learning curve to it. The learning curve and complete gutting of one's idea of what a platformer should be were usually enough to scare most newcomers away back then, but probably the biggest issue was that the game didn't really ease you into the experience very well. This was back before in-game tutorials became the norm, so the player was immediately parachuted into
the game's first area and basically told the figure it out. It starts out easy enough, but once you
hit the inside area, the game has already started playing for keeps, assaulting the player from all sides and asking for a little bit of fancy work with the Bionic Arm. The difficulty simply does not let up from here and ramps up considerably with each new area. It's easy to see why a lot of people shyed away from it or just outright rejected it for being both different and difficult.
Between all the swingin' n' shootin' and cussin' there was also a barebones level-up system which allowed the player to extend their life gauge by collecting power capsules from fallen enemies. Adding points to your lifebar and scoring almost unlimited continues from the convoy stages (I didn't even realize this one until playing it again for this review...) you were always able to keep up with the game's difficulty. It was also a good deal of fun unlocking new items and weapons
One of the game's only real shortcomings stems from the fact that some Bionic Arm swinging does feel wonky. Somtimes it feels like the only way to successfully advance is by sorta glitching yourself through walls by bumping into them and quickly using your Bionic Arm to pull yourself THROUGH them. Just another way you can look cool in front of your friends, right? Another issue is that the bosses aren't particularly interesting or all that challenging when compared to the effort it takes to get to them. There's one or two that'll completely fuck your day up, but the stages are the true bosses here.
Mix the fun one can have with their new Bionic Arm around with the game's hugely colorful palette, classic and easily hummable tunes, and brilliant stage design and you've got a hell of an NES classic. For a game that's just over 20 years old, it honestly doesn't feel like it's aged much to me at all. Playing through it again even now the game still feels as fresh as ever.
- Okay, half a sock off because a couple bosses are just bullshit.
There was also an interesting version of Bionic Commando
released on the old GameBoy/GameBoy Color, but that's a story for another time...
20 YEARS LATER...
"I'm in one of those crucial swing states."