Re-releases of retro games and retro remakes come and go like the wind. Often times, a developer will attempt to slightly reinvent an ancient franchise, and expect to get $10 per customer out of it. Bionic Commando: Rearmed is a polar opposite of that trend. Former Capcom employees who worked on the original NES version served as consultants for Rearmed. The effort that was put into this remake could have equated to a $15 purchase, but Capcom ultimately decided to sell it for $10. Read on to find out why Bionic Commando: Rearmed has set the bar for retro remakes.
I hope you don’t like jumping. Bionic Commando on the NES revolutionized the way we look at platforming by eliminating a jump button. While this can cause some minor frustrations due to un-responsive controls from time to time, it plays completely different than other platformers out there. The story is extremely simple, but works. You play as Nathan Spencer, an enhanced super solider with a bionic arm. Your mission: to capture the good old boy “Super” Joe Gibson, at any cost.
Everything from the level design to the world map maintains faithfulness to the NES game. While some minor changes have occurred (for instance, one enemy is now a robot instead of a burly man), it feels like the original, but better. The entire last area is now a full-fledged level instead of just a boss battle, and you can switch weapons on the fly. Each weapon has its advantages and disadvantages. For instance, the revolver (the main gun) is effective against humans, but you’re better off using the laser canon for robots. I found myself constantly switching weapons, which is unusual for a platformer given the simplicity of the genre. Every time you finish a level, you get a new upgrade or weapon from it, making it feel like a “retro platforming RPG”.
One of the greatest parts of the game is Bionic Commando’s “hacking” sequences. Initiated by going into a communications door scattered across every level, you access the enemies’ mainframe computer, and hack it with a mini-game. Tapping into the enemies’ communications line is nothing short of hilarious. A private and his superior will jest back and forth, adding comedy relieft to this otherwise serious shooter. Have you ever wondered why most bosses you fight in games have “that secret vunerable spot”? It’s because some lazy private always forgot to fix it, or it was poorly designed by some moron. Not only will you get a laugh out of it, but you’ll also actually learn how to beat some of the game’s bosses. The exchanges here are part of Bionic Commando’s updated feel. One exchange in particular greatly highlights the developer’s sense of humor: “ROFL! Commander! Our robot has no weakness!”. “Private! Stop rolling on the floor laughing and get back to your post!”.
Be prepared to be simultaneously blown away while feeling like you’re a kid again when you hear the musical score. Comprised of entirely retro tunes, some completely remixed tunes, and a few tracks with a little bit of both, this score will get your heart racing. Each level has a distinctively different sound to it, giving them all their own personal touch. Every sound effect in the game is very well done; it gets the point across while not being too overbearing.
While overall, Rearmed is pretty user friendly, control of Nathan’s bionic arm can be a bit clunky at times. New users may find it very difficulty to complete some of the jumps required of them later in the game, due to Bionic Commando’s “falling off a ledge, then grappling, instead of jumping” mechanic. Hacking enemy computers could have been a bit easier to navigate as well; it’s hard to see where your cursor is going to move at times, but it’s a very minor issue, considering hacking is optional.
Now, imagine your favorite retro classic. Remember all those times when you and your brother had to take turns playing it, and you turned to each other and said “I wish this was two players”. Bionic Commando: Rearmed lets you live out that fantasy. Fully included in the game is two player co-op. To add to the functionality of two players platforming together, the game splits the screen when you are too far away from your partner (just like Toejam and Earl).
There’s also an offline 4 player battle mode, which is kind of like a watered down Smash Brothers. While it’s nice that it was included, it does feel a little tacked on, and doesn’t really give you many options other than “shoot each other with the revolver until someone dies”. The real disappointment here is the failure to include an online multiplayer function. While understandably so, it would be hard to play through the entire co-op campaign online, it could have shipped with an online battle component.
Beating the game isn’t the end of Bionic Commando: Rearmed. You’ll be unlocking challenge rooms as you progress through story mode, in addition to new difficulty levels and optional secret content. Bored of playing the game? Take a peek at the database mode, and just read about Bionic Commando’s many entries regarding weapons, items, enemies, and general game information. Challenge rooms are “as advertised”. Even the most hardcore of players could spend all day on some rooms and never get a decent score. There is enough here for everyone to enjoy themselves; casual players can play co-op with a friend and fool around with battle mode, and hardcore players can constantly challenge themselves with the very hard difficulty and up their challenge room times.
Innovation is just a buzz word these days. Developers do little to re-imagine classic titles, and just try to revive them for quick cash. Bionic Command: Rearmed teaches these companies a lesson: If you work hard at trying to maintain the integrity of an original title, but make extremely proficient changes to reintroduce it to a new generation of gamers, you’ve succeeded.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
Bionic Commando: Rearmed has an HD feel to it, while maintaining a lot of the retro charm that made the original a classic.
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The controls can feel a bit unresponsive, and there are a few questionable scheme choices, but overall it feels great. Boss battles are a treat, with most of them requiring some sort of unique strategy.
Capcom put the soundtrack up for sale on Itunes, attesting to its popularity among gamers. The sounds also maintain an exciting retro feel.
The main game is long enough for a remake of an old title. As an added bonus, the challenge rooms are incredibly fun to play (and master). The death match multiplayer feels tacked-on, but the co-op mode is a dream come true for platformer fans.
Bionic Commando: Rearmed is not for everyone due to its difficulty, but it gives us a perfect example of how to remake a classic game, but keep its retro feel.