Bionic Commando is one of those games that despite not being super well known, has a very loud and passionate following. I did not grow up playing it. Instead, I was introduced to the series through the remake/reboot, Bionic Commando: Rearmed and the under appreciated Bionic Commando for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. I loved those games, infamous plot twist and all, but how does the original game fare these days?
It’s easy to see what makes the game so unique as soon as you start playing. At it’s core, Bionic Commando is a 2D action-platformer, kind of like Mega Man. The big difference though, is you cannot jump. Instead, the main character, Rad Spencer, uses his bionic arm to attach to platforms. He can climb up platforms by retracting his arm while attached, or he can swing on them like a grappling hook. It takes a lot of practice to get good at, but when you pull off a crazy jump, it’s very satisfying.
Getting to that point is very difficult, however. Many times I found myself swinging straight off the edge of the level and to my death. Enemies can also kill you with a single hit, making it very difficult to learn the layout of the level. Being overly difficult isn’t inherently a bad thing, and it was quite common in NES games, but it did result in me not really getting to see a lot of the game during my play session today.
One of the things I did manage to see a few times, however, are computer rooms. These are kind of cool. While progressing through a level, you might find an open door that you can access by pressing up while standing in the opening. Inside, you’ll find a giant computer that you can interact with. You have two options when you do, either talk to your allies in the army or eavesdrop on your enemies.
While using the computer, the game displays the image of the person talking as well as a box containing the character’s dialogue. It feels a lot like Metal Gear, although the talking is much more brief. Communicating with your friends and listening to your foes can provide you with useful information. For example, in one computer room, my allies told me about “area four” and how it was an armory. My enemies talked about going to area four, but the enemy commander made sure to tell the soldier to bring a flare gun. It’s pretty cool stuff, especially when you consider that NES games didn’t usually try to do anything like this.
There’s a lot going on in this game that I didn’t really get to play around with and figure out. Before starting a level, you’ll see a map screen with numbered areas on them. You start at area one, and sure enough, area four is right next door. On the map are also what appear to be trucks moving around. I have no idea what these do and I didn’t make it over to one. When I chose area one to start with, it prompted me to choose equipment, but at this point I only had one thing to choose. I’m very curious what kind of things can be picked up throughout the game and wonder how they affect it.
You can’t talk about Bionic Commando without also mentioning the music. Capcom is responsible for some of the most iconic soundtracks on the NES. From Mega Man to DuckTales, it’s hard to find a game they worked on that doesn’t have great music. Bionic Commando is no exception. The music from the first level has a real 80’s action movie feel to it, which fits the overall tone of the game perfectly. While it may not be as upbeat as something like DuckTales’ Moon Theme, it’s great and will likely be stuck in my head for the next couple days.
Bionic Commando is cool and is still worth looking at today. It is very difficult though, so be prepared for a pretty steep learning curve. If you want to see the same concepts but a little more modern, Bionic Commando: Rearmed is a phenomenal remake that I can’t recommend enough. Whether you choose the original or the remake, Bionic Commando will give you a unique experience.