Skip-Its and He-Man action figures may have an expiration on their popularity, but Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and PC downloadable games such as Capcom’s “Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo” and, most recently, “Bionic Commando Rearmed” show that some toys of the 1980s never lose their charm.
“Bionic Commando” was originally released in the United States in 1988 on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Capcom rereleased a revamped version of the classic 2-D side-scrolling shooting and grappling platformer this past month.
Nathan “R.A.D.” Spencer, a testosterone-pumped super soldier with a bionic arm equipped with a grappling hook, is on a mission to rescue his military buddy Super Joe and prevent the destruction of the world by an evil leader and his army and a secret weapon code-named The Albatross. The plot is rife with a humorously simple, often non-sequitur dialogue between the hero and his compatriots, as well as big bosses.
Through a series of multiple-path levels, Spencer can run, shoot, grapple and swing his way through enemy bases.
Though the 2-D graphics and remixed soundtrack are certainly spruced up from its 8-bit predecessor, the game holds faithfully to the original gameplay that captivated its audience of the late ’80s and still possesses that magnetism 20 years later.
The controls have a tough learning curve and are very much modeled after the original block controller without much shoulder-button functionality, which can be unfamiliar to players used to modern shooter games or even Nintendo’s “Mario” franchise. “Bionic Commando” differentiated itself from its contemporaries of the time by eschewing the jump button for pure Tarzan-style swinging.
Another relic from the era is the sometimes frustratingly precise timing demanded of a game whose enemies’ intelligence tops out at squatting behind a metal can. Savvy modern gamers may find themselves out of their element, and punishing deaths become all the more frustrating given the lack of in-level checkpoints.
But once players master the controls, the game offers a wide selection of upgradable weapons with which to lay the enemies and bosses to waste ““ after which they die in a rather graphic fashion, with rag-doll physics causing them to crumple lifelessly to the ground.
Also mixed into the normal gameplay are occasional encounters with enemy vehicles, which initiates a short level of top-down vertical shooting that provides an opportunity to find an extra life, perhaps to compensate for rough starts and numerous falls.
“Rearmed” is enjoyable solo or as a more social gaming experience, because it features a battle mode for up to four players to face off against each other and a two player co-op mission mode. After all, little is better than sharing the joys of completing missions or commiserating when the haunting red message “mission failed” scrawls jarringly across the screen ““ which will happen often with this game.
Nevertheless, the nostalgic charm of “Rearmed” makes it all the more worthwhile to die a dozen times to relive childhood for a few more hours.
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