I'm trying to find the right word to describe the Bionic Commando reboot. Like so many modern pop culture reboots, the desecration of the source material is surely blasphemy. It took a beloved NES classic with an unabashed nerdy charisma and '80s action movie lunacy and reskinned it with lifeless grit, detestable characters, and the kinds of military-political entanglements and absurd plot gimmicks that shouldn't be allowed to escape the feature length cutscenes of Metal Gear Solid. It also exhibited a few genuinely terrible design decisions, like invisible, death-dispensing fallout zones. I'm not sure how nobody questioned the merit of sudden, explosive cancer as a hazard in a video game, but it makes me wonder if Capcom and James Bond villains hire from the same temp agencies.
And yet, despite its many, many, many downsides, the game actually managed to be fun at times. If nothing else -- and that's not really an "if" -- the NES original's joy of mobility remained intact. There was tingling grace and invulnerability in swinging around the bombed-out Ascension City. It was enough to persuade me to finish the game's story mode, all the way through the atrocious final hour that actually made me yearn for the one-screen "Congraturation!" endings of the coin-op age.
"Forgettable" is a pretty good descriptor for Bionic Commando 2009. Marking the game as "god awful" and calling it a day would be a disservice to those ecstatic moments of suspension between swing and freefall. But this is one of Capcom's western-focused HD experiments that won't be the subject of any "PS3 games that need a PS4 update" blog posts, that's for sure.
But hey, the game sure did one thing right: load screens!
There once was a game named Bionic Commando, and then twenty years later there was another game named Bionic Commando. In some media, this would be called a remake, but when one features a generic soldier battling through different locations with a grappling hook and the other features a dreadlocked dude battling through an office building with cheesy one-liners, I wonder where the remake line is drawn.
Bionic Commando was released for the NES in 1988 by Capcom. It landed among a glut of platformers where characters did normal things like run and jump, but Bionic Commando bucked the trend and put you in the body of a slow-moving soldier with only his grappling hook at hand to move vertically. Its combination of solid but difficult gameplay and a branching level select entrenched it in the mind of gamers, which led to...
Bionic Commando was released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows in 2009 by Capcom. It landed among a glut of actiony-platformer shooters where characters shot things until they died, and Bionic Commando did not buck the trend. Its combination of generic yet insulting gameplay and derivative story made it largely a totally forgotten game.
Neither Bionic Commandos is meant to be confused with Bionic Commando: Rearmed, which is an actual remake of Bionic Commando (for the NES), and released a year before Bionic Commando (the forgotten one on the more whiz-bangery systems). Or Bionic Commando: Rearmed 2, which is a sequel to the remake released before the game with the same name as the original.
I've played around with this tom-foolery before, particularly with Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden. A pair of games that both featured the same name and ninjas, but that's about it.
I'm going to play the first half-hour of each Bionic Commando, which adds up to an hour of Bionic Commandoness. I will then judge them entirely on 30 minutes of gaming and move on with my life.
One of the more common complaints you'll hear from Nintendo ex-fans is
that the Big N hasn't made any new franchises in a very long time. For
evidence, critics often point to Super Smash Bros. Brawl,
the game that has become a showcase for iconic Nintendo characters past
and present, and correctly note that none of the game's playable
characters are from a franchise created after 2001's Pikmin.
You'd think the one game that celebrates the whole history of
Nintendo's creations would put some recent stars at the forefront, and
yet there are none.
There's a point to be made there, but I don't think it's that Nintendo isn't creating new experiences. Nintendo has been delivering unique titles all along, but skinning them with familiar faces in an effort to grab the mass-market that buys based on brand name alone. It's a practice that probably went into full swing after the amazing success of Super Mario Kart, a racing game that could have been released with the image of any other combat-focused racer and nobody would have ever thought to liken it to the Super Mario series. Nintendo found a way to make the racing formula mesh with a beloved franchise and exploited the mustached plumber's image for instant brand recognition on a whole new product. It wasn't long before every Nintendo character became a pitchman: the ever-adaptable Kirby was a given, and other Mario-verse mascots like Yoshi and Wario weren't stretches either, but even seemingly untouchable characters like Samus and Link are now lending their images to genres that only vaguely fit into their traditional roles.
Enter DK: King of Swing on the Game Boy Advance in 2005. The game could be categorized as a platformer, but the focus on running and jumping had shifted to climbing and swinging, using the system's shoulder buttons. King of Swing received enough positive reviews and sales to spawn a sequel, DK: Jungle Climber, for the Nintendo DS in 2007. Like many hardcore gamers, this game launched well under my radar, but I recently gave the game a shot. Is the stigma of a spinoff warranted, or will I see something new underneath the same old monkey business?