Last time on Bionic Commando, our hero grappled, shot, and swung his way past enemy lines all in efforts to save a man known as Super Joe and stop a certain sinister citizen from taking over the world. Now, the part man part machine all solider must embark on a completely new mission to save a man named Super Joe and to stop a remarkably similar sinister citizen from....well you know.
It should be obvious that Bionic Commando Rearmed (referred to as Rearmed) falls under the genre retro evolved. A lot has changed since the NES version. And in true retro evolved fashion, a lot hasn't changed. Whether it's an element from the past or present, it's all going under the critical-eye.
- The graphical style was modernized well. The colors are bold and flat allowing for the simple shapes to create the necessary contrast to distinguish the various game elements. At the same time, there's a level of fine detail across the board that gives the game that next-gen feel including the real time lighting effects, rag doll death animations, and particle effects.
- Unfortunately, the game developers seem to have forgotten that most people still don't own HDTVs. The text in the game is almost illegible on my SDTV. Continuing to design games with such "next-gen" text only seems inconsiderate. Even on an HD set, the lettering would still be very small. Why invite eyestrain into the gaming experience?
"However, now that we don't have the same memory limitations that the 8-bit game did, we have fleshed out the story quite a bit. Without altering the original story, we have added some new background information that helps tie Bionic Commando Rearmed to its next-gen big brother" ~Ben Judd, Producer at Capcom Japan
- The "fleshed out" story delivered via text boxes transmitted at safe stations throughout the levels are a minor misstep. Presenting the player with small text based stories wtihout visuals to support it is a misuse of the highly visual and interactive medium that is video games. Lost Odyssey and Braid both suffer from egregious uses of such story text.
- On the plus side, from what I read of the text, many humorous moments are created by pointing out the translation errors that litter the original Bionic Commando. Though I haven't played the original, the humor is still accessible.
- Primary mechanics: GRAPPLE, SWING, SWING-JUMP, RELEASE, SHOOT,
- Secondary mechanics: MOVE, DUCK, GRENADE
- Tertiary mechanic: SLIDE, THROW (barrel/soldier), UNSCREW
- Bionic Commando Rearmed is a platformer. With out a JUMP mechanic to get around, players must learn to love the functionality of the bionic arm. Fortunately, in Rearmed, the bionic arm mechanics are highly dynamic. Players can GRAPPLE the wall, platforms, health and point power ups, enemy bullet/missile fire, barrels, enemies, cinder blocks, levers, and screws. The SWING radius is determined by how extended the bionic arm is when it latches to an object. The longer the extension, the farther the SWING-JUMP. Without these bionic abilities, our hero would be just one of the ordinary soldiers hanging out at the base.
- The dynamics of the bionic arm mechanics are solid, but there's a lot of clutter in how these mechanics interact with the game world. Though the player has a lot of control with the mechanics, the GRAPPLE mechanic sometimes doesn't catch what look like direct hits. The amount of grace for the GRAPPLE mechanic is too low considering how the form of the grapple arm looks when passing through objects.
- Somewhere between the ability to GRAPPLE/SWING and the ability climb up through platforms, a significant amount of clutter exists. Depending on the situation, a "solid" platform can stop the player, allow the player to pass through, allow the player only to swing through, force the player to stand up, or just cancel the grapple. Because this high amount of variation goes against the game's forms while existing outside of the player's level of control, the core gameplay contains a lot of unreliability. This, in turn, affects the player's ability to trust the game world as a place with rules and predictable outcomes.
- This clutter seems to be a result of the retro part of Rearmed. Because the bionic mechanics and level design were transferred very directly from the NES version of Bionic Commando (a game made when animation, platforms, hit boxes, and the swinging mechanic were very limited) this next-gen remake suffers. Since the NES days, the gaming industry has learned to tighten up such mechanics so that a game's forms are maintained.
- The apparent "holes" in Rearmed's forms make it difficult to quantify the SWINGing mechanics. When swinging, understanding the game world and how it limits the player isn't as easy as with Super Mario Brothers and counting bricks. But on the ground things are much simpler in Rearmed. The player can either be standing, ducking, or sliding. Furthermore, the player can only shoot straight, and aim the grapple up, diagonally, or forward. Once the ground based quantification is understood, it becomes easy to see how the developers positioned enemies and platforms around to great challenges.
- Another retro feature of Bionic Commando Rearmed is the control scheme that goes against the generations of knowledge and experience we've gained about desinging controls. Out of the four factors that make up a mechanic, Rearmed's bionic mechanics fail at being direct, intuitive, and individual.
- By hitting the GRAPPLE button, the player character shoots off his bionic arm that travels out and retracts back automatically. Hitting the button quickly, or holding it doesn't alter the distance or timing in any way. When hanging from a platform, hitting the same button will cause the character to retract his arm completely. Instead of having control over the mechanical variation, players simply have control over the mechanical state.
