Bionic Commando: Re-Armed (feat. Bionic Commando NES)
by Polly

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...


"I'm in one of those crucial swing states."
2008: Modern gaming is boring, companies are afraid to take chances because new games are just too damned expensive to produce and perhaps take a loss on, and everyone loves Halo for some dumbfuck reason. What first-person shooter do I want to play this week? Fuck yeah, more capture the flag with the [REDACTED]s on XBOX Live! What the fuck has happened?

If it hasn't been clear that I'm VERY biased against modern gaming by now, then perhaps you should pay more attention. But this is a Bionic Commando: Re-Armed review, so rather than go on a full-on tirade about it, I'll just say that going to the store and deciding which shade of gray I wanna look at for 10-15 hours just isn't my cup of tea, thanks. Does this mean that I think Bionic Commando: Re-Armed will represent some kind of change in today's hideiously uninteresting gamescape? Not really. But it is a pretty fun and interesting distraction.

Remakes and homages really aren't anything all that surprising these days. You see it fucking everywhere. Especially movies. Hey, remakes of movies from the 70s and 80s...go fucking die. Ahem... Videogame remakes are fairly common as well, and much like their movie counterparts, tend to suck a copious amount of whale cack. The only saving grace with videogame remakes, is that we usually don't run the risk of having to see Will Smith stumble his way into another #1 at the box office as a progatonist that wasn't originally black. Fuck, is there any way to write that previous sentence and not sound racist? I just always found it weird that movie companies were trying to be edgy or jarring by doing it. Take from it whatever you will, I guess.

"I kinda preferred the helicopter dudes from the original, but this is okay too."
Bionic Commando: Re-Armed isn't a remake like those shitty "remakes" that Nintendo and Sony shit out for their respective handhelds for a quick buck (remember when they said they weren't gonna do that?). This one is more akin to those blinged out Final Fantasy III/IV re-imaginings on the DS and is both refreshing and old-school as Contra 4 and NEW Super Mario Bros. It takes a game that didn't really even need any new life breathed into it, and brings it into the new generation of gaming giving it an amazing graphical facelift, kick-ass fucking soundtrack, the same great gameplay you loved from before, and loads of new content not featured in the original game.

You don't even need me to tell you how gorgeous this game is. Go ahead and click those images for some higher-res versions. I only wish I could demonstrate the game in full-motion as the game looks just as amazing in motion as it does in stills (which is really rare). All your favorite and colorful environments from the NES original are here and beefed up in a huge way. The detail and backgrounds' use of color are right on par with any of the ultra-pretty games you'll find released today. If you watch the backgrounds, you'll even notice little nods to some of the original game's (and Mega Man) graphics as well in the form of posters and graffiti. Explosions and gunfire are also a really fun highlight here featuring an abundance of lighting and particle effects that help the backgrounds pop out even more and give the entire game a few more points on the zazz factor. Though a bit on the small side, all of the normal 3D models including our boy Rad look very nice and enemies come with a good deal of reaction and attack animations that make them look both realistic and goofy at the same time. Many of the game's huge bosses also deserve special mention as well as they certainly come packing the looks that backup just how mean they can play sometimes. It's not surprising in the least that this game looks as good as it does given today's technology, so I don't even know why I wrote this much about it.

"The overhead "Meet with enemy and descend" stages are still here. No free continues though :("
I'm rarely ever one to go out and buy videogame soundtracks, but Bionic Commando: Re-armed's delightful selection of tunes certainly called out to me and was worth the $12. Your ears are treated to brilliantly re-imagined versions of the older game's themes, but with a new heavy drum n' bass twist. On top of that, actual bits and pieces from the old chiptunes are sampled heavily to help drive home that "it's new, but it's still old" feeling the whole package seems to be going for. I dare you to try and get Heat Wave out of your head after going through any of the stages featuring it. Sound effects help round everything out with weapons and explosions all sounding quite awesome being chock full of low end, and the Bionic Arm having very distinctive launching and grappling sound effects. Crank it up, bitches.

If you've played the original, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to just dive right in head-first and and get your swing on. Other than some tweaks to bring the game into the new generation, it's essentially the same game you already know (and should) love. Smoothing out the issue with the learning curve is a very extensive and optional tutorial that can be played right from the main menu. You'll be flying through the air with the greatest of ease in no time after around 20 minutes of playing around with the Bionic Arm.

The addition of a lifebar should also help out a bit. You're not just plopped into the first area with a "one shot and you're dead" move like the NES. I personally feel this takes a bit of the work out of the equation as collecting capsules and building your lifebar in the original gave you a feeling of getting more bad ass the longer it got. Not enough to really count as a gripe, and on the higher difficulties two hits are usually enough to put you under anyway.

