Bionic Commando for the Nintendo Entertainment System was a "cult favorite" known for its use of the player's bionic arm to swing across gaps and not a jump button like most other side-scrolling platformers. Twenty years later, a completely revamped version called Bionic Commando: Rearmed comes to the 360 on Live Arcade.
PI PI PI... We have found an intruder...Gameplay - 9.5
As Nathan "Rad" Spencer, you are sent to rescue Super Joe from the evil Badds who have not only captured him but are building a powerful new weapon called the Albatross.
You could almost call Bionic Commando: Rearmed a direct port. But you would be wrong.
The original game's bionic arm mechanic is there. The maps are essentially the same. You communicate with command and hack into the enemies' communication. You fight mostly the same enemies. It has the same "explosive" ending.
However, here's what was added:
- You carry all the weapons you have collected at all times.
- New weapon types
- You can drop grenades on enemies from above.
- Pick up and throw barrels
- Pick up and throw enemies (essentially the same as pushing them with your arm in the original, but much cooler)
- New enemy types
- You must complete a minigame in order to hack into enemy communications
and most importantly...
- New bosses that require more skill and use of both your bionic arm and your weapons
Overall, the game flows much like the NES version. Carefully swinging around while shooting enemies and avoiding traps. Mastery of your bionic arm is the only way to survive. In fact, the word that most often comes to mind when thinking about the NES version or BC: Rearmed is "precision". If you are not precise with how you grab platforms, swing, let go, and catch yourself you will surely die many, many times.
Weapons come along at nice intervals. You get the shotgun and bazooka fairly early but the later weapons are also very handy. One new one is the Vector Cannon which shoots a laser at a 45 degree angle then bounces off the next couple surfaces it hits.
The new enemy types really provide challenges the original Bionic Commando did not have. One of them is the Fly Droid Operator, a person who controls robotic bombs that float around near him and try to detonate near you. Several times I have been swinging around trying to not make a mistake and one of these Fly Droids surprises me.
Some boss battles are hated (Tartarus, anyone); some boss battles are loved (Ganon). In the NES Bionic Commando, the bosses were fairly easy and almost always quickly beaten. Not so, in Bionic Commando: Rearmed. Starting from the very first level you must begin to master the use of your arm and the weapons you have available to succeed. The first boss (the D-1 Beetle) is a large spherical robot that floats around using thrusters. It is revealed when you hack the enemy communications that it has a weak point in its hull. One problem: when you get there you realize it switches between the bottom and top of the robot, neither of which can you reach with your weapons. But wait, there are barrels on the left side of the room. If you pick those up with your arm and toss them just right, you can hit that weak point. Each boss has a unique way to destroy it that you must figure out. The team at GRIN worked very hard to make sure the bosses were challenging and took advantage of the unique gameplay mechanics.
My one gripe is actually the controls and it is very minor. At certain times, shooting your arm straight out while standing still is necessary, one of which is during a boss battle. It happens automatically when you are crouching but the default is diagonally up when you are standing. Pushing the analog stick diagonally down seems to be the only way to pull off a standing forward arm projection. This is tough to do in the middle of a battle and I have fallen off a ledge several times due to walking forward when I did not want to.Visuals - 10
Forget 2.5D, Bionic Commando: Rearmed is a 2D platformer in a 3D world. That's right - its just a very narrow 3D environment. The barrels, enemies, they're all 3D models.
Since BC: Rearmed was totally rebuilt from scratch (read: not a port), GRIN had the opportunity to take the classic art and bring it up-to-date. Each character and model had to look good as a 3D model but also stand out from the background just like in then 8-bit version. Rad's outfit really stands out - he's definitely not your typical soldier. Each gun has to look unique enough that they are discernible when he is fairly small on the screen.
Not only is the area of play totally remodeled but the backdrops give more detail about where you are. The rich colors, the explosion and smoke effects and the 3D look and feel make the game that much more engrossing.Sound - 10
I get to take a hiatus from hammering XBLA games on the sound design with this one. The bullets firing, the explosions, even the enemies shouting and moaning in pain really bring you into the game. Again, GRIN totally redid all of the sound - it is not simply a resampling of the old.
The real highlight in the sound department is the music. The NES game's music was honored for its definite militaristic feel and punchy melodies. The theme for Area 1, in particular, has been popular with 8-bit music fans and remade by the NESkimos. For Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Simon Viklund, the creative director, took the original songs and remade them with modern electronic styles. While the main theme is certainly given new life, my favorite is from Area 8 called "Power Plant". The NES version was not nearly as fun or punchy. The Rearmed version has a thumping drum track which gives it a completely different feel. Too bad its hard to play the game one-handed so I can have a glow stick in my other hand.Longevity - 8 (High)
For those of you that are pretty hardcore and have "precision", the single player game won't take very long on Medium. I mess up often enough that it takes a while. There are four difficulty levels - Easy, Medium, Hard and Super Hard. Trying your hand at one of the advanced difficulties will certainly make it more challenging.
Additionally, there are more than 60 challenge rooms - these are obstacle courses that will require precision swinging and lots of patience. I am happy just to beat some of them. Moving up the time leaderboards or doing each one fast enough to earn 5 stars is where the challenge really comes in though. Shaving a second off your time can be very rewarding.
There is multiplayer: 2-player co-op and a 4-player battle mode. Only problem is that multiplayer is local only. These days it really should be something that the devs plan early on but GRIN claims it was something that they tried late in the development process and found it to be quite fun. The networking code was going to take too long so they made it local only. One wonders if it was a 360 exclusive (not a 360, PS3, PC simultaneous release) , if bringing it online would have been simpler. I did get to play both modes with my brother when he was over at the house. We were having so much fun that he almost stayed too late to greet the guests showing up at his house that night. Learning Curve - 8 (Easy)
Bionic Commando: Rearmed features a tutorial which teaches you all the ways to use your bionic arm. As long as players take advantage of this tutorial, the first few levels shouldn't be too hard. After that the difficulty level and precision needed ramp up significantly. My strong recommendation is when you start to have trouble, go and do as many of the challenge rooms as you can. They will really help you master the arm mechanics.
Bionic Commando: Rearmed brings the cult classic from the NES to the 360 in style. The campaign, new bosses, challenge rooms and local multiplayer help to prove that the 2D platformer can have a home on the current generation consoles. One can tell from a short session that GRIN really dedicated themselves to making Rearmed a strong remake. At 800 Microsoft Points, especially in an era of 1200 point games, Rearmed is a steal. Now get the heck out of here and buy this game, you nerd!Overall Score - 9.1