Title: Bionic Commando
The Good: Unique Game Play – Varied Level Design – Well Themed Music
The Bad: Very Steep Learning Curve – Occasional Poor Translations – Short
Jumping is just about one of the most actions you will ever perform in an action platform game. From the earliest days of Donkey Kong, the main character could run and jump. In fact, in many action platform games, jumping is your only means of avoiding danger and disabling your enemies. The complete lack of the ability to jump is what differentiates Bionic Commando from other, similar action platform games.
According to the background story, the main character of Bionic Commando is Ladd, a soldier that has been augmented with a bionic limb. This limb, while providing Ladd a way to scale buildings or hang from the ceiling, weighs so much that Ladd is no longer able to jump. Despite this handicap, Ladd is the best choice to assault the evil Empire that has captured a hero name Super Joe and is attempting to build a super weapon called the Albatross.
While the plot is rather bland on its face, the game actually does a surprisingly good job of slowly revealing the full details. In addition, with the exception of the rather uninteresting Ladd, the characters in the game are quite colorful. Super Joe lives up to his heroic deeds and name while Master D is the spitting image of Hitler and serves as the perfect enemy. Occasional poor translations make some of the story hard to follow, but the translations definitely aren’t as bad as in Zero Wing.
The story isn’t where this game shines. The game’s true quality shows in the level design and how you must utilize your bionic arm to navigate the levels. From the very first level you will find yourself hanging from the ceiling to shoot at a specific target or using carefully timed swings and releases to cross gaps that couldn’t possibly be crossed even if jumping were possible.
And, surprisingly, the designers managed to include a large number of varied challenges that all require slightly different mastery of your bionic arm. In one early level you are faced with multiple screens worth of spiked floor. This challenge requires good skill at continuous swinging. A later level has some very long gaps which require you to aim well when you start your swing and time the following grab perfectly. Late in the game these skills start to get tested in combination, often with enemy fire interfering with your movement as well.
If this sounds difficult, that is because it is difficult, at least at first. It is not uncommon to die almost as soon as you start the game. The inability to jump takes getting used to and early in the game you die from even the slightest amount of damage. In fact the learning curve is so steep you will likely have to restart the game a few times before you successfully manage to complete the first level. Once you have, though, the curve flattens out quickly. The single exception to this is the green trucks that require you to complete a quick overhead combat encounter, similar to Ikari Warriors. Until you have an advanced weapon, these encounters are virtually impossible and provide a second learning curve to overcome.
Finally, the game is notably short. Given the complete lack of a save feature this is probably a good thing, but it is worth noting that a skilled player can finish the game in about two hours. Even a new player will probably complete it in about four hours after getting past the learning curve. Conveniently, the action packed adventure has surprising replay value, despite nothing changing in later replays.
Imagine Contra with an inventory system, health bar, and a lot more story and you have a good sense of Bionic Commando. The game play would be solid even without the bionic arm. Due to the arm, level design and game play is simply brilliant. Graphically, the game is only average for its generation, but the music actually quite good, due to how well it fits the military theme of the game.
Modern gamers can download a slightly modified version of the game on either the PS3 or the Xbox 360. But, anyone with a functioning NES should try to find a copy of the original. The game is well worth the cost and is one of the best and most unique NES games to ever be published.
Rating: 5 (out of 5)