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CONSOLE: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC DEVELOPER: GRIN PUBLISHER: Capcom
RELEASE DATE (NA): August 2008 GENRE: Platformer
// review by Jeff

Armed and ready to rock... bionically, that is.

NOTE: I am reviewing the PlayStation Network version of this game, but all versions are essentially similar.

Admittedly, I'm terrible at the original Bionic Commando for the NES (these poor skills would likely transfer over to the slightly earlier arcade version). I don't know why, but I seem to be prone to death in that one. So when I heard that, amongst the many remakes we're receiving this generation, Bionic Commando was going to be upgraded, I was weary. Of course, by the time I realized my weariness, I had already purchased and downloaded the darn thing, so I was stuck with this product lurking on my PlayStation 3, waiting for me to play and subsequently suffer an embarrassing chain of defeats. So I tried it out briefly, and it soon occurred to me that I could never realistically complete this game and had wasted my money.

I subsequently returned to the game around late March 2011, well over a year since I made the original purchase. Initially nervous about how well I'd perform, I'm pleased to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Bionic Commando Rearmed, though it appears at first as merely a fancy shell of its 1988 self, ended up becoming a step above its source material, boasting an experience that indeed proves its worth as more than a mere rehashing.

Bionic Commando Rearmed follows the story of Nathan Spencer (formerly Ladd Spencer, but changed because Ladd is a cheesy name for a heroic figure), a soldier of the Federation who is (somehow) equipped with a very handy bionic arm. He has been ordered to enter the territory of their opposition, known as the Empire, and rescue his fellow officer, known primarily as "Super Joe". In the midst of his travels, he stumbles across the Empire's plans, in which Generalissimo Killt plans to revive the long-dead former "Leader" and his schemes for a major weapon known as the Albatros Project. So Nathan Spencer has his checklist: rescue Super Joe, stop the Leader, and destroy the Albatros. However, he faces an army of hundreds -- along with their mechanical war machines -- during his infiltration.

Traveling between zones is made easy via a handy map system where you control a helicopter and simply follow the different paths to each area. This map existed in the NES version as well, but it wasn't in 3D! Along the way, you may cross paths with enemy land squadrons, at which point the game temporarily switches to an overhead vertical perspective shooter where you must survive a small but pesky onslaught of Empire soldiers before eventually destroying the main convoy at the end. Not only does this add some variety to the gameplay, but it also delivers a throwback to the original game that started the series, Commando. (And yes, this feature was also present in the NES version.) If Nathan's helicopter arrives safely at one of the bases on the map, you can choose to descend there and investigate or move on. Red spaces (Areas 13-19) refer to neutral zones run by the Federation; you are pretty safe there. All other areas (marked 1-12) are owned by the Empire, so prepare for a bit more trouble.

However, for some light mirth while attending to the rougher parts of the neighbourhood, you can hide out in one of the communication rooms (they're always around SOMEWHERE) to try and contact some higher Federation officers, or even hack into the enemy's network and gain valuable information (or goofy banter, whichever is prevalent at the time). To hack into the system, you have to guide a yellow orb through a 3D "maze" of sorts. At first, I had no idea what the heck was going on, as the game explained nothing. I wish I had been better informed!

It's like I've died and gone back to 1988!

Nathan Spencer is initially equipped with a puny little pistol and his bionic grappling arm. It's a shame that, considering the level of danger surrounding this mission, the Federation could not have provided better weaponry or armor. But it's a video game, so we move on. As he passes through the various action stages and neutral zones, Nathan will pick up additional weapons and items to help him survive, such as a handy machine gun, additional armor upgrades, flares (for darkened hallways and such) and even a bazooka! If you don't feel like you're packing heat in the beginning, you certainly will by the end of the game. But the main focus is, nonetheless, the bionic arm. Though primarily used to swing across chasms (with seemingly infinite momentum if you don't touch the controller after grappling) and also pull the character up to higher platforms, there are also some unique functions added to this remake. Nathan can use the hook to pull himself through low tunnels, and he can attach the arm to large blocks to pull them aside and open new paths. The bionic arm is also fundamental to most boss fights. Of particular note is one boss where you'll need to reduce its armor by unscrewing several bolts in its frame using your bionic arm. Boy, if that thing could only make julienne fries! ...wait, can it? All of those cool weapons (and the bosses) have been modified and tempered so that a) you can take all of them into levels, as opposed to having to make a selection of one before each level, and b) the game is more fun. Because it just is.

The control scheme is crisp, but proper timing is necessary for success. If you miss a ledge with your bionic arm because of poor timing, you could fall to your utter, utter doom! This leads to more than a fair challenge. Granted, there are four separate difficulty settings, ranging from Easy (which includes more than enough extra platforms so that you have less of an excuse to die) to Super Hard (with far more limited lives and enemies that are practically hell-bent on killing), but even this may not be enough for the hardcore gamer. That's where Challenge Rooms come into play. For those who want to truly test their bionic abilities, there are a large number of very brief challenge rooms which require you to use your skills in under 30 seconds to get from one side of a large room to the other. Some of these tests are far too difficult for me, but if you're an avid grappler, it's right up your alley. Your timed results can then be uploaded online to compare with others. Will I be among the top players? Sadly, no. But if online proof of your gamer manliness just isn't cutting the proverbial mustard, consider playing head-to-head locally with a friend, multiplayer style, either in a co-operative or competitive manner. Feel free to demonstrate your severe skills.

As with pretty much any retooling of a classic franchise these days, the graphics have to be amped up. And amperage is indeed in the cards here. Though the game remains a two-dimensional affair, all models and foreground environs are rendered in nice, colourful 3D. Your character isn't particularly large on screen, but he makes up for it with smooth movement and just enough detail to be look cool. Character portraits are also an amusing highlight: hand-drawn yet comically delightful! There are a few things I'd change, though, such as the text balloon sizes in the Federation bases. Quite often, you hear what a person has to say, and then we need a whole new word balloon for the last word. Couldn't they edit the balloon size a bit better for that? I do appreciate the little things, such as the short chat sequences between Nathan and his pilot, Super Joe, or bosses. It's very simple-looking, but effective, having character profiles swoosh across the screen. Basically, the game has to be seen to be believed, and for a download-only title, it's definitely one of the best looking of the bunch.

However, it's the game's soundtrack that truly impressed me. Composer (and creative director) Simon Vilkund took the chiptuned military music from the classic Bionic Commando and pulled a complete 180° on them. The melodies are the same, but he has turned once fairly interesting music into a pumpin' electronic groovefest, and this new soundtrack definitely fits the tone of the game. Gameplay itself aside, the soundtrack is the best aspect of the remake. That, and the seemingly random implementation of the term "ROFL" as an utterance by an enemy soldier.

Bionic Commando Rearmed is one of the best remakes I have encountered. It managed to capture the essence of the original Bionic Commando while adding its own unique flavour and modern touch. With tight controls, robust graphics, and a wicked soundtrack that may cause you to boogie while plotting the Empire's downfall, there's no way you can lose with this package. And it's reasonably priced, too; there will be no major dents into your wallet for this one! It may be a bit shorter than your average retail adventure, but nevertheless, it's a sure bet that I wish I hadn't set aside for so long. Bionic Commando Rearmed just goes to show that anything old CAN be new again. Oh, and also that Capcom loves spikes. It's just a fact now.

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