For the uninformed, Bionic Commando: Rearmed is a remake of the NES game with "upgraded" graphics and sound, and some other crap thrown in like the ability to throw barrels. It was released on the 360 Live Arcade and PSN, and there's apparently a PC version I don't know how to get ahold of. Some people might ask "Hey, why did 360 and PS3 owners get this OUTSTANDING remake of one of the best NES games ever, and us Wii owners didn't?" Some might say the Wii couldn't handle it, or if the only system you own is a Wii you're probably one of those gaming illiterates who only owns Wii Sports and Wii Fit and are not the kind of person who'd want to play it, but I like to think it's because Wii owners could get the NES Bionic Commando on the Virtual Console, and would actually be getting the better end of the deal.
Yes, I was as excited as anyone when Bionic Commando: Rearmed was finally released, and ran to Best Buy to get a point card as soon as I could to download it. Ever since the NES game I've been a total sucker for anything Bionic Commando, which brought me to the beauty that was the Game Boy game, and I'm sure I would've loved Elite Forces just as much if I hadn't had that fight with the buggy save system. It hasn't been all sunshine and lollypops with this series, I must admit. Okay, the World of Power novel was readable, but with Capcom Classics Collection came that horrid arcade game, and now GRIN has shat out its bastardization of the NES game.
So, what's BCR's problem? Well, pretty much everything from the graphics and sound to the execution. The biggest problem is probably its controls. They're fiddly and unresponsive, and I cannot count the times I wanted to drop from hanging and immediately fire diagonally to get swinging, but all this happened so quickly Spencer ended up firing straight. But I really couldn't blame this on the programmers. If there's one thing we can all learn from Yoshi's Story, it's that controlling a 2D platformer with an analog stick IS A VERY BAD IDEA. I guess you could blame Yoshi's Story's sloppy controls on poor programming - it's really both - but BCR is evidence to the former. Yeah, I know the 360 controller has a D-pad, but its shape, looseness, and location on the controller makes it even harder to use than the analog stick. This probably isn't an issue on the PS3 version, but there are things I'm more than ready to blame on the programmers, and I highly doubt a Sixaxis fixes them.
I don't know what the name of this effect is - it's when you're looking at a cube straight on so it looks like a square, then as you move to right, without rotating the cube or yourself around the cube, you can start to see the right side of the cube. If anyone knows what this is called please email me, but for now I'm just going to call it some kind of parallax.
Whatever it's called, BCR uses it, and it leads to poor distance perception as you fire at the ceiling and find out too late you were off by a few virtual inches, and you fall to your death. Or you're ducking under some spikes on a moving platform and have only seconds to stand up and throw the claw at another moving platform, only to hit the spikes and get recoiled off your platform because you stood up too soon, even though it looked like you'd already cleared the spikes. What's worse is the hit detection is poor to begin with, and all the graphical bling makes it incredibly hard to see a lot of the time.
The attempt to bring realism and balance to the weapons just succeeded in making most of the weapons worthless. The only gun I ever used besides the revolver was the reflecting laser, which is actually quite handy in Areas 11 and A, but that's really it. I'll be first to admit the Rocket Launcher was horribly overpowered in the NES game, but now it's completely useless because you're more likely to blow yourself up with it than an enemy. The shotgun has no range and knocks you back about one character length, the machine has range but even worse kickback and has to occasionally be reloaded, and the straight laser is ultimately as effective as Spencer making a gun with his fingers and yelling "BANG BANG!"
The best part of all this is that for all my frustrations, the game's difficulty still felt like a huge downgrade from the NES version. Maybe it was because the NES version already taught me many of the tricks, but there's no denying some dumb-downing was involved.
I can actually pinpoint the moment I started truly hating this game, and that was upon clearing Area 3. Oddly enough, I think this is the moment I started loving the NES version. On the NES, you have to scale a mountain infested with mutant flytraps which would kill you in one hit no matter how much health you had while giant spiders and butterflies swarmed you, and concluded in a real nail-biter wherein you had to swing over a hall of spikes with some protrusions from the ceiling, but despite there being platforms in between the spikes you were far more likely to die on the spikes if you slipped up. In BCR, those flytraps have been replaced with bear traps that only hurt you a bit, the giant bugs have been replaced with regular soldiers, and while the scene before the boss is physically the same, it's easier to simply land on the platforms in between, and if you land on the spikes you'll probably be recoiled onto a platform anyway.
This isn't the only example of Bionic Commando being castrated for modern gamers, but it's the one that sticks out in my mind the most. Another moment occurs about halfway through Area 10, where you come to a hallway with spikes on the ground and a floating platform moving between each end. You had to swing onto this platform on the NES, but in BCR you simply grapple to the hanging ceiling bit and hang out until the platform moves under you, then drop onto it.
