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Bionic Commando Rearmed (XBLA)

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-09-04 13:29:08

Bionic Commando Rearmed (XBLA) - Rank B

Developer: GRIN
Publisher: Capcom
Date: 8/13/08

Also available for PlayStation 3 and PC

If you're a fan of the original Bionic Commando for the NES, read no further and download Rearmed now. It's an enthusiastic remake with updated visuals and audio, and packed with enough cool additions to make a worthwhile purchase, even considering you could emulate the original (albeit illegally) for free. If you've never played Bionic Commando, and are wondering why the game is held in such high regard in retro circles, Rearmed is the ideal way to find out.

Bionic Commando seized its hallowed place in the pantheon of 2-D platformers with a daring gambit. It eliminated the hitherto mandatory jump button and replaced it with a grapple gun arm. This is initiallly disconcerting, and requires some time to get used to pulling yourself across chasms instead of simply hopping over them. However, once you've invested into the learning curve, this creates a slew of unique gameplay mechanics by chaining multiple grapples to pull, swing, and hoist your way to victory. It's also hard. Bionic Commando requires rigorous preciseness at times - waiting until the absolute apex of a swing just to grapple in a different direction to navigate under hanging obstacles without impaling yourself on massive spikes while bad guys shoot at you, just for example. You could lower the difficulty, but this essentially castrates your gaming ego by adding transparent blocks for easier grappling over the trickier gaps. It's like mountain biking with training wheels. This is old school gaming specifically intended to induce hair-pulling, controller-hurling frustration, yielding commensurate satisfaction when you finally make it your bitch.

I want to make it clear that Bionic Commando Rearmed is not a proper sequel, but a gussied up rerelease. You still play as Nathan "R.A.D." Spencer, looking to rescue "Super Joe" and thwart the Imperials' efforts to revive an old foe. The levels are much the same, although an additional final sequence has been admirably extrapolated from a visual theme of the older game. Unfortunately, a few archaic and cheap design choices from the original survive to marr this next-gen rendition. Required leaps of faith and enemies just out of view off screen are particularly vexing. Top down segments which are clearly punishments for failing to properly navigate the overhead map also return, as dull and chore-like as ever.

However, Rearmed's upgrades are astonishing. The graphics have been overhauled into appealing 2.5-D high definition imagery that somehow manages to convey the original '80s pixelated pastel aesthetic without looking stupid. The soundtrack (about as good as 8-bit music ever got) consists of an appealing remixed electronica version that evokes nostalgia without sacrificing contemporary sensibilities. The game script, which was originally a horribly mangled Engrish translation, has been completely reworked. Not only does it present a lucid narrative, it also embraces its heritage by poking fun at the original's nonsensical bits and playfully parodying Metal Gear Solid's codec sequences. If the main game isn't masochistic enough for you, additional "challenge rooms" provide extra bionic swinging madness. They're distinctly reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid's VR missions. Rearmed also features co-op play, although it's sadly limited to offline only. Regardless, its inclusion is a significant bonus. The only changes worthy of complaint are the new "hacking" sequences. Cracking into enemy computer systems now involves solving a tedious 3-D spatial puzzle. These too are chores that serve only to deprive you of grapple gun arm swinging goodness.

Bionic Commando Rearmed is available on three different platforms. For some inscrutable horseshit reason, the PC version costs an extra $5. The Xbox 360 edition suffers from some screen tearing; it doesn't impact gameplay, but it's definitely distracting. Worse yet, Bionic Commando is best played with the d-pad, and the 360 pad is simply atrocious unless you sand down the housing. In contrast, the PlayStation 3 version runs without a hitch, loads faster, and offers a distinctly more responsive and accurate d-pad. Now that PS3 trophy support is finally on the way and the fact that Rearmed's co-op play is offline only, the usual Xbox Live advantages are nullified. The difference between the two is significant enough for me to dock the Xbox 360 version a full grade. Don't let this deter you if the 360 is your sole system, but Bionic Commando Rearmed truly shines on the PS3 to the tune of an "A" game.

[Note: Rearmed will interact in some fashion with the upcoming 3-D next generation Bionic Commando true sequel. This may also be a factor in which version you decide to purchase.]

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