Bionic Commando ReviewDustin Wright
It was a little over twenty years ago that the NES was graced with one of its greatest titles ever. Back then, the genre of choice to imitate was the platformer thanks to the success of Super Mario Brothers. Every company from around the world was trying to create the next Super Mario Brothers by trying their hardest to imitate the formula Nintendo had conjured up. As history shows us, every company failed as no title was able to topple the powerhouse of the platforming genre that was Super Mario Brothers. There is one exception, however.
Enter Capcom's Bionic Commando, a title that arguably did more for the platforming genre than any other third party developers of the 8-bit era. It was one of the most unusual platformers anyone had ever seen. For starters, the ability to jump was nonexistent. Instead, players had to run and swing throughout the levels all the while dodging and shooting at enemies. It was one of the most ingenious platformers anyone had ever seen, and like all good titles saw its share of imitators.
Fast forward to 20 1/2 years later: much has changed in the gaming landscape since the original Bionic Commando was released. We now have titles that go beyond the concept of jumping on goombas and swinging across platforms. Today we have an abundance of titles that offer wider ranges of gameplay that players were not even dreaming of 20 years ago. Today we have an industry that is littered with first person shooters, open ended worlds, and RPG's that make those of 20 years ago look like a bad Flash game.
So with the landscape of gaming completely different, the question must be asked: Can it be relevant again?
From the moment players see the Capcom logo, nostalgia sets in for those who were gamers in the 8 and 16 bit eras. The famous old school Capcom sound rings through the speakers, bringing memories of hours of Mega Man X and Final Fight rushing back. It's a tone that sets off the rest of the title, as there is a lot of nostalgia throughout the entire title.
When players start a new game, players assume the role of Nathan Spencer, the main character from the NES Bionic Commando now much more grizzled due to being in prison for a long period of time (think Snake Pliskin with a bionic arm). The first area consists of players running and trying to find his bionic arm, all the while dodging enemies and shooting them with nothing more than a pistol. It is a fun area, as it causes players to actually use a bit of stealth in some areas.
Once players gain back their bionic arm they are introduced to a city that has been completely obliterated. This is where the game really begins (for those wondering, yes you can jump this time around) but sadly, the game falls flat for a bit.
The area of the destroyed city is just not interesting. Sure there are enemies here and there that are fun to shoot with the pistol, but it just isn't that fun, and a big part about that is because Spencer is so limited to what he can do at the beginning. Some of the best additions such as the grab kick with the arm, the addition of a sniper rifle and grenade launcher, and the more extreme firefights are the best parts of the game, and they are nowhere to be seen in the first part of the game.
The game really picks up the pace once you have to fight a huge Apache style helicopter and its allies in a destroyed skyscraper. Personally, I think this is one of the best boss battles in the game, and each boss battle after it is just as good. It is exhilarating to dive off the top of the skyscraper, grab ahold of an exposed piece of steel with the bionic arm, swing up and out, and shoot the helicopter with an oversized, heat-seeking rocket launcher. It is one of the best moments in the game, and despite dying four or five times, it was so much fun I did not care. I won't spoil anymore of the game, except I'll simply say that after this fight you are out of the city for a long time and thrown into more natural environments, and it is after this point that the game really picks up and rarely ever slows down.
For those that were concerned that the swinging mechanics may not be up to par, worry not as they are near perfect. Capcom obviously spent a great deal of time perfecting the swinging mechanics, and why not? If the swinging were to be broken the game would fall apart despite how strong everything else may have been. My only gripe on the swinging mechanics is that it is a little easy to mess up the timing of the leaps from swing to swing. Many deaths were accounted to me jumping too soon or too late, resulting in Spencer leaping straight up into the air with nothing to grab but the ground.
One aspect that really stands out when you are playing the game is the music. I can honestly say that the score in Bionic Commando is on par with the music found in Metal Gear Solid titles, and like Metal Gear Solid, it is the music that makes you feel awesome while you're playing the game. Moments in the game where you are swinging from tree to tree only to let go and fly through the air, shoot a grenade launcher and land safely behind a rock with a pulse-pounding remix of the Bionic Commando theme blaring through the speakers is what makes this title feel so addictive.
The only gripes I have concerning the title is that it is too linear in areas. What I mean by that is that the areas throughout Bionic Commando just scream to be explored, yet you can't. Want to find an easier way to get somewhere? If the developers didn't want you to, you won't be able to as radiation will kill you. For example, I was being shot at in a forest and found a mountain to grapple onto and swing along. The trees would be blocking the majority of the bullets, so if I hurried I could swing around, go behind the soldiers shooting at me and get the jump on them. But no such luck. When I grappled onto the mountain, I began getting radiation, and within five seconds I was dead. Matter of fact, I couldn't grab ahold of the mountain in that area at all; turns out I have to meet the eight soldiers head on and kill them in a hurry before my health is depleted. It's an extremely stupid move on the developer's part, and in some places nearly breaks the game.
To rephrase the question again, can Bionic Commando be relevant? Sadly, probably not. While it is a fun title to play and no doubt many people will enjoy it, it just doesn't have enough things unique about it to make it stand out. Sure it's awesome to swing around and kill everything that moves, and sure it has some of the best music in a title of this generation, but at the end of the day, it's just an action title with an average lasting appeal, and that's in no way a bad thing; not by a long shot. If you come into Bionic Commando expecting a sci-fi God of War, you're going to hate it. If you come in expecting nothing but a fairly good time, you will enjoy it.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.