Other useful tweaks are quite welcome. You now have the ability to select what weapon you wish to use on the fly as opposed to the original's "pick one and you're stuck with it" loadout system. This is especially helpful with the communicators, as all your hard work won't have to be reset and tried again if you happened to bring the wrong one. It's all automatic now, but you still have to find the communicators before accessing the terminals they're for. Convenience is bliss!

"The upgraded boots kick enemies around! They're nice n' toasty!"
The ol' Communication and Wire-Tapping are back at checkpoint computers as well. One must visit these checkpoints when going through an area to open the various doors required to advance through a stage. Communicating with your fellow officers with these terminals usually isn't all that helpful, but hacking enemy communications is usually always a humourous affair with nicely written and campy dialog that'll both make you laugh and provide information on upcoming bosses. Hacking isn't simply a matter of just having the right communicator anymore. You now play a brief mini-game where your object is to guide a ball through a maze of blocks to the goal within a time limit. The catch is that the game is 3D and you rotate the entire cube around your ball to line up where you need to push the ball next. A simple little distraction that never really gets to be too difficult or ever feels in the way.

All of the weapons from the original game have been completely overhauled and there are even a couple surprises. Especially fun to play with are the new shotgun and grenades. I can never get tired of unloading with the shotgun into a crowd of soldiers and watching them all go flying off the stage. The sound effects are also quite satisfying. Grenades are handy for trying to flush enemies out of cover or just being a complete dick and dropping one down behind a dude and watching it go off. An even cooler feature is the ability to find upgrades to your weapons that give them some extra oomph. Finding these upgrades typically involves a lot of fancy Arm work and definitely gives players always looking for more something to do. Upgrading your weapons is never necessary to finish the game, though, so no big deal if you don't wanna pull your hair out trying some of those insane swinging n' shooting puzzlers.

All of the original stages are here and for the most part look and play exactly as you remembered them. Only minor tweaks have been made here and there in the form of collapsable walls and new paths that make room for the new power-ups and other secrets just waiting to be unlocked. It's fairly easy for any OB (Original Bionicer) to pick up and find their way through these stages.

"Vroom, vroom! :)"
The big surprise comes when you run into the new bosses. Yep, Grin said to hell with all the original bosses because they were all for the most part kinda crappy, and remade them all from the ground up with entirely new ideas in mind. Whereas most of the bosses in the original game were straightforward "shoot 'till it's dead" ventures, these new and improved bosses come with entirely new challenges, each one asking the player to think outside the box a little and use the Bionic Arm in some rather inventive ways. The only real downside is that just like the original game, a few of them get reused for later stages only they've been upgraded a tiny bit and may have a new nasty surprise for ya.

The Bionic Arm is really given its true chance to shine in this revisioning of the NES classic. You can now pull barrels toward you and carry them to block enemy fire, unscrew bolts on special doors that sometimes open hidden passages, grab enemy soldiers and use them to bowl over their buddies (after a forced upgrade for completing a stage) and even deflect enemy bullets. The latter of these features is ESPECIALLY crucial to learn if you plan on attacking any of the game's difficulties above normal. Once you hit those, the Bionic Arm is your greatest defensive tool as you'll be asked to deflect shots on a constant basis in order to stay alive.

"Challenge rooms...SON OF A FUCK ME!"
So, as you can see, even though the original game was fairly huge (especially for a 1988 game), this remake managed to make it even bigger. Even when you're finished with the main campaign, you can then tackle the unlockable Challenge Rooms. Fans of the swing mechanic or those just looking to beef up their skills and impress all those chicks that think guys who can swing like a motherfucker in Bionic Commando: Re-Armed are hot are in for a treat. There's well over 50 of these challenges and they range from quite simple to shouting "SON OF A FUCK ME" at 4:30am as you begin your 119th attempt of the same room. They really do offer quite a sense of accomplishment once you've mastered them and you can actually feel yourself getting better and better at figuring them out and executing them with fewer and fewer attmepts.

There's more than enough to this package to keep the old and cranky ones like me happy and the newbies alike. It has the benefit of being both challenging AND accessable thanks to balanced difficulties and the fresh coat of paint and extra bling don't exactly hurt either. And let's be fucking honest for a second. All this game has to offer for a mere $10 on XBLA, PSN and $15 for PC is seriously not too much to ask. Bionic Commando: Re-Armed is one of the greatest remakes ever and should be a loud and clear message to all companies who wanna try and cash in on an older license. Fucking do it right. The only shitty part is that Capcom is reportedly using the sales of this game vs Mega Man 9 to determine how they'll do games like these in the future, so there's a very shitty (and completely unfair) chance that BC: R may very well be the last of its kind.

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