The Bionic Commando games have a very 80’s feel to them, whether you’re playing the original or the attempts to revitalize the character in recent years; in my opinion, simply using the word “Commando” in a title or in reference to the main character provides the 80’s connection. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, of course. If played by the right person, and taken in the right context, a game that has that dated feel to it can be a great deal of fun. Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 definitely has the 80’s feel to it, in more ways than one.
I’ll start with the bad. While I appreciate the inclusion of jumping, something that was left out of Bionic Commando Rearmed, the mechanic has severe flaws. Performing any action while jumping can be frustrating, from something as simple as moving to more complex, yet vital, actions like aiming your grappling arm. A few of my deaths can be squarely attributed to the jumping mechanic’s unpolished feel.
The grappling arm is where one of my biggest complaints comes in to play. While it can be fun when it works correctly, the targeting system used for the grappling arm almost made me quit playing more than once. In fact, something much worse almost ended up making me quit playing, but the grapple targeting system made a commendable effort. There are times when the grapple fires in the opposite direction that I’m aiming in, which is hazardous to my character’s health when I’m in mid-air attempting to chain grapples together. Additionally, there isn’t an intelligent system behind the grapple to have it grab when you’re within a specific radius around a grappling point; if you’re not exactly on target, you’re not grappling. This wouldn’t be so bad if you could aim the grappling arm at more than five angles: 0, 45, 90, 135, and 180 (which is really just three angles, either left or right). There is no precision aiming using the thumbsticks; you either get it exactly right with the angles provided to you, or you fall.
Now to what made me almost quit playing entirely: level design. In general, the level design is fun and can provide a challenge in certain sections. Then comes the Reactor level (I believe it was level 23 out of the 27 total levels). The reactor level is a vertical level where you must outrun a rising flood of water. If you fall into the water, you drown. I hate this kind of level; it’s the reason I never finished playing ‘Splosion Man. Add on the fact that the game has a flawed jumping mechanic and a flawed grappling targeting mechanic, and you get a level that, if I had not been given the game by Capcom to review, would have made me quit playing, even though I was so close to the end of the game. But wait, there’s more. The final (I think) level of the game requires you to get over massive gaps between flying rockets periodically. This is where the game beat me. The combination of no safety net and difficult to manage grappling and jumping mechanics makes this last level full-on 80’s Nintendo Hard.
Now, it’s not all bad. Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 gives you 27 levels for the campaign, and 8 Challenge Rooms to test your skills with the bionic arm. The challenge rooms have a somewhat unfinished level-editor look to them, which is fine. The point of the challenge room is not beauty, but skill, or as much skill as you can have with semi-broken mechanics. The campaign’s 27 levels are varying lengths; some of them are no more than a boss fight, while some of them are very long, elaborate levels. This provides a good mix of long and short, which gives a feeling of substance while not making the game drag. While there is no online play, local single-screen co-op is included, which is very well implemented. For PSN players, be warned that you can not play this game without being logged in to PSN, even though there are no online play options.
The best thing about this game, though, is the soundtrack. The remixes of the classic 8-bit soundtrack give you that 80’s nostalgia feeling in an updated way. The music is so good, I’d put it on my iPhone and listen to it while I’m in the car. Fan-made for a contest in 2010, the two main remixes are very well done and add a lot of value to the game.
Bionic upgrades are hidden across the levels, which makes exploration and puzzle-solving in the game very beneficial to your character and your later gameplay. Going into the later levels with upgraded bionics does make things go more smoothly, and certain types of bionics or weapons are necessary to get through certain areas as the game progresses. The upgrade system is simple, functional, and unobtrusive, as it should be, and the bionics themselves offer fun ways to dispatch enemies and obstacles.
At 1200 MSP on XBLA and $14.99 on PSN, you’re getting 27 campaign levels and 8 challenge room levels with local co-op, a great soundtrack, and mostly fun gameplay. Unfortunately, you’re also getting, in my opinion, semi-broken jumping and grappling mechanics, which form the core gameplay. I think a better price point for the game would be 800 MSP/$9.99, but even at 1200 MSP/$14.99, you’re getting a lot of game with a great 80’s sound and feel.
Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 was developed by FatShark and published by Capcom.