Back on August 18th, Steve reviewed Bionic Commando Rearmed for Xbox Live Arcade. We decided to do a PSN review as well, but not being familiar with the series, I decided to track down the original for the NES and play through it first since Rearmed is a remake rather than a sequel. Technically, the arcade version of Bionic Commando was the original, but it’s not really relevant with Rearmed. That said, playing the NES version was time well spent, as not only was it a great game, but it gave me a new perspective on Rearmed, which I just finished yesterday. I’m pleased to say it’s an excellent remake that old fans and new folks to the series alike should purchase.
Rearmed And Rockin
The original Bionic Commando put players in the role of the Bionic Commando, an elite and unique soldier for the FSA, a military organization that fights for peace. You’re called into action when fellow FSA operative Super Joe is kidnapped by the forces of General Killt. It’s up to you to locate him, but along the way, you’ll discover that they’re up to something big; something that will not only end the current war but put humanity in general at a serious risk.
At its core, Bionic Commando was, and still is in this great remake, a 2D platformer. There are several twists in Bionic Commando that really made it stand out, though. First, you have the Bionic Arm, which has several uses; however it’s mainly used to navigate through the level. You can use your arm to swing from one platform to another, to go up platform by platform, to activate switches (not something you did in the original), to deflect enemy fire – it has several uses, obviously.
Bionic Commando also forced players to explore the map to discover a data room. In the original, you simply entered this room and contacted HQ by hacking the computer. Doing so allowed HQ to provide the unlock code for a door later on in the level. However, in the original, you simply walked up to the computer and pressed a button, in Rearmed, this idea was retooled in a cool, creative way. Rather than just finding this room and activating the computer, now players have a neat 3D puzzle game to play to hack the computer. You can actually contact HQ directly, without hacking, but if you hack, you not only get more points for the stage, but you find out valuable, often funny information by reading a brief conversation between two members of the bad guys. Choosing to hack, i.e., playing the puzzle game is fun in itself; basically there is a red cube with smaller cubes inside of it. A green cube, a yellow ball, sometimes a couple of blue cubes, and several small red cubes. The goal is to get the yellow ball in contact with the green cube. The blue cubes teleport your yellow ball from one blue cube to the other, the red cubes are obstacles. The idea is that your ball always falls to the furthest wall, and if you don’t hit the green, red, or blue cube, it falls through the larger red cube wall and the hack attempt failed, which could result in enemy reinforcements. Also, these data rooms are checkpoints, so it’s just that much more important that you find them.
Another key element to Bionic Commando that Rearmed keep intact in almost exact form is the world map. In between missions, and in fact, during missions if you call for extraction, a world map with 19 labeled points appears (seven of these are friendly locations, the enemy holds Areas 1-12). Not all areas are available from the start, but as you play through the missions that are open to you, you begin to gather up more and more equipment to make passage to other stages possible. Sometimes this equipment takes the form of a new weapon, like a rocket launcher to destroy a stubborn wall at the start of a mission, other times you have to go to a friendly base on the map and pickup a new communication chip so that you can update or contact HQ while behind enemy lines at the data rooms mentioned earlier. Haley, the helicopter pilot, gives you clear hints at where to go with your newfound gear after nearly every mission, so getting lost is not a concern.
So What Else Is New?
There are a lot of great things about Bionic Commando, old and Rearmed, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about some of the differences between what we saw nearly twenty years ago on Nintendo and this new version. One of the first things I noticed is that in Rearmed, players have a health meter, that can actually be replenished by hacking computers or picking up health drops from fallen enemies; in the same token however, I would argue that Rearmed is actually harder than the original in ways, but more on that later. Rearmed also features different weapons and items, like the ability to throw grenades, which you get early in the game, but you can only use them when crouched to drop onto enemies below you. One major change is the ability to change weapons during the mission, on the fly, whereas in the original you had to call for extraction, change your load out, and then redeploy. Boss fights have been completely revamped; in the original, your goal was to fight a boss, which if you killed got you a bonus, but at the same time your ultimate goal in each mission was to destroy a super computer in the same room as the boss. Now, while there are a handful of similarities (like 1st Platoon and 2nd Platoon are very much like some of the bosses in the original), each boss is basically some type of machine with a driver that has a introductory talk with Captain Spencer (the Bionic Commando) as the battle gets ready to start. Oh, another similarity to note are the floating, big green machines that just say “Pi Pi Pi” – fans of the original will know what I’m talking about, and those were easy back in the day, but they’re a little harder in Rearmed. You have to make use of another new ability, the ability to grab and throw barrels.
Those and a couple of other changes I mentioned earlier (like the hacking part of the game), are some of the major differences in Rearmed. Several other changes include friendly territory now allows you to shoot, whereas in the original if you shot, even accidentally, the sky filled storms and the entire base tried to kill you.
Rearmed also includes cooperative play and several other multiplayer modes that you can play locally or online. Additionally, the fifty-six-plus Challenge Missions included are sure to extend the life of the game for those folks that want quick, difficult challenges. These challenges, once unlocked at the friendly bases or found in secret areas on the ground, are accessible from the main menu. Each of these challenges gives the player the opportunity to test their Bionic skills. I don’t believe any of them have enemies per se, although you are racing against a 30 second timer and a nasty, perilous environment of long drops and spikes, either of which means death and starting the challenge over.
I’d also like to mention that Bionic Commando Rearmed features a cool Database of all of the bosses, weapons, environmental hazards, plot elements, and other goodies as you discover them. That is, you’ll get a concise, but detailed boss database entry after you beat them. It’s nice to see this extra effort put into the game’s universe for fans to read into.
All This For $10?
Rearmed is a fine game. Like the original, it’s not particularly long, you can probably finish it within eight hours, but it’s challenging and offers several reasons for continuing to play, like the challenge missions and multiplayer options. Even if you’ve never played the original before, Rearmed is well rounded enough that you can pick it up and completely enjoy it. However, if you have played the original, seeing how well the developers at GRIN maintained the original’s level design is a treat. At the same time, they’ve greatly expanded aspects of the game while still maintaining that challenging and fun old school feel and mood; take the last level for example, which in the original was Area 12. Now, the final boss is a massive, challenging level unto itself.