Rebooting a franchise for the modern age takes work. You have to look at where it came from and say ‘What can I do to make it work today?’ but also trying to find out how to make a 2D classic work in 3D. Trying to answer both at the same time, Capcom teamed up with studio Grin to revive the iconic Bionic Commando series in two ways.
Grin released the critically acclaimed Rearmed in 2008 and followed it up a year later with a 3D revival continuing the series story with Bionic Commando.
Proving they can make great games with Rearmed, does Grin produce a strong third person action game that not only honors the series but brings it into 3D for the first time?
Taking place after the events of Rearmed, a major incident happens in Ascension City which kills millions of people and ravages the city. Super Joe releases Nathan ‘RAD’ Spencer from prison and asks him to look into the disaster and find out what is going on. Refusing initially due to hating Super Joe for past actions, Joe promises he will help Spencer find his missing wife. Agreeing, he dons the Bionic arm once again and sets out to save the world.
The set up seems grim and dark, but it still has the campy nature from past games. Spencer may hate Joe and dialog between the two of them is quite funny with how much they bounce off one another, but Spencer has fun on his adventure. He audibly enjoys using the bionic arm again after many years and witty comebacks and remarks he states shows that the goofy & cool character from Rearmed is still present.
Dialog in general is well written and can be quite funny at points. Lore of the game world can also be found if you look into things, resulting in a game that might surprise with how engaging the story becomes. It has clear issues, with a late game plot twist being infamous today with how dumb it is. But overall, the story here is solid and can be greatly enjoyable.
The Design and Gameplay
Bionic Commando is famous for offering the ability to swing across locations and use the bionic arm in fun ways, and that is the focus here. I would like to describe the gameplay like this; you are playing a linear Spider-Man open world game but also can use a gun to shoot people. That sounds simple but let me explain.
Levels are set up to be linear but appear open, which results in you being tricked early on. Blue-covered areas are ‘toxic’ and will kill you if exposed long enough. Sadly, you will bump into these spots often and that is a problem. But the trade-off for this design choice is that levels are focused, being carefully designed to push every possible chance for you to use the Bionic Arm.
Many objects can be grabbed with the Bionic Arm and when you are in the air, you can swing. When the screen turns blue, you can let go and dash forward. The feeling of swinging across various landscapes felt so rewarding and once you master the art of swinging, it feels fantastic to explore the many levels of the game world.
Combat is also helped with the Bionic Arm and I loved using the arm for combat. Early on Spencer can attach the arm to people in the air and zip-kick them in the face. You can also pull off basic punches as well. But as you play through the game, you can ground-pound from massive heights, chuck objects around, preform a massive spin attack with the arm, and more. Using the arm felt so good and made combat fantastic; with so many options, you can tackle any challenge in different ways.
Guns are okay but the real fun with combat is the arm and as you unlock more moves, the better it becomes. Once you unlock all your moves and enter later stages, taking out bosses and larger threats feels fantastic. The overall gameplay feels really strong and with tight controls, it results in one of the best playing action games of that generation.
Some combat areas are annoying, as when you are forced to use guns like sniper rifles, it can be frustrating sometimes but that isn’t common enough to be a major issue. Bionic Commando takes a while to open up, but once you have all your moves and levels open up more, it feels wonderful to play.
The Lasting Appeal
This game has various challenges to complete and fully doing so will take a long time, where you will miss a few of them on your first playthrough. I had a blast trying to complete some of them, as the game audibly encourages you to continue through them. The main campaign itself lasts about 6-10 hours depending how long you take in levels and the game even has online multiplayer, though at this point of the games life span (as of this writing), it wasn’t very active.
Some bonuses open up if you have a save file for Rearmed like a special weapon and Retro Skin for Spencer.
Bionic Commando is a visual marvel with the many settings the game features. Torn-up cities with detailed buildings & rubble, jungles with lush planet life, and factories with various pillars holding it up; worlds are visually varied and has detailed textures making it feel alive. Visual effects and blurring at key moments make things feel thrilling as well.
Sound is fantastic overall, with the voice acting for Spencer and Super Joe being very strong. Other elements to the sound design are good too, with effects from guns having impact and the sounds your bionic arm makes sounding quite strong.
Music is a highlight, as it’s a blend of new remixes of tracks from the original Bionic Commando (NES)/Rearmed with new tracks. It has a nice mix between epic and action packed, with my favorite tracks blending the main theme into the composition. It makes the journey feel ‘personal’ to Spencer and having that connection to the main character just through the music is something I greatly enjoyed.
Overall: 4 out of 5
When this game released, it was critically panned for not being open world and the story being odd at points. And while the mislead openness and story can become issues, they are minor compared to this games high quality. Offering fantastic core gameplay that continues to evolve as you play, having some of the best combat in any third person action game at the time, story that can be quite enjoyable with it’s campy nature and strong presentation holding it togeter; Bionic Commando 2009 is an underrated gem from it’s generation. It isn’t flawless but it does so much right, that it’s one of Capcom’s best of that time period.
I played this game using the PS3 version through a copy I purchased.