I grew up playing the Nintendo version of Bionic Commando (there was an arcade version too) and loved the game enough to still play it to completion every year. It was the first game that had a swear and a gruesome scene of someone’s head blowing up. For those that haven’t played or heard of Bionic Commando, its a 2D gunning platformer with a world map and different, unique and vibrant levels with a wide variety of enemies. If you think you’ve done every 2D platformer before, have you tried a platformer with no jump button? This game really hangs its hat on the fact that you use a bionic arm for platform traversal. The arm is pretty versatile, the normal arm button launches it diagonally, when you use a direction and the arm it will blast out forward, and ducking while using the arm will send it forward, but lower. You can use the arm upward too. With the arm you can swing and climb. You can release the arm’s grasp to drop and release the swing. In this version of the game you can grapple barrels, pick them up and throw them. Its a nice touch. You can also use your arm to counter bullets. Its a nice feature.
With the overhead map you and your helicopter pilot will fly around to different areas / levels. There are two types of areas. Combat zones and neutral zones where you’ll talk with people, obtain items that will help you and club a prisoner with your bionic arm. The combat zones have been modernized while still giving them a vibrant, colorful feel that makes it feel like a game in a good way. The excellent old chip tunes have been modernized and they all sound good, but personally, I prefer the older tunes.
The combat areas have a two or three sections, usually broken up with a communication room that will further the story for you and open doors to the next segment of the area. So an outside area will go indoors, a towering spire will reveal the upper half of the spire when you use the communication room. You can also wire tap in the communication room and new to this version of Bionic Commando is a simple mini game that has you hurling a yellow ball in a three dimensional box. If the ball exits the box, then you fail, but there’s no consequence for failing like the Nintendo classic where enemies would flood the room. The goal is to rotate the box and hurtle the ball to yellow blocks that will prevent the ball from going out of bounds. Its pretty easy and it breaks up the game. Its just extra icing on the cake. The game also has communication chips like the old game, so in certain areas you’ll need to have the blue chip to communicate. The Nintendo version of the game had you pick a weapon, a communication chip and an item when entering each level. Thankfully this version lets you use all of your chips, which will spare you some time.
As for the weapons, to be honest, its a little underwhelming. You have your standard 2 bullets on screen revolver, a weak laser, a short range shotgun, a rocket launcher and a bouncing laser that shoots at an angle. The angled laser can shoot enemies hiding behind cover or above you, but since the game gives you so many other ways to kill covered enemies it seems useless.. The original Nintendo game had a 3 way gun that felt useful and the original rocket launcher would plow through enemies. Now there seems to be an emphasis on realism where the explosion of the rocket launcher will damage if not kill you. The rockets also wave, giving it a chance to miss. The shotgun does the same damage as two bullets from your revolver. The weapons just feel useless when compared to the simple starting revolver. You’ll be able to change your weapons on the fly with the shoulder buttons, which again is a welcome tweak to gameplay from the Nintendo version forcing you to be stuck with one weapon the entire level. The most useful weapon not in the Nintendo version is a simple grenade. So you use 3 buttons, arm, gun and grenade throw. Its a good way to kill enemies behind cover.
On the map, your helicopter moves along lines level to level, giving you choice of where to go. The only catch is that convoys patrol these lines and if you run into one, you’ll fight in a top down stage. Its nice combat diversity that doesn’t last long. You can use your arm to whip away bullets, but each of these areas is over quickly. You can find easy lives this way.
One of the biggest changes from the Nintendo to the Rearmed version is 2 player co-op through the levels and also multi-player death match mode. They feel like good add ons, but for those that like the single player, the biggest change are the bosses. The original Nintendo bosses were more like enemy rooms with a core at the center. Now the bosses are giant machines for the most part. These machines take a good chunk of time to destroy, have different patterns and phases of the boss fight. Its a really nice change to the original. Plus, the bosses have some character and brief dialog before each fight. It adds a lot of charm to the game.
As for challenge, the game is easier than the Nintendo version. You can take more damage, you have more attacks and can use multiple items at once. There is no real consequence to the game like there was on Nintendo. There are unlimited continues, using all of your lives merely sends you to the map. The game feels easier and you can take more bullets before you die.
In later areas when using the arm on horizontally moving platforms, the arm is suddenly very flawed. It will let go quickly if the platform you are on is moving. Sometimes, climbing onto a moving platform will nudge you off the back of it. You can even run against the movement where suddenly you’re running in place when the platform is moving to the left and you are running to the right. Or trying to drop off platforms will sometimes bump you back onto them. Toward the end of the game it turns into a fight against the game’s mechanic on top of what can already be a forgiving arm hit detection that doesn’t always grab onto things. A lot of the time the arm will grab onto something as its retracting. The Nintendo version had that flaw too, but it wasn’t nearly as abundant as in Rearmed.
For children of the 80s this was a difficult game on Nintendo, but now it might run you 4 hours to complete. There are a few difficulties to chose from too. I can say that $2.50 is a good price for the game, but I have difficulty justifying $10 for a game this old that is really just a fresh coat of paint with some memorable bosses. The levels are quick and don’t offer much challenge to veterans who have already completed the game 20+ years ago. There are a few new levels including the final level that feels excessively long. There are plenty of challenge rooms inside non combat zones where you’re forced to get from point A to point B, but that’s hardly an attraction. The game has in game medals, but no Steam achievements. After everything being said, I prefer the original and I think that the sequel to this remake is a better game, mostly because I felt like I hadn’t already played it.