Review: Bionic Commando Rearmed 2

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Expectations for sequels generally fall into two categories. If ‘Game 1′ is poor or disappointing in any way, the expectation for ‘Game 2′ is that it simply be an improvement on everything that went wrong the last time (Two Worlds and Two Worlds II are a perfect example of this scenario). However, if ‘Game 1′ is a success with only minor things to pick at, the expectation for ‘Game 2′ then becomes a desire for more content and maybe a little extra refinement and depth in certain areas, but nothing that breaks the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule.

The latter category is where I expected Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 to fall. After all, the first Bionic Commando Rearmed was an amazing game that didn’t need a lot of fixing, if any. But strangely, Capcom and developer Fat Shark decided to tinker around with key areas of the game’s design that really didn’t need any work, yet at the same time trim back in other areas that should have been expanded upon, not condensed.

I understand this to a point. The first game was a direct remake of the original NES Bionic Commando, so it had to stick to the retro formula. Whereas the sequel is its own game in the series, smushed in between the stories of Rearmed and the 2009 ‘next-gen’ franchise reboot. Thus the decision to make the game feel more modern and accessible does make sense.

Personally, I’m struggling to pin down exactly how I feel about Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 even as I type this review, and my conflicted thoughts will probably lead to this sounding like an overwhelmingly negative critique when I’m actually quite fond of the game.

On one hand, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is a more-than-solid 2.5D platform action game that, regardless of the changes that have been made, I enjoyed immensely for the 4-5 hours I spent clearing the story mode’s 28 stages. The reliable marriage of side-scrolling shooter action and bionic arm grappling hook acrobatics, barrel tossing and puzzle solving is a blast, and the eye-popping graphics, physics and particle effects achieve a level of detail and artistic individuality few other downloadable games can match. All the while a retro-funky soundtrack pulses in the background like a club remix of old 8-bit sound samples and themes, keeping the Bionic Commando spirit very much alive as you jump and swing from platform to platform over bottomless pits and spiked trenches.

Notice there that I did say “jump,” which many long-time Bionic Commando fans will likely consider a dirty word. For the first time in the series, Nathan Spencer can physically jump — a seemingly innocuous control addition that really does alter the way the game is played.

While the jump mechanic simplifies basic platform actions (in a good way too when it comes to things like hopping over a barrel or up a small ledge), the swing mechanic has been made more complex. Previously, swinging in Bionic Commando was about timing and reflex, as you would latch onto an overhanging ledge, ceiling or light fixture with the single push of a button and rhythmically flow from point to point. Now, when you hook onto an object your grapple remains in place until you hit the button again to release, and while you’re hanging around you control the back-and-forth swing before choosing when to leap to the next grapple point. For some reason you have to duck or press down while falling in mid-air to fire your grappling hook sideways, too, which is a needlessly complex control change.

Combined, the added jump mechanic and altered swing mechanic aren’t bad or poorly implemented – the game controls very well once you get the system down, in fact — they are just different, and the level designs built around them seem noticeably skewed away from the swing-heavy gameplay of previous games. Because of this, the game has sacrificed a part of its Bionic Commando identity and at times comes across as “just another side-scrolling platformer” in a downloadable marketplace brimming with like-genre games to choose from.

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 sure is fun, but something about it just doesn’t feel quite “right,” and the overall level of difficulty is much easier than before (an unlockable Retro difficulty disables jumping altogether, but you have to play through the whole game first to get it). Swinging in the first game had a distinct sense of rhythm, weight and momentum that this sequel simply doesn’t have, and that is somewhat disappointing.

Other aspects of the game are similarly up and down, such as:

- The isometric shooter encounters from the first game are gone, but instead there are a few on-rails sniper shooting segments. These are cool but don’t add much to the overall experience.

- The bosses put up a good fight, but are repeated multiple times with minimal strategic changes and ultimately aren’t that interesting.

- Two-player co-op is back, but once again it’s local only (still no online) and the competitive multiplayer of the original was chopped out entirely (not a huge loss for this type of game, but a sequel should be gaining features, not losing them).

- The bonus Challenge Rooms are back and are great fun as speed run training missions, but there are half as many as the original had. For a sequel, it seems like we should be getting more Challenge Rooms (or at least just as many) and maybe even some kind of a Challenge Room editor.

- A new Biovision mechanic has been added allowing you to pause the game and scan objects and enemies for clues and weaknesses, but I only remember needing to use this a few times throughout the entire game, so there isn’t much point to it.

- There are a lot of cool new guns to play with, including a WASP bazooka, napalm grenade launcher and a magnetic boomerang shooter, but you rarely need to use anything more than the unlimited-ammo pistol to get by.

- A new upgrade system has been introduced enabling you to collect and equip one active ability and one passive ability at any given time, including things like a standard grenade launcher, an uppercut melee attack, an electric grapple taser, health and ammo regeneration, a weapon supercharger, speed boost, and so on. This is great in theory, but the grenade launcher and health regen abilities are so much more helpful than all of the others and the process of pausing the game and sifting through menus to change abilities is so slow and clumsy, that you won’t want to hassle changing them unless absolutely necessary (which isn’t often).

It’s also important to note that Capcom implanted a disturbing DRM system into the PSN version of the game, apparently in an effort to combat the PS3’s game sharing functionality. The DRM does a mandatory PSN ID check every time you boot it up, meaning an online connection is required to start the game (once you are in the game you can log out and it works just fine). This is potentially problematic because, aside from leaderboards, the game has no online content, so the threat of not being able to play a single-player offline game should your connection go down is troubling. This isn’t something that people should be going as crazy over as so many are, but game sharing is a legal feature of the PS3 and is hardly what I would consider a form of piracy, so the whole thing just seems like an avoidable gaff on Capcom’s part.

Fair or unfair, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 switches things around in such a way that it has become an easy target for nitpicking and constant comparison to its predecessor, as I have displayed in this very review. But for all of its changes and downgrades, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is a damn good game in its own right; one that is enjoyable to play and has a lot to offer in terms of collectibles and levels designed for speed run / leaderboard replays. It doesn’t have the ‘instant classic’ magic of its predecessor, but don’t let that blind you into thinking it’s not worth playing, because it most certainly is!

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Pros:
+ Wholly solid 2.5D action/platform gameplay
+ Vibrant, richly detailed graphics
+ Awesome soundtrack
+ Challenge Rooms and other collectibles provide good replay value

Cons:
- Altered swing mechanic lacks the smooth, rhythmic flow of the first game
- New jump mechanic throws the level balance off
- Still no online co-op
- Many of the new features add very little substantive value

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PSN, also available on Xbox Live Arcade
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Fat Shark
Release Date: PSN – 2/1/2011; XBLA – 2/2/2011
Genre: Action/Platform
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-2 (local co-op only)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is a 28 year old from-the-womb gamer turned video game reviewer/blogger and current editor/owner/operator of VGBlogger.com. Matt got his first taste of gaming as a youngster on the NES and Atari, and the rest is history from there. In 2004, three years removed from high school and still looking for a career direction in life, Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com, and after a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez Matt turned his attention to VGBlogger, and to this day is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary.