As far as remakes go, Bionic Commando Rearmed
was one of the best. This 2008 release captured everything that was great about the original 8-bit game, while swapping in lush visuals and a vastly improved script. Best of all, the developers completely retooled the gameplay, allowing for the types of daring acrobatics one could only dream about on the NES. After two decades, it was safe to say that Nathan "Rad" Spencer was back and ready to swing into action.
Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is the inevitable sequel, a game that manages to take the spirit of the original remake and add enough new elements to make it stand on its own. In a way, that's all I asked from this release. Just give me a few new abilities and a bunch of harrowing platforming puzzles and I would have given the game my endorsement and called it a day. In some ways Rearmed 2 goes above and beyond what I was expecting, though anybody not convinced by the 2008 remake will not be swayed by this sequel.
The story takes place in between the events of the first Rearmed and the full 3D Bionic Commando reboot. You play Nathan Spencer, a trained soldier who ends up living his life with a bionic arm. This allows him to grab items from across the room and swing from one platform to the next. It's a handy accessory for anybody looking to save the world from comic book-style villains. Thankfully this game is chock-full of over-the-top baddies with amazing bionic super powers.
In the olden days, Nathan's bionic arm worked as an alternative to jumping. As fans of the series will no doubt remember, Nathan didn't know how to jump, so it was up to him hooking his arm and swinging around the levels. That is not the case in Bionic Commando Rearmed 2. This time around our mechanical hero can jump up, down and all around. It's a controversial decision that makes this sequel more accessible to modern gamers. Nathan doesn't have a double jump or anything fancy, but the very idea of him jumping is enough to send some purists into a panic.
Being able to jump makes Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 a much easier experience. Players no longer need to use the momentum to swing to higher platforms, now they can simply jump up and latch on. That's not to say that there aren't a lot of fun platforming obstacles to overcome, but I found that jumping just made everything easier. It's worth mentioning that the game will reward players who manage to make it to the end of the game without using the jump button. In fact, once you've beaten the game you will be offered and option to simply remove the jump feature. It would have been nice if this mode was available from the start.
The action takes place over 28 different levels, each taking us through familiar Bionic Commando locations. We fight through the jungle, factories, underground caves, buildings, and pretty much every place that has something to connect your bionic arm to. The game's final act features several inspired levels, including an exciting prison break and some platforming puzzles on the outside of a moving vehicle. Unfortunately players are forced to wade through too much familiar territory in order to get to the main course.As Nathan battles his way through the game, he'll be rewarded with explosive new weapons and state-of-the-art bionic upgrades. These new powers allow our hero to travel back to the early stages and uncover more upgrades, 1-ups and hidden items. This adds a layer of replay I wasn't expecting. I found myself replaying some of the levels a half dozen time, combing every inch in hopes of picking up every 1-up and ability. It's worth your while to locate each of the power-ups, but it's not required in order to complete this lengthy side-scroller.
Beyond the weapons, players have the opportunity to equip additional powers to their suit. Players worried about getting shot can equip a special pack that slowly increases your health over time. Another power-up allows you to summon two flying ships, which you can send to do your dirty work. You can also equip grenades, a hacking tool and much, much more. None of these power-ups drastically change the gameplay, but it did add some variety to the combat. Unfortunately players have to go into the pause menu to change their equipment. It would have been nice to be able to do this on the fly, especially given how often you'll likely need to swap them out.
There's a beauty to the Bionic Commando world that you don't see in most modern games. Although the graphics are simple, the backgrounds are constantly busy with action, explosions and other fun details. There's also a blurry foreground that will occasionally obscure Nathan and his enemies. This is the type of game that excels in the little things. Just seeing the grass obscure the camera makes me grin with delight, especially given how realistic it looks. The fact that I can gush about blurry grass is a testament to how good the rest of the game looks.
Even better than the graphics is the music, which brings the original composer back for a second helping of the most exciting video game music of all time. Even with the big production value, there's something about the way the music sounds that is undeniably from a video game. Best of all, you know it's from Bionic Commando the moment you hear it. There's nothing else that sounds like it. I'm partially convinced that Capcom decided to greenlight this project just so they could release another album of Bionic Commando music.
On top of the game's story mode, players can take part in another two dozen challenge levels. These stages take place in a VR-style grid, forcing players to navigate their way through some of the most difficult level designs imaginable. In order to beat these stages you'll need to have mastered the controls, something that can be a little tricky at the start.
The game also features a two-player co-op mode. While I love the idea of multiplayer swinging, this is one of those ideas that works better on paper. It's hard enough controlling the action with one person, let alone adding a second player who needs to mimic almost every move in order to keep up. Worse yet, this game can only be played locally, so don't expect to beat the game with an online buddy.
It turns out that I really enjoy the Bionic Commando fiction. Even though the storytelling is a little goofy and the level designs aren't ambitious enough, I found myself loving almost every minute of Bionic Commando Rearmed 2. There's a surprising amount of depth to each of the game's 28 stages, plus some great graphics and at least two or three outstanding boss battles. It's not perfect, but fans of the original game will had definitely find something to love in Nathan Spencer's latest adventure.