"A couple zones in both versions end with a fight against a hovering machine emitting a battle cry of "Pi Pi Pi". My strategy in the NES game was simple: run up and blast it until it explodes. Here, it only can be damaged when Nathan uses his arm to pick up a barrel (a new ability for this game) and throws it at the robot, knocking it out of the air and exposing its lone weak spot. Doesn't sound quite as easy, does it?"
One fine day a couple of weeks ago, I got home from work at about 6 p.m. not feeling like usual. Most workdays, I shamble home under the influence of that ever-so-desirable combination of despair, self-pity and unholy craving for substance abuse that only a cubicle job can truly bestow upon a person. This day.....I felt a combination of hope mixed with a strong dose of trepidation. Why? Because I was going to download Bionic Commando: Rearmed onto my 360 and spend the rest of the day immersing myself in this Live Arcade game.
I've always been a bit skeptical of companies rehashing their old titles for new generations of players. As a guy who's played so many of those retro classics, I'd rather see awesome new games glut the market, instead of a seemingly-constant stream of remakes where I'd just be playing a game I've already conquered.....to experience a new dungeon or two. But this.....this was different. The original Bionic Commando has a truly special spot in my heart. It was a kick-ass action game that concluded with the most awesome moment in the history of this planet -- the head of my avatar.....I mean Hitler.....I mean, "Master D", exploding in suitably gruesome fashion.
And, more importantly to me, not only was this version sporting snazzy upgraded graphics, but from what I'd read, enough changes had been made to the original that simply calling it a remake wouldn't do it justice. Some of those changes had been initially made for a Game Boy version of Bionic Commando, but since I'd never played that, they were new to me. Others were specifically created for Rearmed. Together, they made it feel like I was playing both a fresh, new game and a beloved classic at the same time -- with only a few minor hiccups.
Both the similarities and differences both became apparent when I started playing. The world map showing each of the game's many zones, as well as the paths between them, was a slightly fancier version of the NES game's. However, bionically-enhanced soldier Nathan Spencer now has a female helicopter pilot who, while flying him from place to place, will describe the uses of the various items and weapons he picks up in each zone, as well as engage in random bouts of small-talk. Also, if you find yourself in dire straits, you can summon her to extract you before losing a life (even if you're .2 nanoseconds from plummeting into a bottomless pit). Oh, and you now can descend into Zone 0, where the game places your helicopter at the beginning of play. This area is primarily used to give you a tutorial on harnessing Nathan's swinging ability, but by searching, you also can upgrade your default revolver so it can fire three bullets at once.
The original's "Neutral Zones" now are areas under the occupation of your army, each of which contains a challenge room with eight tests of your arm-swinging skill. Take heed of the word "challenge", though, as the lion's share of these tests are FAR trickier than anything you'll have to do in order to beat the game -- and I found parts of THAT capable of giving me a run for my money!
I expected to be tested in some areas -- let's face it, I've always mightily struggled with the consecutive swings over insta-death water in Zone 6, so it wasn't much of a surprise it took an eternity to get past that trial. But other tweaks to the gameplay made certain other areas a bit trickier. In the original, Nathan increased the amount of damage he could take by killing enemy soldiers and claiming the bullets they dropped. Here, he has a standard life meter, which is lowered by varying degrees depending on what is doing the lowering. It didn't take long to realize I better be VERY precise when swinging over spikes, as a full life bar would be utterly decimated by contact with them.....and a less-than-full one would simply be extinguished.
Rearmed also is loaded with legitimate boss fights that require a bit of strategy -- even if the foe looks like something you fought in the NES game. A couple zones in both versions end with a fight against a hovering machine emitting a battle cry of "Pi Pi Pi". My strategy in the NES game was simple: run up and blast it until it explodes. Here, it only can be damaged when Nathan uses his arm to pick up a barrel (a new ability for this game) and throws it at the robot, knocking it out of the air and exposing its lone weak spot. Doesn't sound quite as easy, does it?
Fortunately, Rearmed doesn't simply ramp up the difficulty -- there are a number of ways in which things are made easier. This version gives players unlimited continues and progress is saved after completing any zone (even if it's simply going through a friendly one to get the item or two it holds). You don't have to pick ONE weapon and ONE communication device when you enter a zone -- the game automatically uses the correct communicator (if you've found it) and you can switch between weapons with the press of a button, which is good, as many have specific situations where they're most effective. The plasma rifle is pathetic against humans, but damages robotic enemies more than many weapons. The bazooka is great against bosses, as long as you're not in the blast radius; while the shotgun is a wonderful short-range weapon, but will barely scratch something halfway across the screen. And there are secrets scattered throughout the levels of this game -- a number of which are upgrades to make these weapons even more useful.
The only flaws I've noticed are very minor. Those unlimited continues make the overhead-view convoy battles useless annoyances, as the only benefit to doing them in the NES version was winning extra continues (which was a LARGE benefit). Now, you can pick up one extra life per battle.....which isn't enough of a reward to make these things anything more than unnecessary distractions. In the communication rooms, to hack into enemy transmissions, you have to complete a dull minigame where you maneuver a ball between obstacles until it collides with the lone green block. Fortunately, these things are optional with the only purpose being to get hints on how to defeat bosses.
Despite it only costing me about $10, I wouldn't be surprised if Rearmed winds up as my favorite purchase of 2009. One of my favorite games of yesterday has been near-perfectly upgraded, boasting several improvements with only a tiny handful of minor failings. With something like that waiting for me at home, I feel like not even the drudgery of being a cubicle drone can break me -- and that's saying something!
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (June 24, 2009)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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