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Gamer galaxy: “Bionic Commando Rearmed”

By Jessica Lum

Sept. 1, 2008 9:11 p.m.

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.

E-mail Lum at [email protected].

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Jessica Lum
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