Poll Winner: BIONIC COMMANDO
Bionic Commando was your vote for which NES game I should play and I’m quite glad about that. I’ve never played it but always heard good things. I played Bionic Commando Rearmed on XBLA a few years ago and really enjoyed it, since then I’ve looked forward to one day playing the original game.
The series Bionic Commando actually began in arcades in 1987, not on the NES like I had always assumed. The NES version dropped in 1988. Capcom changed several things with this version compared to the Japanese, most of which they did presumably to avoid offending people. The “Empire” I fought in the American version was originally the actual Nazi party, complete with flags and swastikas and everything. I killed “Master-D” at the end of this game, but Japanese players killed Adolph Hitler himself (who I thought Master-D definitely bore resemblance to while playing through the NES version). Check out the image I pulled from Wikipedia showing the differences in decoration of the antagonist’s office. Players and critics alike loved the NES version and its always been respected as one of the better games of its time.
The artwork of the box and cover is nice. It gives an accurate idea of what you’ll be doing during this game: swinging around on your bionic arm while blasting soldiers in the face with your big guns. One interesting thing I did notice though is the cover is not showing in-game footage, which we talked about in the NES history post was that it was kind of a sticking point for Nintendo to not allow misleading graphics or depictions. I really dig the visual style of this game. The color scheme is a lot of flat blues and greens so it really gives off the military vibe. The cut-scenes between playing levels look great for the time and also really help engage you into the whole army/special ops secret super soldier thing. The different backgrounds of each level also help set the mood, especially when the enemy suddenly invades one of your bases and the sky blackens and the music pace picks up. Musically, Bionic Commando is phenomenal. I know I’m kinda biased because I’m such a sucker for bit music but dammit this music really is amazing. It also does have a large amount of speedy drum-esque rhythms in there that again lead towards the military theme. Both visually and musically this game is killin it.
As you start the game initially you find that there is actually a storyline going on here, its not just a “hey you’re a soldier, no go kill all other soldiers” type of thing. You’re going behind enemy lines to rescue your buddy who’s now a POW. You don’t know where he’s being held so you’ll need to visit various enemy bases to find him. At each base you have to find the enemy communications and hack them to give intel back to your base, which again lends well to the secret soldier theme. The mission select screen design is a thing of beauty and also lends to the “going behind enemy lines” vibe. There are various enemy squads moving around between camps. You have to move your squad to your desired point without running into opposing forces and if you do then you’ll need to take those guys out. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it and its a really cool mechanic that other games should revisit and tweak.
As far as gameplay, I can sum it up in one short statement: the grappling hook is Bad…Ass! This thing makes the game. Properly utilizing it is both difficult and rewarding, its an art form. It is not nearly as easy as it looks. After beating Bionic Commando I watched a speed run on YouTube and was utterly amazed and impressed at how good you can get with it. The technical potential is off the charts. At the start I killed myself over and over as I swung off a ledge to my death or directly into line of enemy fire. But after a couple hours of practice I could pull off some sweet moves. Chaining swings and then landing behind an enemy to blast them in the back feels as badass as it looks. Later in the game when enemies start chucking grenades or you have a big chasm to traverse those grapple skills come in handy. After taking out enemies you always clear the level by destroying that base on your way out and I gotta tell ya it never got old watching it blow up as my character escaped with explosions behind him action-hero style. As you clear enemy bases and patrols you will unlock weapon upgrades similar to Mega Man. At the start of each mission you can bring a limited number of weapon upgrades in with you. This game is like the perfect blend of Mega Man, Contra and Metal Gear.
After eventually clearing the very difficult camps I got to the final boss. The fight itself was subpar in fun and challenge, but the scene ends with the exploding of his head (even more awesome when you recall that the original version’s boss is Hitler) which I found quite entertaining. After that you have a limited amount of time to escape the exploding facility and grab a helicopter while saving your buddy in Rambo like fashion.
I only have a couple gripes about the game. The biggest gripe being the difficulty. I’m all for tough games and in fact very much enjoy them. But I found Bionic Commando to be quite tough, more importantly though is how unforgiving it can be. For the majority of the first half of it you cannot get shot, period. Later on you do build up health but its not much and there are also several sections where game mechanics will kill you instantly anyways. There were a handful of moments where I felt like the game was difficult just for difficulty’s sake. While its no Battletoads or Ghosts and Goblins, Bionic Commando would definitely make my top ten list of toughest games I’ve ever beaten. My other complaint is that there were a couple times where the grappling hook would swing me into spots that locked my character in place and I couldn’t escape. I would have to reset the NES and restart my game. This happened only twice, but on a game this difficult it only takes a couple game freezes to piss you off.
When its all said and done Bionic Commando‘s plethora of pros far outweigh its small issues. It is one of the best games I’ve ever played and I’m glad I stuck it out through the difficult sections and beat it. Bionic Commando deserves its praise as one of the most technically sound games of the 8bit era.