Review: Bionic Commando Rearmed

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Bionic Commando is one of the four NES games that got me into gaming as a youngster (Metal Gear, Super Mario Bros., and Legend of Zelda being the other three), and as such it is a game that will forever hold a special place in my heart. I spent most of the time watching my brother playing it in my early years (its swinging mechanics were way out of my league at first), but eventually got my chance at the controls and immediately fell in love with it. Whether I was watching or playing, the game’s unique swinging-based platforming and 80’s B action movie style made me an adoring fan, and I’ve been hoping and praying for a sequel and/or remake ever since. Capcom is finally getting around to doing both in honor of the game’s 20th anniversary, and the first part of the Bionic Commando anniversary rebirth, Bionic Command Rearmed, has made its way online for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 owners to download and enjoy. Does it live up to two decades of anticipation or is it just another failed attempt to revive a classic IP? I think you already know the answer…

Now it’s been at least a good 15 years since I last played Bionic Commando on the NES, but I do have the GBA port that comes packed in with the Capcom Classics Mini Mix compilation and have been playing it side by side with Rearmed to compare and contrast the two. Despite the age gap, the two are strikingly similar, though there are a number of key changes that have been made to meet modern game design conventions. Rearmed is a remake in the same mold as Capcom’s PSP updates of Mega Man, Mega Man X and Ghosts ‘N Goblins, and if you’ve played any of those titles you’ll know that is a good thing. Shoot, with the PS3 version you can even remote play it on your PSP and see just how similar it is to those titles (though the lag that comes with playing remotely kills a game like this, so you won’t do more than give it a look for the sheer novelty of it).

All of the important stuff that made the original such a classic is intact. The 2D side-scrolling action/platforming and reflex-intensive bionic arm swinging have been reproduced with flawless authenticity. To some, the fact that the controls have remained unchanged (that means steep learning curve and no jump button) will probably be a let down, but personally I couldn’t be happier. There is an acclamation process to go through for sure, but once you settle in the satisfaction of pulling off death-defying swinging maneuvers over pits of spikes, rotating platforms and other platforms makes it all worth it. The game’s core gameplay fundamentals still hold up exactly as they were 20 years ago, which only shows just how ahead of its time this game was on back in the NES era.

Changes to the 8-bit Bionic Commando formula are equal parts subtle and drastic. GRIN kept an air of familiarity surrounding things like the level layouts, weapons, enemy types, bosses and traps, but at the same time tweaked everything to ensure that the experience was fresh and exciting, even for long-time fans (the revamped bosses are particularly bad ass). The drastic changes, on the other hand, are seemingly simple enhancements that go a long way towards reducing the unnecessary frustrations associated with the limited technology the old game was built upon. For example, back on the NES you had to complete the game in one shot. If you died, it was game over and back to the very beginning for you. But now game progress is auto-saved so you can play at your own pace. Another key change is the new health system. Rearmed utilizes a standard lifebar system, whereas in the original you had to build up how many hits you could take by killing enemies and picking up the health pellets they dropped. The weapon system has also been expanded so you can cycle through your entire arsenal on the fly rather than having to choose only one weapon to take into a mission like before. Adaptations like these are exactly what the game needed. They fix what needed to be fixed without compromising the integrity of the original version.

All these gameplay improvements are great, but GRIN’s masterful work in updating Bionic Commando’s graphics and audio and packing on of all-new bonus content is what really seals the deal here. Technically speaking, as a downloadable game Rearmed obviously can’t compare to the big budget disc releases, but in terms of sheer graphical and artistic appeal it truly is one of the best looking games of the year, hands down. And what can I say about the soundtrack? If Simon Viklund (the game’s composer) doesn’t pile up year-end awards for his work here something is seriously wrong. As far as bonus content is concerned, this game is absolutely loaded. 50+ side challenge rooms (think Metal Gear Solid VR missions), two-player co-op, head-to-head four-player modes like Deathmatch and Don’t Touch the Floor, four difficulty settings, leaderboards, hidden weapon upgrades and more. Rearmed has it all. Sadly, none of the multiplayer modes are online-ready, but it’s hard to complain when there’s so much else to do.

Bionic Commando Rearmed is the ultimate video game remake, possibly the best I’ve ever played. Okay, maybe I’m a bit biased in saying that due to my affinity for the NES game, but come on, even if you weren’t a fan of the original you’d have to admit that the care and attention to detail that went into this title is simply out of this world. Capcom and GRIN clearly put their heart and soul into Rearmed. This is their baby and you can literally feel their love and passion for it with every second you play.

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Pros:
+ Updates a classic game in all the right ways without taking away from what made the original what it was
+ Exquisite 2D side-scrolling action; bionic arm swinging mechanics are as satisfying as they were 20 years ago
+ Remastered music is a joy to listen to; best soundtrack of the year right here, folks
+ Modern-day HD graphics and art with a nostalgic 80’s-style twist
+ Story mode, co-op and competitive multiplayer, challenge rooms, leaderboards, medals and all sorts of hidden weapon upgrades and other items, all for only $10 ($15 on PC)!

Cons:
– Controls may be considered archaic to some
– No online support for any of the multiplayer modes
– PSP remote play is killed by lag

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for download on PC and Xbox 360
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: GRIN
Release Date: 8/13/08
Genre: 2D Action/Platformer
Players: 1-4

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. 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. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he 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!