You don’t need to jump to kick ass.
There are some staples in gaming that are hard to overcome. Things such as health bars, ammo pickups and of course exploding barrels have become the foundation from which all games are made. When the original Bionic Commando release some 20-odd years ago it took a bold stance and broke one of those staples of gaming. By removing the jump button this series forced players to think in a whole new way, and take full advantage of your characters robotic arm that is used for swinging. The game relied more on perfect angles and momentum than traditional platforming elements. With the re-imagining of the series Capcom has stuck to the formula creating on of the most challenging, and easily one of the best experiences on both XBLA and PSN.
On the surface everything about Bionic Commando Rearmed feels familiar and much like any other side-scrolling action game. Replacing the standard jump button with a swinging mechanical arm changes things drastically. At first it will feel ridiculous that you cannot jump over a small bump in the road, but the more you get used to the mechanics of the game, the more you start to appreciate its design. Each level has been re-built from the ground up so that even veterans of the original game will have to learn new techniques. It is worth noting that Bionic Commando Rearmed is one of the most challenging games currently on either download service. Even on easy this game will likely frustrate you, but the sense of accomplishment harkens back to the days of Castlevania and Metroid; yes it truly is that good.
The level of passion that has been poured into this re-interpretation is apparent in every detail. Developer Grin has taken every nuance that made the original game great and tweaked for the new generation of gamers. At the same time they have decided to omit all of the annoyances that plagued retro titles to make the game more user-friendly for the attention deficit crowd. Enemy AI has been revamped while their placement re-adjusted to eliminate cheap deaths. You now carry all of your equipment on your person at all times so you don’t have to warp out of the level because you forgot to bring the proper communicator. It is these small details that make Rearmed so much more than a simple remake, yet it is the design of the original still intact that makes it all the more charming twenty years later.
The biggest upgrade is by far the visual fidelity. The game is still a 2D side-scroller, but now the backgrounds and enemies have been rendered in lush 3D templates giving them a much more vibrant look and feel. The music from the original game also makes several appearances mixed with some techno inspired sounds to create one of the most dynamic and entertaining soundtracks of any game period. When combined the glossy new visuals and retro (yet wholly modern sounding) audio form a nice common ground where fans of the original can recognize the tunes while newcomers won’t be fooled into thinking this is the stuff of 8-bit legend. Overall the presentation of the game is just as outstanding as the mechanics.
For anyone who has never played Bionic Commando let’s bring you up to speed. You assume the role of Nathan “Rad” Spencer as you attempt to thwart the evil
Nazi forces bad guys and rescue Super Joe. You are also charged with the responsibility of stopping the resurrection of Hitler ultimate bad guy. Yes the names and likeness have been changed to protect the innocents of this world, but we all know who they are really after. Nathan is equipped with a robotic arm that allows his to swing from ledges and hoist himself up to higher ground, but at the same time it has somehow severed his ability to jump. Sure this mechanic takes getting used to, but after you do you come to appreciate the intricate level designs that force the player to think.
From the outset of the game you are dropped into a square grid-like map that plays host to all of the levels. Trying to traverse them in any order would be ridiculous, which is why you will begin on level zero and somehow complete level five before being able to reach level two. This level of freedom is welcome and actually lets you tackle the game any way you see fit. Some of the levels are simply allied bases where you can partake in challenge rooms and collect new weapons and communicators that allow you to access other levels. It can be daunting at first, but once you come to grips with how much there is to see and do, combined with the feeling that backtracking isn’t tedious, you grow to appreciate just how in-depth Rearmed truly is.
Controlling Nathan can be a chore at first because everything you do is based on angles and direction. You can also only shoot from two positions: standing and crouched. Learning how to use your robotic arm effectively is key to getting past some of the more challenging levels. There are also overhead levels that pop up whenever you run into roaming enemy trucks on the overhead map. These levels are short and sweet, but you get tired of them fairly quickly and simply wish they would go away. Continues are also no longer an option as you always have a stock set of lives when you set out. Die enough in a level though and it’s back to the beginning. My only complaint is that I wish your lives displayed on the game’s HUD, as it can be tedious tracking them.
In addition to the single player game you also have the option for co-op, but only locally. While I can’t stress enough my disappointment that this mode isn’t available online, it is worth noting that it was added fairly late in development. When playing co-op the game allows you to roam freely from your partner and uses a split-screen mechanic that works surprisingly well. There is also a competitive mode that spans three variations including deathmatch, last man standing and don’t touch the floor. The latter is by far the most enjoyable as it feels reminiscent to a certain mascot brawler, but all three feel more like a distraction than anything. Do not let this deter you though, even without multi-player Bionic Commando Rearmed is one of the best downloadable games on either service to date.
In the end Bionic Commando Rearmed is the epitome of how to remake a game for the next generation. If you were a fan of the original you will love the attention to detail and classically epic soundtrack. If you are new to the series you will grow to love the swinging mechanic, once you get the hang of it. Overall Rearmed is one for the ages and is a perfect example of how to make a great downloadable game. Now that Capcom has exhausted their portfolio perhaps it is time for a Strider re-imagining-anyone?