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Bionic Commando (NES) artwork

Bionic Commando (NES) review

"Level “6” proved to be arguably the game’s biggest challenge, as by this time, I was expected to have mastered the art of grappling. I had to hook myself from one tiny object to the next knowing that even the most miniscule of slip-ups would lead to my character taking a fatal fall."

So what if a crew of new-age Nazi-types are planning to unleash some sort of fancy superweapon on the world in a bid to take over? We’ve got Super Joe on our side and he’s going over there right now to kick ass, take names and preserve law and order for us all! What can go wrong with this dude on our side?

BREAKING NEWS: Super Joe has been captured. We repeat......Super Joe has been captured.

Oh....well, I’s time to go to Plan B. We do....have a Plan B, don’t we?

Fortunately for the free world, Capcom’s Bionic Commando not only provides the opportunity to put an end to the evildoers, but also to rescue Super Joe. The military brass (once again proving that “military intelligence” is an oxymoron) decides that if their best soldier couldn’t get the job done, well, they’ll just send some anonymous guy over to give it the ol’ college try.

Fortunately, the newbie has a couple of things working in his favor. Not only is he capable of handling virtually every kind of firearm with ease, but also is equipped with an extending arm-like device with many uses -- from pushing away foes to hooking onto ceilings so he can swing over chasms, spikes and other lethal hazards. This grappling arm was an excellent gimmick that played a huge role in making Bionic Commando one of the better platformers released during the lifespan of the NES. The hero can’t jump and he doesn’t need to, as he can grapple from one ledge to another and swing like Tarzan from ceilings -- making him a versatile, nimble weapon of mass destruction.

And he’ll need to be both agile and aggressive to rescue Joe and put an end to the evil plans of Killt, the militaristic leader of the evil empire. He’ll have to swing and shoot his way through the 12 structures that comprise the dictator’s island fortress -- as well as a few other challenges. Scattered throughout the game are a number of neutral zones. Here, no forms of hostility are to be tolerated (although one may find it a bit inconvenient to pass through a couple of these places without committing an act of violence or two) and people breaking that rule will be assaulted by white-garbed soldiers until they either flee the area or perish. Wandering convoys of soldiers patrol the pathways between all of these structures and neutral zones and colliding with them sends the player into a short top-down region somewhat reminiscent of the original Commando.

But the meat and potatoes of this game resides in the main 12 stages. The neutral zones are tiny areas with two purposes -- to store various key items for the player to easily snag and (in one) to give Killt the opportunity to talk some trash. The top-down action scenes are painfully easy and can be considered little more than somewhat annoying diversions from the fun stuff.

Even now, I don’t find a great deal of things more enjoyable than effortlessly sending my soldier through the air, using his grappling arm to hook onto posts, ceilings, ledges and anything else he can grasp in order to advance through each level. While some of these places are a bit mundane and simplistic, others are simply memorable.

Take “3” for example. After crossing a short quicksand field, I then was forced to contend with man-eating plants, spiders and weird floating pods while ascending a mountain -- at which point, I entered a small base and had to make a few precise swings to get over a spike-covered floor and reach this region’s generator.

Level “6” proved to be arguably the game’s biggest challenge, as by this time, I was expected to have mastered the art of grappling. I had to hook myself from one tiny object to the next knowing that even the most miniscule of slip-ups would lead to my character taking a fatal fall. At this point, I discovered how useful those tiny, annoying overhead patrol fights could be. It’s possible to get up to two continues for each trip through one of them by killing certain enemies....and this level has a habit of eating up one life after the next. Sure, a few other levels forced me to make repeated precise swings to get from “Point A” to “Point B”, but after surviving this stage, they were child’s play.

The only thing that really bothers me about this game is how such a series of diverse, enjoyable levels could be capped off by a slew of mundane, repetitive fights to destroy their generators. Each room looks exactly the same and there aren’t too many different foes to offer opposition. Many are guarded by an infinite number of easily-killed soldiers, while most of the others either have a large (but laughably fragile) hovering machine or a large (and very durable) cyborg holding the fort. Much worse, it is possible to lose a life by the cheapest of cheap means in these rooms. After blowing up the generator, the hero is frozen in place for roughly 5-10 seconds until the screen fades away. Any enemies in the area don’t stop moving, though, meaning that it was common for me to take a hit AFTER beating the level. There have been a couple of times where I barely survived long enough to destroy the generator, only to take a bullet and perish while I could only helplessly watch.

So, the game can get somewhat cheap at times, but still has more than its share of positives. Simply put, Bionic Commando is fun as hell, with attractively-designed bases and enemies and a few musical tunes that do a great job of adding to the atmosphere -- especially when the hero is doing things like scaling a vast tower in ”5” or navigating the maze-like corridors of ”8”. I must admit I don’t play that many of my favorite games on the NES because they simply haven’t aged well. This isn’t one of them. I loved it in the ‘90s and I still love playing it today.

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (January 11, 2007)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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