In the mid 1980s, most side-scrolling platformers were almost identical to one another: walk to the right of the level, jump on your enemies, and save a princess in some castle. Bionic Commando changed what we thought a traditional side-scrolling platformer could be by completely removing the ability to jump, instead giving the hero a bionic arm which he used to grab onto various parts of the level and swing from one place to another.
It’s been over 20 years since Nathan “RAD” Spencer set foot in the video game world. Capcom sets to breathe life into one of its oldest games with the release of Bionic Commando. Is this game a breath of fresh air or one where noses need to be pinched?
You play as Nathan “RAD” Spencer 5 years after the events of the original Bionic Commando. We find out the government betrayed Spencer after the events of the original game by imprisoning him and sentencing him to death for disobeying a direct order from his superiors. On the day of his execution, he is released in order to fight a terrorist group known as BioReign, who have detonated a massive experimental weapon in Ascension City, which has left the city in rubble and wiped out its inhabitants.
The game starts off with Spencer and his Bionic Arm being shot in a missle enclosure into the warzone. Since it’s kind of hard to target two missles to hit the same location, you need to make your way through a destroyed office building to look for your other half. The levels in Bionic Commando vary a bit, but they all have one thing in common: utter destruction. Highways are torn in half, buildings are on the verge of collapsing, and there are radiation fields that Spencer is highly sensitive to which could mean death if you don’t watch your step.
As far as your abilities go, Spencer can only do some basic moves due to being inactive for 5 years. As you progress through the game, you will be able to perform more advanced moves such as being able to whip your Bionic Arm around to attack enemies at all sides, or pick up an enemy and fling him into next week. The same goes for your arsenal as well. You start off with only a pistol, but as you progress you’ll be sent more weapons from Super Joe in order to help. I wasn’t fond of both your limited amount of ammo and only having one slot dedicated to more advanced weaponry. I guess the developers wanted the player to rely on using the surroundings and their bionic arm more to handle their enemies than using firearms, but when you attack with your arm or throw objects with it, it feels like you are cheapening the game experience by going for the “instant kill” instead of the challenge of using your gun. Don’t get me wrong; most of the enemies go down almost as easy as the enemies in the 8-bit game, but they go down a lot quicker when your arm is involved.
Boss battles are fun as they challenge you to not only be quick on your toes, but to read patterns that will help you succeed in defeating the boss. Some might require you to move fast by swinging from one place to another, or to wait patiently to attack at just the right moment. One thing Bionic Commando could have used was more engaging boss battles and less firefights with generic thugs that populate the game world.
The swinging mechanic in Bionic Commando is also one that deserves praise. A cursor separate from your aiming reticule pops up whenever you are close to something you can latch on to. It works great as you don’t have to aim exactly where you’d like to attach your arm to, instead the swinging reticule will pop up on certain parts of the screen. As you swing, there’s another on-screen icon that comes up that will help you achieve a greater distance if you release your swing in time. There’s definitely a learning curve when it comes to swinging, but practice makes perfect in this case.
Bionic Commando suffers from terrible choice of loading areas. Levels feel less like an open-world adventure and more like you’re making your way past level 1-1 to get to level 1-2. This isn’t remedied by the fact that when you reach the end of a level, the action is put to a halt with a loading screen for the next level. The loading screens also become a nuisance to stare at as it’s the same screen throughout the entire game. If I’ve been playing for 5+ hours, I think I already got the control scheme down well enough that I don’t have to stare at a controller pointing out what each button does.
Old-school gamers will be happy to hear that even though the game’s graphics got completely overhauled for next-gen systems, the gameplay and the overall vibe of the game stays true to the original 8-bit classic. During missions, you are encouraged to search for collectibles, which are simply floating 8-bit icons that represent different things from the original game. Early on in the game, you are thrown into a VR simulation where you are dressed as how Spencer looked in the 80s. You also hack into terminals to deactivate mine fields so you can progress through the level as well as learn the enemies’ secrets, similar to the terminals that needed to be hacked in the original Bionic Commando.
The game’s multiplayer brings all that you’ve learned in the single player experience and allows you to challenge up to 7 of your friends for online Bionic Commando combat. The game modes are slim pickings as the game offers Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag. Most of the levels are levels from the single player game with a tweak here and there in order to better the multiplayer experience. Your stats are also recorded along with every other Bionic Commando player where you can compare how you rank with your friends and other players.
FINAL THOUGHT: Bionic Commando will be an easy sell for any old-school gamer who wants to relive the original game’s experience in a next-gen coating. Although most players will be turned off by the game’s simplicity, frequent loading times, and lack of original multiplayer game modes.