Game review: Bionic Command: Rearmed for Steam

Bionic Commando: Rearmed has been one of those games that I was reluctant to play after suffering through the train wreck that was the 3D “sequel.” But I wondered, “How bad could it be?” Pretty bad, actually.

Well no, that’s not entirely fair. Certainly, many levels remain mostly faithful to the original NES game, although GRIN felt the need to add secret areas to uncover and upped the difficulty in many places. The dialogue of the original game was pretty bad, so I can see why they might decide to make changes to that, but I’m not fond of the “wacky” tone of the new material. This is a game about resurrecting Hitler in a bid to take over the world, after all, so why did someone feel the need to lighten the mood with bad comedy? (And it is bad, with not a single joke being even remotely funny.) Of course, since this is using the same engine that made that 3D turd, there had to be dialogue added to remind you about Rad’s “missing” wife. (Thanks, guys. I’d almost blocked that idiotic memory out.)

There’s other changes that I’m not sure how to feel about. In the original game, killing enemies would make them drop green bullets, and after collecting enough of these, the player would earn one hit point. Now there’s a health meter given right away, and instead of dropping bullets, the enemies drop points for some scoring system that I don’t even know where to look to find it. In the NES game, you could only go into each level with one item, but in the new game, all weapons and items are worn at all times, and you can swap weapons on the fly. Someone decided to add grenades to the game, making it possible to blow up enemies hiding behind obstacles or lurking on the floor below. The barrels that the enemies hide behind can now be picked up and thrown. Oh, and replacing the wiretapping option in each communications station is a hacking mini-game. I don’t hate it, but it’s another arbitrary change that makes me ask “Why?”

Someone just coming into this without ever playing the original might not see why this is a big deal and I suppose that’s fair. But for me, it just feels like too much was changed just for the sake of changing it. It’s not broke, but let’s fix it anyway. About the only change I did like was that it’s possible to save and exit the game without losing progress. Back in the day, you had to sit down and commit to playing the whole thing in one run, and that could be a heck of a slog, especially if you had some bad luck and had to start over.

There’s a change to the bosses, too, and while some were admittedly better than the repetitive original versions, there were several that I had to wonder what the point of them was. One required blocking attacks with the bionic arm, a process that was tedious and annoying because the analog stick and D-pad both had a tendency to send the arm flying out in the wrong direction. Another requires hanging off of a hovering cockpit to drag it down to an electrified floor while shooting drones. Why? This makes no sense. Yet another is this giant tower tank that’s defeated by loosening three bolts so that the pilot ejects himself from the cockpit during an attempt to ram Rad. Bwuh? Again, I understand that the original fights at the end of each level could be repetitive, but the bosses replacing them are kind of pointless. And if they felt the old bosses were too repetitive, why do I have to face all these dudes twice?

The most baffling change for me was the final boss. In the original game, there was this rolling tank that you had to climb and swing around on to reach the only vulnerable spot. It was the culmination of all the skills I’d practiced throughout the game, and it felt right, at least to me. But in the reboot, there’s only a fight with a helicopter aboard a floating airbase, and instead of swinging to find a weak point, you have to block incoming missiles until the copter flies closer before firing guided missiles. You only unlock the new missiles moments before this fight, so there’s no practice using them, and really, nothing about this that feels like it’s part of the game I’ve been playing for the last five hours.

That’s how I feel about a lot of the changes, that they’re just arbitrary ideas tossed out because “newer is better.” Certain enemies get swapped out for droids, apparently just to give a reason for the use of the new plasma rifle. Secret areas are added, and all the weapons have hidden upgrades for some reason. Lots of new weapons are added, and most are just gimmicks. There’s a “vector” cannon that fires reflecting shots for angled attacks. Why? I dunno, just because I guess.

None of this serves any purpose other than to be different, and I don’t get the point. Bionic Commando was one of the most unique NES titles to come out, and while the dialogue wasn’t great, the game play style has never been recycled in any other title so far as I know. It didn’t need any changes to be fun. All it needed was a little HD polish and maybe a script update. This…it’s disappointing for me, someone who’s been a fan of the original game since I was a wee child. This isn’t just nostalgia and half remembered details talking. I’ve played the NES version multiple times over the last few years, both on old consoles and on emulators. It’s just so much fun that I have to go back and play it over and over. This…this isn’t what I was hoping for.

It doesn’t help that the graphical upgrade has also created some glitches and randoms screen tearing. On a few levels, it got so bad that I had to shut down the game, and then shut down the computer and restart to correct them.

Even so, I’ll give Bionic Commando: Rearmed 3 stars. It’s not a bad game, and I’m sure someone approaching it who’s never seen the NES version will have a lot of fun with it. But a lot of the changes made rubbed me the wrong way, and that brings down the score a bit.