Sunday, August 17, 2008

Go Go Bionic... The Bionic Commando Rearmed Review

After 20 years of waiting and begging, the Bionic Commando franchise is coming back in a big way. This is all in part of Capcom's remake renaissance with such games like Street Fighter IV, Mega Man 9, and 1942: Joint Strike. Bionic Commando Rearmed is the official console remake for the NES version of Bionic Commando with some tweaks and additions (Yeah, it was sort of remade on the Game Boy). If you don't remember, Bionic Commando was truly an innovative game for its time revolving a grappling hook and no jumping at all. Even its crazy story is still as memorable as it was in the late 1980s. Developers should take note of Rearmed because this is how a remake to a 2D game is truly done. Grin has definitely made Bionic Commando awesome again with Rearmed and the upcoming sequel for hardcore fans and even newcomers who never played the original like me.

The story of Rearmed is the same as the original. Your goal as Nathan "Radd" Spencer is to rescue Super Joe from the Imperials and eliminate their leader, Master D (or Hitler if you want to call him that). The game is structured in an overworld map full of areas to swing around defeating bosses and obtaining more weapons along with FSA camps for more items required for the trip. Some areas require certain items to go through as it is not an linear approach as you can back and play the same levels again if you missed any secrets or going for certain achievements. Also in the map, there are trucks that drive around and if you bump into them, you initiate a top-down shooter sequence set in the desert, snow, or the jungle taking down soldiers and big turrets. These break away from the normal action well, but be prepared to do these a lot if you're going back and forth in the map. Absent in the NES version is a new final area (in the Game Boy remakes), the Albatross, which is an airship containing the "Ultimate Weapon" that the Imperials would use to destroy everything.

The original Bionic Commando was one of the hardest games for the NES. Rearmed is slightly more forgiving, but still a difficult game especially for newcomers. The grappling gameplay is still as awesome as it was back in the day with great execution. You get a sense of satisfaction of swinging through a difficult section after dying multiple times, but the frustration does kick in since some moments in the game especially in the final areas require perfect timing. The controls also factor in the frustration as well as there will be some times that either the left stick or d-pad didn't perform the right direction you wanted it to which would likely lead to deaths. Despite that, the game controls beautifully with the shooting and swinging. The combat got significantly better as you can switch weapons at any time instead of stacking from the original. Sure, you can still rely on the Bazooka especially against bosses, but other weapons like the shotgun, vector cannon, and the machine gun still can put the hurt on the Imperials. The lives system is changed to be more forgiving as you start with three lives at an area and if you lose all of them, you just start over at that area from the beginning, which is not bad considering most of the areas except the Albatross are pretty short at times. On harder difficulties, the enemy's A.I. improves drastically for a even difficult game as they fire shots more frequently, go to cover faster, and you receive more damage for getting hit.

The boss battles in Rearmed are also still as great as they were from the original even though you face most of them twice with the second time being a different twist to the fight. The communication rooms also return along with the hacking mini-game of controlling a ball to its goal of the green box. These mini-games are not that really difficult, which add a puzzle element to the game. After they're hacked, you get to hear what enemy soldiers say about the boss of the level you hacked it from or other things. The dialogue in this game is way better than the original in terms of translation, but Rearmed does make fun of the original's translation during the cutscenes which is a nice touch if you played the original to death.

Other than the main game, Bionic Commando Rearmed has other modes to challenge the player along with multiplayer modes. The Challenge Mode is basically a whole bunch of obstacle courses that will test your grappling skills. These challenges start easy, but get way harder as you progress through them requiring perfect timing and skill. Leaderboards keep track of your times doing these courses along with the main game's completion and stage times / scores. Another of Rearmed's cool features is local co-op for two players through the main game. Grin handled the co-op well increasing the bosses' A.I. requiring some teamwork, being fast-paced, and it goes to splitscreen if you and your partner are far from each other. The splitscreen could be handled better in the top-down sections, but it is tolerable. The competitve multiplayer that is meant for a party atmosphere as Grin pointed out is also a nice distraction from everything else as up to four players can play deathmatches and an unique mode as the only way to kill your competition is making them fall to a bottomless pit. It would have been cool if both the co-op and the multiplayer are both online, but it is understandable.

Graphically, Bionic Commando Rearmed is one of the better looking downloadable games on Xbox Live Arcade. Everything has been redone from the original with new art and animations from the characters and enemies. There is at least some balance of the environments between indoor and outdoor even though there will be more indoor areas in the last half of the game. The swinging animations and explosions look great too. The only flaw with the graphics are that there is screen tearing in some levels. Capcom and Grin definitely kept the presentation as old school (8-bit) as they can specifically with the sound. The remixed soundtrack is arguably the best soundtrack I heard for a 2D remake or one of the best soundtracks for a downloadable game. It definitely feels old-school with 8-bit sounds, but still modernized with the electronica for the current generation and good thing Capcom decided to sell this soundtrack on iTunes because it is amazing. The other sound effects also sound great too with the weapons, grappling, and the minimal voice acting.

Bionic Commando Rearmed is an amazing old-school game just like the original. It is fully faithful to the NES game along with the tweaks and additions for people who never played Bionic Commando. It is still as hard as it was in the 80s, but a little more forgiving with the health meter and the tweaked lives system. There are plenty of secrets to be found to increase the replay value for the main game along with leaderboards, achievements, and harder difficulties that change the game drastically. Challenge Mode is a great idea that utilizes the swinging mechanic through difficult obstacle courses. The co-op and multiplayer are also nice additions even though it is not online. The graphics have been completely redone for the current generation (feels almost 2.5D), an amazing remixed soundtrack, and unlockable content for the 3D Bionic Commando makes the package more complete. For ten bucks (800 Microsoft Points), you get a lot of game in it which is surprising and almost a steal. Despite some minor flaws, everything else that is good outshines them. Bionic Commando is officially back and here to stay for a while.

Score = 9.5/10

  • Main game is still amazing as it was in the original with the satisfying conclusion.
  • The swinging mechanic is very satisfying especially during difficult sections.
  • Challenge mode is a great idea of utilizing your swinging skills.
  • Co-op and competitive multiplayer are fun additions to the full package.
  • Lots of replay value trying to unlock secrets and content for the upcoming 3D game.
  • Controls can be frustrating at times.
  • Co-op and multiplayer not online
  • Some screen tearing that is very noticeable in some levels.
  • Might be too hard for newcomers.

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