‘Bionic Commando Rearmed’ Xbox 360 LIVE Arcade Review

May 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

Score: 5 out of 5

As Nathan “Rad” Spencer parachutes onto the ground below, he soft lands, performs a forward roll, and gives a cheeky nod to the player holding the controller on the other side of the screen. He’s winking at you.

Bionic Commando Rearmed is, itself, a remake of the classic NES game, a 2D-scrolling platformer/shooter, in which you control Nathan Spencer, a soldier working for the FSA (the Americans, broadly speaking) against a fascist separatist group called the Imperial Army (the Nazis, really).

As suggested in the title, the central premise of the game is that you play as Spencer, a man who has been fitted with a bionic arm, which you can use to get about places by swinging from ledges, onto platforms, from objects, etc. You cannot “jump”, per se, in this game; you can run, but eventually you will end up using the arm as the fastest – and most fun – mode of transportation.

Along with the challenge of timing swings and mid-air grapples, you are faced with a variety of colourful enemies in each stage. You are also granted several weapons which are awarded as end of level rewards but also as hidden bonuses upon finding them. Each level comes with its own boss, which must be defeated in order to move onto the next, and you go through from level to level to eventually meet the final boss – which you then, hopefully, defeat – and then game over, man. Game over.

The great thing about Bionic Commando Rearmed is how seriously it takes itself. As a 2D platformer, born in the late 80s, it brings a lot of antiquated conventions with it. The controls, while improved upon the original’s, are still uniquely old-fashioned; the music (which is excellent, by the way) is a remix of the old NES tunes, with a little jiggling about. The end of level bosses, the design of the levels, the energy bar which serves as your health, the weaponry and their respective hidden upgrades, the between mission map: all of these things are vintage trappings from that era of video gaming.

"G.I. Joooooooooooooooe!"

"G.I. Joooooooooooooooe!"

GRIN are doing some impeccable fan-service here, injecting the game with a heavy dose of nostalgia, while updating the graphics and a few defunct gameplay features. They’ve kept the spirit of the original game alive but in a new, more vibrant and more accessible form. For a game which has become revered amongst its devotees, GRIN took a risk in taking this project on, but they’ve come up trumps, and they should be applauded for it.

GRIN takes Bionic Commando seriously, but it further recognises just how arcane and quaint certain aspects of the game are. While Rearmed is a highly challenging, difficult – but not unfair – experience, one which is prone to cause much cursing at the screen, it is also imbued with a superb sense of humour. The dialogue between all the characters in the game is brilliantly written, often parodying elements of the game or the genre, and it never comes off as pretentious, but just silly and fun. It’s almost as if GRIN is saying “Remember how weird, wonderful and imaginative these games were? Remember how fun and, by equal measure, infuriating they were? Remember when video games had character? Well, here you go! Enjoy!”

Wayhay! Hello, ragdoll physics and zombie Bison poster!

Wayhay! Hello, ragdoll physics and zombie Bison poster!

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing; it can blind even the most objective, hardened, cynical critics. But I don’t think Rearmed is elitist or obtuse in any particular way. It’s true that nostalgia adds a lot to the experience, but a game which is not fun can be as well written and referential as it wants to be; it will still be a bad game, regardless. Bionic Commando is hard, but it’s hard in the way those early 90s/late 80s games were. They forced the player to memorise level layouts, enemy and boss movement patterns, to become more adept with the controls, to become better. A child could play and complete this game, given the right amount of practice.

Apart from the main game, there are also co-op and competitive multiplayer modes, as well as the Challenge Rooms. Unlocked as the player progresses through the single player game, these Challenge Rooms are a series of time trials set in 2D virtual environments. For anyone looking to drive themselves insane, look no further: the challenge rooms are absolutely bloody impossible to complete. (To me, anyway. I’m sure there will be others who possess the lightening reactions necessary to get five-star ratings on each level and compete with their scores online. I won’t be one of them, but at least it’s there for those who want it.)

Rearmed is an excellent platformer, an excellent remake and an excellent game in general. It might not be for everyone, but in terms of its design and what it sets out to do, Bionic Commando Rearmed does it, and then some more. It can be unforgiving, punishing, but it’s never that cruel to the player. I would advise anyone who is unfamiliar with the genre or unused to 2D platforming games to download the trial version and get a gist for themselves. For everyone else: no excuses, this is a brilliant game and it would be in bad taste not to give it the attention it deserves.

Bionic Commando Rearmed is available for 800 MSP (£6.80) on Xbox LIVE Arcade (and, I believe, half price for 400 MSP this week only for Xbox LIVE Gold members).

(932 words.)

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