These things fucking suck. For starters, everything's wire frame and thus a terrible eyesore. It's also the time when hit detection is most critical, yet is also when the hit detection is at its absolute worst with Spencer often getting killed when I thought he wasn't near the spikes (I've deduced his hit area is the square around his image, so even if a spike touches the area in front of his face, or even his gun he dies), or the claw not registering a grip because I didn't actually grab a floating cube but rather went over the top of it. Also, the back-face culling renders many blocks as floating Ls (which led to anger in one challenge when I kept hitting a wall that was invisible because of the angle I was looking at it at), and often won't render a platform until the angle of the camera tells the computer to render it, but you've already fallen past it and died on some spikes. Worst of all, when you grapple straight up and release, Spencer does not fall straight down - he actually moves back a little bit! What in hell? You don't need this on top of dodgy hit detection! I made it to the last set of challenges before giving this shit the finger and letting my blood pressure go back to the safe zone.
Another worthless, but kind of required addition is the hacking minigame, where you shoot a ball around a cube, aiming for a little green cube. I couldn't figure out what the hell was going on here, then finally went to GameFAQs for the answer - You fire the ball by turning one side of the cube to you, and the ball will go away from you until it hits one of the red cubes or gets thrown out of the large cube. You keep firing it through the path of red cubes and eventually into the green cube. But there's really only one path to take, and once I realized what I was supposed to do the minigame became insultingly easy. I almost wanted the plumbing from Bioshock back, at least that made me think a little. Sure, on the NES you just pressed Right to select Wiretapping on the communication console, but the reward for it was surprisingly better. Okay, sometimes you'd get one that was completely pointless ("Is the rocket launcher all right?" "Yeah, it's fine" End transmission) and some made absolutely no sense. But they usually contributed something to the plot and atmosphere, like Joe calling for help, the two soldiers yelling out to each other as they were slaughtered by the area boss, or some of your mates freaking out because that nutjob Hal has the bazooka. Here, you always get a conversation between the same two assholes discussing how to beat the area boss.
Now, let's have some interactive fun. I'm going to compare some scenes in Bionic Commando to the same scenes in Bionic Commando: Rearmed. You can play along by locating the main character, picking out the enemies and all projectiles, and trying to figure out what all the background elements are supposed to be in each image.
Note how you can actually tell those are barrels to the right.
Note how you can't tell what anything here is supposed to be. Not even the people.
How Area 4 opens in Bionic Commando.
How Area 4 opens in Bionic Commando: Rearmed.
And for that matter, you can see the inside of BC's Area 4 without the flares...
...better than you can in BCR's WITH the flares. Maybe Spencer was just blinded earlier.
A little bit of flicker, but you can still tell where everything is.
I won't blame you if you don't believe me, but there actually are bullets in this image.
Sure, killing people is okay...
...but I guess flying people was taking it a bit far.
And for that matter...
...so is killing midgits in cranes.
And despite the 360 being as powerful as a thousand NESes...
... apparently it couldn't handle the moving flames on the floor.
But hey, what's moving flames (and some minor glitching)...
...compared to high-def lighting?
I could keep going with the comparisons, but I think I've already made my point, and the BCR screens I have are already giving me a headache. It only gets worse in motion, where confusion becomes nausea and frustration. Maybe the tiny models aren't such a big deal on a giant HDTV, but I'm still on a little 13" SDTV. However, I can't imagine HD helping the poor color and lighting choices, like the piss-yellow fog in the secret tunnels, or all those areas that open up with a face full of bloom.
And you'll notice I said "the main character" instead of "Ladd" or "Rad" or "Spencer" or whatever. That's because the guy from Bionic Commando and the guy from Bionic Commando: Rearmed are not the same person. No, I do not care what anybody says about them, they are not the same dude. One is Ladd Spencer, a silent-type soldier with a slightly dippy but at least unique name whose shades, haircut, and dress sense make him easily recognizable to anyone with their roots on the NES. And we at least get to see his eyes during the game which may sound like like much, but it does help identify him as a human being. The other is Nathan "Rad" Spencer, a Duke Nukem wannabe with just as much a tough-guy retarded name that I would have preferred "Jack Markson" to and a generic robot claw, the extent of his personality being when he whines about his wife leaving him, then goes on to exchange cliche 'badass' lines with every boss that all might as well read "Halt! Who goes there!" "I'm gonna kick your ass!" "No, I'm gonna kick YOUR ass!" "NO, I'm gonna kick YOUR ass!" "Shut up and fight!" "Bring it on! And did I mention I'm gonna kick your ass?" Even during the actual game, Ladd had his shades and spiky haircut. Spencer is an indistinct monkey-puke green blob.
And while we're on the subject, why did they change his signature spiky haircut? To make him even more generic? Or were they just afraid everyone was going to start asking what Phoenix Wright was doing it the game?
