Friday, September 05, 2008

Bionic Commando Rearmed Review

Bionic Commando Rearmed, developed by GRIN and published by Capcom on Gamer’s Gate.
The Good: Retains spirit (and difficulty) of the original, variety of weapons, two player cooperative and four player competitive play, little penalty for dying, lots of levels, nice graphics
The Not So Good: No online multiplayer, enemy confrontations seem out of place, PC version is more expensive
What say you? A good remake at a reasonable price for the amount of content: 6/8

While I did not have a NES (we were an Atari household), my friend did and we played it a lot. There are some franchises that I am only vaguely familiar with, and one of those is Bionic Commando. It’s a platform game where your hero gets a mechanical arm, and an update to the 1989 NES game comes in the form of Bionic Commando Rearmed, not to be confused with the other Bionic Commando (done by the same developer) that is coming out in the near future. Confused yet? It doesn’t matter, as long as you get to shoot stuff! By the way, I just got the (possibly unintentional) “rearmed” joke: get it, his “arm,” “rearmed.” Ha ha ha! I need sleep.

For a primarily 2-D game, Bionic Commando Rearmed looks very good. Everything is rendered in 3-D and the levels are better-looking copies of the original maps, with neat lighting, nice textures, and good effects including rag doll physics. The weapon effects can be underwhelming and the 3-D enemy confrontation levels could use more detail, but the majority of Bionic Commando Rearmed maintains a great visual style throughout. This clearly is not a simple update as the graphics have undergone a significant overhaul to bring them up to date, and the result is a great looking game. The game lacks voice acting, but the music has an updated nostalgic feel and the effects are done well enough. This is one game that surpasses its price tag in terms of visual and auditory quality.

Bionic Commando Rearmed is a platform game, but instead of jumping, you’ll be using your bionic arm to grab onto ledges and other objects in order to propel yourself through the air. The single player campaign is pretty difficult, mainly because it requires a lot of precision with your mechanical apparatus. Increasing the difficulty level will make the AI smarter and the areas more difficult to get through. There is a good amount of content for the price: 20 regular levels plus 25 challenge rooms and multiplayer. Occasionally, you’ll enter an “enemy confrontation” map when you encounter a magic purple rectangle of doom; this places you in a 3-D environment that clashes with the remainder of the gameplay. Here, your arm is only used as a shield, and the core gameplay mechanic is essentially removed, making the “enemy confrontation” mode very bland. Sadly, multiplayer in Bionic Commando Rearmed lacks online options, so you’ll have to wrangle up some friends to crowd around your PC. That’s too bad, because the “don’t touch the floor” game mode is interesting, along with the usual deathmatch and last man standing options. You can also do cooperative play through the campaign, but, again, you’ll have to be at the same computer in order to do so. Still, Bionic Commando Rearmed comes with enough things to keep you busy.

It definitely takes some practice to get used to using your arm effectively: by default, pressing the arm button sends it out at a 45 degree angle, making it ideal for grabbing suspended ledges above and in front of you. Pressing up or ahead will send the arm in that direction, and you can use your arm to grab options (and enemies) and then use them. You can pull off some neat moves in the game, such as swinging around in mid-air. Death doesn’t come with much of a penalty: although the number of lives you have is limited, you will spawn at the last checkpoint reached. Bionic Commando Rearmed has a health meter (with health pickups enemies occasionally drop) and a number of weapons to choose from that you will accumulate along the way: a revolver, grenades, rifle, bazooka, shotgun, cannon, and machine gun. Upgrades are also scattered throughout the levels to make your arsenal more effective. In addition, you can equip yourself with flares, armor, and a more powerful claw. New weapons are introduced at a steady clip, allowing you to implement new strategies along the way. There is also a hacking minigame (where you must guide a ball to the exit) and camps where you can talk to allies. The game’s focus is clearly on utilizing your arm to navigate through the puzzles, so it’s not surprising that the AI isn’t the best. However, increasing the difficulty level does offer up much more of a challenge, and since the layouts themselves are hard enough to begin with, Bionic Commando Rearmed will provide a great challenge for platform gamers.

Bionic Commando Rearmed is what it is: a quality reproduction of a classic title. It won’t win over any new people that aren’t fans of the platform genre, but those who are will find some unique action contained herein. While the gameplay is not revolutionary because it was done in the original game almost 20 (!) years ago, it is distinctive when compared against what is typically available in the gaming market. You do get what you pay for (although the PC version is inexplicably more expensive): a challenging single player game that is more puzzle-related and action-oriented. You get multiplayer options, but these are irrelevant on the PC since there is no online compatibility. When’s the last time any PC owner had three friends to play against? For platform fans, though, Bionic Commando Rearmed delivers a solid experience.