- When on the ground and facing forward, hitting the SHOOT button makes the character shoot straight forward. Conversely, hitting the GRAPPLE button makes the character shoot out the bionic arm diagonally forward and up. This odd design choice isn't very intuitive even though it helps to have the default direction diagonal like this.
- Unfortunately, things get a bit more complicated from here. SWING-JUMPing, which is essentially letting go of the bionic arm to let the momentum from the swing fling the character, isn't achieved by using the GRAPPLE button. To let go and SWING-JUMP players must hold left or right. What's also strange is that to GRAPPLE straight forward in the air players must hold down and hit the GRAPPLE button, but on the ground players must hold forward while standing, or down for a ducking straight GRAPPLE.
- The controls simply don't have to be this convoluted. Interestingly, those who have gotten their hands on the new 3D Bionic Commando game have expressed how difficult the controls are. In response Capcom released these comic like pictures to illustrate how simple and intuitive the controls actually are. From the look of things, I much prefer this scheme than the one in Rearmed.
- By some combination of the PS3's lousy D-pad and how Bionic Commando Rearmed buffers the directional inputs, I found the responsiveness of the controls to be sluggish and sloppy. Also, I'm surprised the developers didn't go with a wheel system for weapon switching. Hitting L1 and L2 to cycle through the weapons isn't as efficient as hitting a direction on the right analog stick.
- The enemies aren't a big part of the game/level design. There's a lot of interplay when countering enemy attacks, but the enemies have little to no interplay for countering or influencing the player. The enemies patrol small areas which make them easy to skip and easy to forget. On the super hard difficulty, the enemies are more aggressive, take smarter tactical moves, and can even shoot diagonally not to mention their bullets can kill in just 2 shots. Overall, Bionic Commando Rearmed is mostly about platforming without enemy interference. Without dynamically layered game elements, the amount of emergence and varied interactions possible within the game are limited.
- Bionic Commando Rearmed features a lot of new modes that its NES predecessor did not have. The Co-op is fun. The level design of the game is mostly open enough so that 2 players can comfortably exist at one time. Being able to completely overlap each other so that both players take up the same space makes moving together on small platforms easy. However, the camera for co-op play is deconstructive and borders on terrible. When both players start to move away from each other the camera does what it can to keep both players on the screen by zooming out and/or reducing the about of vertical or horizontal distance either player can see beyond themselves. When the distance between the players becomes too great, the screen lazily splits into two. While the camera is splitting the screen, either player's view can be completely obscured making tricky jumps and situations all the more deadly. Perhaps what's worse of all is that when playing co-operatively, the camera isn't designed/positioned to show as much of the environment as when playing solo. Critical platforms, jumps, and enemies are often hidden leaving the inexperienced players wondering where to go next and taking guessing with their lives. The necessary team work required to beat each boss is a nice touch.
- Having limited lives and doors that function as check points is a retro convention that's refreshing in this industry over saturated with checkpoints and infinite tries. When the player is given so much control over the enemies and environment like in Rearmed, playing through a level/mission in one go is completely doable. By limiting the player's lives, the player is encouraged to buckle down and beat it in this way. This is most evident in the single player mode.
- The hacking mini game is so short, simple, and auxiliary that its function within the scope of the game is a positive one. If players want the health or point powerups awarded for a successful hack, then the option is always there for them. Otherwise, hacking can be skipped altogether.
- The top down missions are terrible. Bionic Commando is approximately 80% platforming. Take this away, and you're left with a measly and uninteresting portion of the game. The significant amount of autoaim present in this mode is forgivable. After all, it helps maintain the quantified aiming feel in a mode when the top down perspective would otherwise removed it. Additionally, the top down perspective frees the player to move vertically and horizontally with ease. This movement freedom makes running past enemies and dodging bullets far too easy. In fact, nothing stops or even challenges the player from running to the end and delivering the finishing blow on the truck. Because these missions are tricky to avoid and the challenge never changes, they become annoying operations filled with static space.
- The challenge/puzzle mode is nicely done. With over 40 challenge levels to work through, it's fortunate that the bionic platforming mechanics have a considerable amount of complexities and nuances to focus each level while keeping each distinct and unique. The odd, often counter intuitive physics for the bionic arm mechanics are highlighted throughout the course of these challenges. To figure out how to pass all the challenges requires a thorough knowledge of these nuances, and fairly high level timing skills. Beating the challenge is one level of accomplishment. Getting 5 stars is the next level. And topping the leader boards should give anyone enough play time to keep them busy for years.
- The battle mode is a nice addition. Without online play, I've can only experience this mode by playing against the other member of the B.E.S crew. Without putting enough play time with the right amount of competition, I'll withhold all comments about this mode's flow, balance, and other design choices. I look forward to watching the youtube video of 4 high level Bionic Commando super fans battling it out or reading an article/post about the evolution of this multiplayer mode's meta game.
And that's Bionic Commando Rearmed. The game has some issues, but overall, it's pretty good. If this game is everything the original is and more, I can't see how the NES game makes it into top 100 games lists. As good as it gets, the limitations of the core design turn this game into a bionic swing and a miss falling short of greatness.