Bionic Commando
by Polly

HERE IT COOOOMES! FROM THE BOB BARKER STUDIO AT CBS IN HOLLYWOOD, TELEVISION'S MOST EXCITING HOUR OF FANTASTIC PRIZES! THE FABULOUS 60-MINUTE BIONIC COMMANDO ON GAMEBOY! What the fuck am I even going on about? Your guess is just as good as mine. It's just the first thing that popped into my head when I opened the text editor.

Anyway, Bionic Commando is another in a long-line of GameBoy spin-off games based on titles that originally usually appeared on the NES first. Since nobody played or cared about the original Bionic Commando arcade much, this down-sizing is a blown into the future re-imagining of the highly-acclaimed NES version. Super Joe is still the damsel desperately in need of some rescuing, and 80's cyberpunk anime Radd Spencer is the (rad enough!) dude that's gonna rescue him from the ninjas...or something. The story's quite a bit different here and some characters have been switched out, but as is typical for these kinds of games, the story is fairly inconsequential to the game experience.

What matters most is obviously the gameplay, and when constructing a game like Bionic Commando it really does need to work "just right," something I wasn't sure the GameBoy could even pull off. Well, I was wrong.

The NES version of Bionic Commando, great as it may be, had some pretty hideous flaws... Huh...."Hideous" isn't the kind of word one should use when looking back on a game they love so much... I bet this is gonna be a bit ugly... and contradictive to my own previous opinions on a game I've been playing and enjoying for well over 20 years! BRING ON THE FUN!

Anyway, the original NES game's grapple and swing mechanics weren't always spot on, which could lead to some really unfair deaths or glitching through platforms. Regardless, it was an odd play style that you had to adapt yourself to and it was pretty fun, if a bit frustrating at times. Level, enemy, and boss designs were in all actuality pretty damn bad, and progression through the game became almost stupidly obtuse at points, with no clear direction of what it wanted you to do. The very fact that you can carry the "wrong items" into a mission and have to start the whole thing over is pretty god damn bad gameplay design as well. Seriously, looking back on it now, I'd still call it an iconic classic, but god damn was it sloppy as fuck. It's a damn good thing Re-Armed came along years later and finally boosted the game up to the heights it so desperately tried to climb to all those years earlier.

So, what's all this silly contradicting myself bull pucky got anything to do with anything anyway? Well, strangely enough, this game turns out to be the better designed iteration of Bionic Commando. It's a case where Capcom looked at everything they did wrong with the original NES game and fixed damn near every bit of it.

For one, the grapple and swing mechanics just feel a lot more natural, which is very important since that's the entire base of the game. The whole action has been sped up a bit, and lining up ledges to grapple onto isn't nearly as cumbersome. I've never run into instances of needing to "glitch" my way through platforms and walls getting through certain stages because the arm just wasn't working right. In fact, this game forces the player to think a little more with how they use the Bionic Arm to get around.

This is attributed to the superior level design. Some stages in the original game felt really slopped together and really didn't make a lot of sense looking back on them now. The GameBoy iteration's stages mostly take on the form of the original game's later stages, being somewhat more maze-like, but the layouts feel much more natural despite being the drawback that created some ho-hum stages in the original. Since this is a remake, a lot of stages from the NES version see entire makeovers here and on almost every occasion they outshine the originals, sometimes by leaps and bounds. Or swings and bounds. Whatever! Boss fights and normal enemies are still a bit hit or miss, but never feel quite as lazy as they were in the past.

Finally, players will never have to restart a stage because they brought the wrong equipment. Just like the NES original, you choose your load out when you start a new mission, however at any communications room you're allowed to switch which weapon and communicator you're using from the menu. This both makes the game less of a excercise in trial and error, having to remember what communicators work where, and can also be used strategically to change the weapon you're using should you find it being a little less than effective in the stage, or if you'd rather bring something different for the boss.

After all the polishing up, what's left is essentially the same game with some different stages, wallpaper, and audio. And for a GameBoy game, what we've got here are some pretty decent visuals overall. It can't have been easy to try and design visuals around a 4 color palette and still come out with some of the nicely detailed areas and sprites this game kicks out, though the locales are all familiar and provide no real surprises. The sprite work is about on par with what you'd expect from this type of game as well, again with no real surprises. It's an adequate-looking game, with my only gripe being that forward movement feels kinda choppy. It's hard to describe, but it looks like Rad is jittering back and forth a bit as he walks. A bit distracting, but nothing to really bust the game's balls for.

The audio department holds up fairly well for a GameBoy game as well. A lot of new original tunes here and they're all pretty damn good as well as some new arranges of the older tunes. The new versions of old tunes fall a bit flat, but I feel that may be largely due to the fact that the old tunes that stick out so much are so iconic and it's really hard to pry your ears away from those. Sound effects are adequate and there's nothing here that'll get on your nerves, but I do miss that old familiar "shink" the Bionic Arm made in the original.

Overall, Bionic Commando is totally worth your time if you're a fan of the NES version of the game and I'd even recommend to those who were always turned off or just couldn't get the mechanics down. All the tuning up they did to make the game a more playable and enjoyable experience really only shows how shoddy the NES version could be at times. I mean, shit, I'm here essentially retracting almost everything I've ever said about the NES iteration for the past 20 years and it took playing through this game again right after playing the original to make me see that. To me, both are good, but this one is technically the better game. Much like Super C is better than Contra.

I still love the original NES Bionic Commando, but this one's where everything really felt like everything worked as it should.

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