A bit before I posted this review, I had Spencer as my 360 Gamer Pic. Yes, my disgust with this game was what prompted me to change it to Tarma Roving, who I might also switch out in the future since I'm not that wild about that image, but I really wanted to get rid of Spencer. But trust me, if somebody ever releases a picture of the NES Ladd, I'll be on it like the family dog on an unattended plate of hamburger. Heck, I'll even settle for that image of him done in the BCR character portrait style I saw in some trailer.
Actually wait. No. No I wouldn't.
While the NES soundtrack was a little on the whiny side and some of the songs are kind of lame (the neutral zones and truck segments), there was always the Area 1 and 2 themes, and the first bit of the ending to quash any doubts I had on its overall quality. And BCR has made me even more appreciative of the NES soundtrack, because it reduced all those songs to generic hip-hop and techno, only distinguishable because you might hear enough recognizable notes to call up the NES versions of the song that's being bastardized.
The one area in which BCR could have been better than the original is the bosses could have been better. It seemed like half the bosses in Bionic Commando were platoons, only they'd each have a unique soldier with them. Most of the bosses here are new, but they blew that opportunity by making the new bosses obnoxious and tedious and making you fight them all twice (except the one who comes back on the Albatross, who you can and probably should run from), only the second time around they have one new attack (the defense robot thing that fires rockets instead of bullets the second time around) or a slightly different way of killing them (that elevator thing you have to grapple onto the bottom of, then sloooowly ride to the bottom of the room, but oh, the second time around you eventually have to get on top of it).
As annoying as all the bosses were, the most infuriating for me was the first Fabricator. It's that giant half ring that grabs you with a tractor beam, then shoots wires at you that you have to bounce back. The biggest problem with him is the tractor beam is the same color as the spark that signifies which cable he's going to fire at you, and there's two cable you have to bounce back by firing straight - one for ducking, and one for standing. By now you should have guessed those cables are lined up with the tractor beam, and I really hope you guessed it's extremely difficult to tell which cable just sparked until it's already been fired and you fired back in the wrong position. And the fiddly controls didn't help, often making me fire straight when I meant to turn, release the stick, and fire diagonally and ended up getting pegged with a cable. The attempt to make it even more difficult the second time around by having it fire three cables in succession actually provided some breathing room and made it easier.
First, the Game Boy Bionic Commando beat BCR to that by about sixteen years. Second, the Albatross is far and away the worst level in the game, a testament to GRIN's abilities when they aren't using somebody else's designs as their groundwork. The first ten minutes is playing Red Light, Green Light with pistons, poison gas, and electricity, and don't get me started on that obnoxious red-orange glare you have to go through the mechanical part with. Then you go outside and swing around some some flipping platforms, which could have been decent if everything weren't so damn dark and obscured with rain, and if the next set of platforms weren't frequently off or at best barely on screen, or blocked by your fucking health meter. The next section is more off-screen platforms and switch hitting, and was oddly forgettable. Then you reach The Leader - I guess "Master D" was too specific for this game - in his helicopter. He's somewhat of a boss now, and after blasting the cockpit three times you're treated to a hilariously over-the-top recreation of the head explosion, my guess the sole reason this game was rated Mature.
Then you have about forty-five seconds to make your escape, about ten seconds of which is going to be spent slowly riding down an elevator, then you'll probably miss the exit door you can barely see through the coloring and lighting. The next area flashes between red and black, and often you'll waste precious time waiting for the lights to come back on to see where you're supposed to be going, and it still damn difficult to see even when the lights are on. I was tense, not because of what was going on, but because I didn't know if "Lives x1" meant I was on my last life or not. I did not want to go through that entire fucking stage again, and had lost ten seconds trying to find that damn door. I got out with one second to spare, and when the screen went black as I got on the platform with the door, I thought I had died. No, I did it. I got out. I missed half the ending, I was so relieved to finally be done with this POS to really pay attention.
Even without comparisons to the original, the flaws with BCR are still perfectly clear. But knowing what it's a remake of adds insult to injury, and sometimes I can't tell if it's paying homage to the original, or trying to take a piss on it. Some references are made to the Engrish of the original, like when a sergeant tells his soldier to "get the heck out of here you nerd," or when another sergeant tells his soldier he thinks his head might "explod" and the soldier attempts to correct him. Whatever the reason for these, the one soldier saying "ROFL" was unnecessary, and that Achievement with the 1337 5P33K name I can't type without HTML reading it as a tag opening and screwing up the page is flatout insulting.
I have to wonder how many of BCR's problems could have been fixed just by having a working D-pad and removing the parallax. But even with those problems amended, BCR would've had to do something about the poor coloring, the tiny and blurry models, and its addition to the fine modern gaming tradition of making all the challenging stuff optional. Of course, by that point you might as well just release the original game untouched. Fuck this game and fuck everyone involved with it.