I’m pretty sure that if I say Bionic Commando, it won’t ring any bells in your minds. Probably because this game is old, older than even Commander Keen and his rickety pogo stick. It’s as ancient as the Mario Bros series.
To be honest, I think Bionic Commando developed the ancestral alpha-male model which Duke Nukem went on to copy. Before having balls translated in styling your blonde hair, wearing sunglasses at night and throwing hunk lines, virility had more to do with… a bionic arm. And Captain Nathan "Rad" Spencer, the bearer of this arm, was the same ol’ hero, ready to save the world from anarchy.
Well, Rad had his own stylish way for doing things. It may have been because he suffered from a hereditary atrophy of his lower limbs, or because he chose to defy Divinity at some point. Thing is, this character could not jump, not even as high as a Guinea Pig. Still, if his feet were a monument of laziness, his arms were his skillful and dependable best friends.
His right opposable thumb would never let go of the trigger, while his left arm had been delicately amputated in favor of a portable crane. A hands-free crane, as it were. And when facing such a tough hero, the enemies had to be just as tough. Rad has to stop a circus-like neo-Nazi group whose sole purpose is to resurrect their spiritual leader, none other than “Little Prince” Hitler.
The first step in this clash is to save agent Super Joe from the Nazi’s clutches. Then, the player can go about twisting their evil plans. The story also includes a minimalistic romantic plot, through the charming gal piloting Spencer’s helicopter throughout the missions.
2D + 3D = 2.5D
The artistic touch is acid enough to revive your senses. The graphics engine is more than what I would have expected from a retro platformer. It builds up a deceiving 2D world, only to betray its rendering capabilities with impressive cut scenes, dynamic shadows and particle effects. The twisted world atmosphere is rounded up with colorful textures and a visual style which reminds us of old comic books. Even dialogues have a cheesy air to them; for example, see Rad trying to have a conversation with a buggy military robot.
The music, which can be described as a NES beep remix reminding of the beat generation, makes you dance around the house and with such good overall sound quality, the only thing I could ask more from Rearmed would be voice-overs for the dialogues.
I also admire GRIN for succeeding in carving out the good parts of the game’s predecessor while eliminating or transforming those that were hindering the gameplay. For example, the lives system had been thrown aside. If Rad dies three times in a row, he will only have to restart the level.
The enemy AI has also been improved, a direct result being the fact that even the average Nazi-boy knows how to take cover. And speaking of Nazi forces, they now include diversified enemies, ranging from skinny engineers that control floating mines to tanks that explode into smaller tanks when destroyed.
But Rad doesn’t use his mechanized arm only to bypass obstacles he cannot jump over. He can also use it to reflect projectiles, destroy guided missiles, use barrels as shields and, with the suitable power-ups, to throw his enemies around.
Even bosses encourage the use of this bionic gauntlet, because they are impossible to destroy with conventional weapons. The word-play that takes place before the actual battles, as well as figuring out how to take these enemies down make the boss-sequences the best thing the game has to offer.
It’s a pity that the developer’s imagination dies off half-way through the experience though, since the unique bosses start repeating, as if touched by a copy paste syndrome. They are only, supposedly, tougher.
Unlike in the predecessor, Rad carries his whole arsenal around and the player no longer has to restart the mission in order to customize his “hardware”. We also get to try new toys: besides the trustful rocket launcher or shotgun, our hero now boasts a ray gun which bounces off walls.
Bionic Commando: Rearmed is as simple as it is complex. The levels teem with mini-games through which Rad can obtain access to the enemy’s database and extract intelligence. Using the helicopter around the world map is risky, and can wind up fighting various patrols. Unfortunately, these sequences, which consist of destroying the enemy anti-air cannon each and every time, are far too repetitive and could have been safely ignored by the producers.
The new Bionic Commando also features an encyclopedia of the enemies, objects and zones that Rad visits throughout the game. And, if you find the story too bland, you can try-out the Challenge missions, which make maximum use of the mechanized arm.
And although they’re fun, these missions point out some flaws that Rad’s hook has. At times, it proves hard to get a grip of the surrounding environment, because it’s difficult to aim your bionic arm forward. At other times, you fail to properly calculate the necessary momentum when jumping, and you end up in the nearby spike pit.
The most welcome novelty is probably the multiplayer mode. Firstly, you can play the story in Co-op mode, where the enemy AI actually adjusts to properly maintain the level of challenge. What I liked most about this mode was the smart use of the camera. Up to a point, it will back out to show both characters and when this becomes impossible, it will switch to split-screen.
Secondly, Bionic Commando offers competitive multiplayer as well. Up to four characters can go at each other in DeathMatch and Last Man Standing modes. You can also choose the Don’t Touch the Floor mode, where players are actually invincible and must be pushed off the ramps to die. Unfortunately, multiplayer is only Hot-Seat, so you’ll have to get additional controllers if you plan to throw a bionic party with your friends.
For its current price, Bionic Commando: Rearmed is close to a free lunch. But although I can sense that a lot of soul and good taste have been poured into the game, I cannot shake the feeling that its sole purpose was to promote the future Bionic Commando, which will attack our PCs and consoles in 2009.