Rewind time back 20 years. It's 1988 and Bush and Dukakis are slugging it out for the white house. It is still appropriate, even masculine, for a man to wear hot pink. Thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev, glasnost and perestroika are zinging around in the Soviet Union, which still shows no sign of its later collapse. And most importantly to a kid of the 90s, the NES still dominates the video game market, and one of the best titles for the console is that year's Bionic Commando by Capcom.
And now it's back.
Bionic Commando Rearmed is NES Bionic Commando, ported to modern hardware (both console and PC, thankfully). In fact, 90% of the game is a level-for-level, tile-for-tile translation of the old classic, updated, enhanced and re-envisoned. If you were a kid in 88 and you liked the original, you will find it hard not to like this one. But there are some new things.. new weapons, new items and a super-difficult new final-final level. So even if you could play through NES BC in one sitting of a couple hours (I could), this one will still throw you some new pitches.
No sprites here, lads. And you better have a card that supports shader model 3. That seems a little odd, considering the 8-bit roots of the game, but that's the requirement. It's still 2-D platformer in that your character moves and fights entirely in two dimensions, but all the levels use 3 dimensional rendering and backdrops that provide depth and atmosphere. All-in-all it does an excellent job of taking a game from 20 years ago and updating it, but really did it NEED to require Shader Model 3? If not for that one requirement, I'd think it would run on my laptop... but the lappy only goes up to SM2.
They did a real bang-up job here. The auditory experience of BCR is top notch, blending both vintage NES saw-wave and block-wave sound effects with more contemporary gunshots, explosions, voices and other effects. And the soundtrack! Oh the soundtrack! Somebody on their sound engineer/composer payroll needs a big raise, because that somebody is a damned genius. Again it takes the old NES's soundtrack and remasters it with modern instruments and affectations, and even manages to even use some of the old waveform instruments seamlessly, and it all sounds damn good. Nostalgic overdrive kicked in right from the start, and didn't let up until the end of the final credits.
For the benefit of the urchins and philistines unfamiliar with the original, I'll give a brief overview here... BCR is a sideview 2-D platforming game in which you play a soldier who has been enhanced by a bionic grappling arm, fighting behind enemy lines to rescue a heroic comrade and save the world from an imperial regime bent on world domination. Instead of jumping, you must grapple and sometimes swing from place to place. There are a variety of types of enemies, a level of every setting from factory to PoW camp to alpine stronghold to flying superfortress, bosses that require clever use of game mechanics to defeat, a wide selection of weapons and support items, and a delightfully cheesy storyline straight out of a comic book with dialog that very often turns humorously tongue-in-cheek and self-aware, poking fun at itself and its original incarnation ("Why do they call this 'Health Recovery Pills?' It looks like a bottle of liquid! Get the heck out of here, you nerd!")
Now, for those familiar with the source material, there's also plenty new for you. What you remember as the last level is now only the second to last level, as the Albatross has been turned into an entire flying fortress instead of just a boss encounter. Also, the original version's final "get this single-chance shot off right the first time or die immediately" helicopter encounter with Master-D (here shortened to just "Leader") has been turned into a proper boss battle. There are also dozens of "challenge rooms" which time your completion of a set of obstacles that require expert use of the bionic arm to traverse.
The Aegia (now Nvidia) Physx engine is also put to good use here for all the swinging, shooting, particle and flying debris physics. They got the controls mostly right (the only thing that felt different was the dynamic of multiple swinging over spikes, which didn't feel exactly right but you have to grant some leeway for that).
The whole thing is a great big digital valentine to one of the best games of the 80s, and of course it is also meant to wet our whistles for the upcoming release of the Bionic Commando full 3d remake. It does everything extremely well, with only a few nagging grumbles on my part (the SM3 requirement, and maybe the final level could have been a bit less unforgiving of error). It is the precisely right amount of homage and innovation, with what deviations from past design they made were great improvements. And it's even cheap, to boot.
Verdict: A. And that's the word from Bandit camp.