Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bionic Commando: Rearmed

Rearmed is a remake of a game for the original Nintendo, but if I didn't know that I couldn't have guessed. It's probably the most fun I've ever had with a game played in two dimensions, and the fact that something this forward thinking in its design and uniquely fun mechanically was made all those years ago makes me surprised it's not hailed as more of a classic. Admittedly I don't have much expertise on the time period, but Bionic Commando had an overworld map that gave you some choice about where to go next before Super Mario Bros. 3 did, and it helps sell the story a lot better. The levels aren't just random locations you have to run through to beat the game, they're specific, important buildings or areas strewn around a piece of land that's being contested by two opposing sides in a war. Your objective is to rescue another soldier that has been captured, and you always have a goal in each level, whether it's just gathering intelligence about his location or disrupting some operation the enemy has going. It's not much, but it seems advanced for the time.

But what I really like about the game is how fun it is to play. You play as a special soldier who can't jump like most video game heroes, but who has a special arm attachment that lets him deflect projectiles, pull things toward him or the other way around, or grapple the ceiling and swing to different platforms. Anyone who complains about the lack of jumping is clearly missing the point, because the swing mechanics suffice for every situation, and what's more, they're a lot more fun. It's the same reason why Spider-Man's web swinging is cooler than Superman's flying - it's more limited, but it's also more visually interesting, and in this case, more entertaining to screw around with. There's a nice progression to the game, both as you gather more weapons and equipment to make you capable of tackling tougher enemies, and you naturally get better with the arm, allowing you to traverse more difficult areas. There's some freedom in the levels, with secrets to find and optional paths to take, and the boss fights, while limited in number of actual unique encounters, are always fun tests of your skill as well. The game's definitely not easy, but succeeding is always rewarding.

The story is pretty simple, but it's enhanced by the sense of humor, which is usually pretty self-referential. The main character, Rad Spencer, is a take on the typical meathead protagonist, making cheesy threats against any foe he comes across. There's some Internet jokes and pokes at the original's poor English translation, and it's a bit hokey, but fun enough to like. The visuals and audio have been updated for today, and they're both really nice. The graphics maintain the spirit of the original (I've seen screenshots!) while still looking nice on modern displays, and the music is all remixed from the NES tunes. It's the best game music I've heard in a long time, and I don't even really like techno. Anyone with any interest at all in retro gaming should get their hands on Rearmed.

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