Developer: Fatshark / Publisher: Capcom / ESRB: Teen (Mild Language, Mild Violence) / Played on: PlayStation 3 / Price: $14.99
From 1988 on, every game featuring a grappling hook mechanic has been compared to the NES title Bionic Commando. From Batman: The Movie to Shadow Complex, learning to grapple resulted in the same reaction: “Oh, so, like Bionic Commando?” Surprisingly, Capcom waited 20 years to take this highly influential videogame memory and create an arm-swinging remake, Bionic Commando Rearmed. It was praised for sporting high-definition 2D graphics, but keeping the old-school gameplay intact. Lifting off the ground still required latching onto another platform with the main character’s bionic arm. Jumping was out of the question in this challenging game. However, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 does away with that draconian notion of terra firms locomotion. It introduces jumping as its “bionic hook,” if you will, and it changes the gameplay dramatically.
In the two years between Rearmed and this sequel, protagonist Nathan Spencer decided to style his hair spiky and grow a mustache. This makes him look more like an aged anime character than a bionic soldier. Some series staples, however, remain unchanged. Spencer delivers campy dialogue and encounters a Fidel Castro lookalike (possibly the one you shot in Call of Duty: Black Ops?) as he travels throughout the Papagayan Islands. His mission is to defeat the evil dictator General Sabio and rescue a bionic comrade who initially went to confront the cigar-smoking general. You’ve heard this story a thousand times before, but the funny dialogue will keep you from continually pressing the start button to advance through the story sequences.
The newfound ability to jump in Rearmed 2 opens up the gameplay to a wider audience, especially if you don’t have fond memories of the NES original and would be confused as to why such a natural videogame mechanic is missing. Plenty of gamers who picked up the first Rearmed were turned off by its backward-thinking gameplay. If you fall into this category, you’ll also welcome the ability to hop over barrels, climb up from nearby ledges and regenerate health over time. At the same time, these changes mainstream the sequel so much that it makes the gameplay feel less novel, much to the potential ire of the series’ most diehard fans. Like the Montagues and the Capulets, hardcore and casual gamers will never see eye to eye.
Old-school aficionados will appreciate that each level can be completed without jumping and that there’s even an Achievement for pulling off this impressive feat. But the temptation or tendency to accidentally use the jumping shortcut is always there and is bound to get on a lot of purists’ nerves. Thankfully, there are no changes to the shooting gameplay. You’re still limited to shooting left or right, not up, down, or diagonally – no one can accuse you of being unable to shoot straight in this game. It’s also impossible to crawl or scale ladders, despite the presence of many ladders in the background of each level. Grappling is still the main mode of transportation.
Certain levels include entertaining gimmicks like remotely sniping enemies from a targeting station and blasting everyone in sight while flying in an auto-piloted helicopter. But epic boss fights and tough-as-nails platform jumping are where the most fun and challenge are seen in the 28 levels of the story mode. Expanding the game’s replay value, the aptly named Challenge Rooms return to test your skills. Even though the developer ditched the VR mission look of the first game, these rooms are every bit as difficult.
Rearmed 2 allows you to tackle any level with a friend. It’s not exactly drop-in/drop-out, but it’s very close. Of course, while a game-playing companion helps alleviate some of the challenge, you’ll both start with fewer lives. That con is outweighed by the benefits of teaming up on enemies and teaching (and sometimes shouting at) each other about how to grapple to the high ground. Most importantly, the disadvantage of having fewer lives is overshadowed by the fact that this is an enjoyable multiplayer experience.
Aside from the controversial jumping mechanic, Capcom’s most curious decision lies in the DRM-laden PS3 version of the game. The frustration of having to sign in to the PlayStation Network to access even the single-player is compounded by the lack of any online co-op. This is strictly an offline, friend-on-the-couch co-op experience. Online co-op would’ve been appreciated for our troubles.
Graphics and Sound
Nathan Spencer’s spiky hair and grown-in mustache are almost impossible to notice unless you stare at his tiny character model on a really, really large TV. The camera is pulled back significantly in the sequel and finer details are lost in the process. Some cool 2D animations are easy to spot, however. Whenever there’s a crate beyond a normally inaccessible crawlspace, latching onto the crate with your grappling hook allows you to slide through to the other side and powered using a very slick-looking sliding animation. Enemies provide another memorable animation and noteworthy AI tactic whenever you approach them from the same side of a barrel. They’ll quickly retreat for cover by hopping over the barrel’s other side and shoot at you from the safer location. Explosions are also where Rearmed 2 shines and weapons like a Goliath Launcher, WASP Bazooka, and Napalm Launcher provide plenty of chances to witness bright pyrotechnic effects. The pinnacle of this game’s presentation, however, is the bass-heavy techno beats. Capcom’s 8-bit pedigree really shines in the music.
This version of Bionic Commando feels more like Bipolar Commando in that it doesn’t know what type of game it wants to be. Giant boss fights and grappling gameplay make Rearmed 2 relentlessly challenging and fun just like its predecessors. But it becomes a more generic $15 game as soon as you realize that jumping, traversing over objects, and a regenerating health system are more akin to Shadow Complex than its Bionic Commando legacy. And isn’t that a first? Instead of taking the lead by having other games be compared to it, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is being compared to other games.