For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Bionic Commando series (poor souls...), I have decided to provide an overview of the series and its development. Even if you are familiar with the series, you may find this information interesting nonetheless.
Facts About the Game
Bionic Commando was originally an arcade game that was released in 1987. According to Metool, the arcade version was released first in Japan where it was called Top Secret. It was then released in America with the name Bionic Commando. I have never seen or played the arcade version, but Metool tells me it is nothing like the NES version which was also called Top Secret in Japan.
The NES game Bionic Commando was released by Capcom in 1988. Although it was a fairly successful game, I feel that the game never received the credit it deserved. I can still remember reading an issue of Nintendo Power and seeing Bionic Commando at #7 on the Power Charts. I can still remember the text... It said something like "Whoa check it out! BC is swingin' in at lucky number seven". Number 7 isn't too bad considering that Nintendo-Made games were always at the top. Still, I guess the whole military scenario was never enough to garner the interest of the masses although the strange premise of Super Mario Bros was... I however, found the concept of infiltrating enemy lines by use of a bionic arm extremely intriguing. It turns out that this "bionic arm" device is the very thing that makes the game so unique.
The plot of the game is very cool, and the backstory uses an infamous political group and its leader as its foundation with fabricated names. This relationship is not initially apparent, but when you reach the end of the game you will find out if you haven't guessed already.
Sometime in the 1980's, documents from the Badds are discovered. The documents outline a secret military project devised by the now defunct Badds. This secret project known as the ALBATROSS was never realized; however, the Imperial Forces (bad guys) have gotten their grubby paws on the documents and have decided to implement the plans themselves. After many fruitless attempts, the Imperial Force researchers realize that the person with the key knowledge to successfully implement the ALBATROSS has been dead for some time. It is here that the plot thickens...
The Federation (good guys) finds out about this dastardly plan and decides to put a stop to it. Rather than risk all out war, the Federation decides to send in its best soldier to infiltrate the enemy's base and thwart their attempts to make the ALBATROSS a reality. This soldier is known as Super Joe. Unfortunately, contact with Super Joe is lost, and things begin to look bleak for the Federation. There is only one hope... There is one soldier with an experimental bionic arm who is sent out to rescue Super Joe as a last resort. This is where the game begins...
It is here that I would like to point out that the Gameboy version has a more coherent and fleshed out plot than the NES version. Although the object of the Gameboy version is to rescue Super Joe, your character has a different name, and the plot is less sketchy than the NES version. However, the basic idea is the same. Do note that the Gameboy version makes no reference to any historical groups or persons unlike the NES version. Although this shouldn't make much of a difference, this discrepancy actually makes the Gameboy version's plot seem much less interesting and believable despite its better development.
The gameplay in Bionic Commando is one of the most unique and fun concepts ever devised for a video game! Amidst a sea of Hop-and-Bop Mario clones, Bionic Commando really showed innovation and originality.
First of all, you get to pick which levels you will play first via a map screen. However, you are only allowed to select from levels in a certain area of the map until you complete all of those levels. Then you usually get a key item that will allow you to progress to other areas of the map with more advanced levels. You get to move your helicopter around the map "Board-Game-Style", and you may choose to either play a level or transfer to another. While moving around on the map, you may meet enemy truck convoys which will force you to descend and fight through a short overhead view level in the NES game or a short side scrolling level in the GB game. Although these levels are short and there are only 3 varieties of convoy, the levels are fun, and you can gain precious continues by killing the powerful enemies. The neatest thing about the map screen is that you can actually choose which weapons and gear you will take with you into each level. This was basically unheard of back in 1988, and this feature allows the you to experiment with different weapons or use your "favorite" weapon as much as you please. Speaking of weapons and equipment, you gain new stuff every time you complete a level which keeps things fresh and gives the player motivation to complete the levels just to see which item will be acquired next!
In addition to all of the previously mentioned gameplay innovations, the real charm of Bionic Commando is found in the gameplay of the regular levels. First of all, rather than being just long horizontal strips to run and blast your way through, the levels actually seem to be designed as military installations and buildings. None of that "Run to the Right and Kill Everything in Sight" gameplay here! You must climb to the top of buildings, make your way through sewage dumps, and descend into subterranean bases. This, along with the non-linearity of the map screen would be enough to make this game a winner, but the real kicker is the method by which your commando accomplishes all of this infiltration. Your character cannot jump! Instead he is equipped with a bionic arm which seems similar to a Spider Man webslinger. Your commando can shoot his arm out to latch on to ceilings and walls to swing around like Spidey himself! Not only can you swing, but you can attach your arm to platforms above and retract the arm to pull yourself up to the platform. It is this ability to use the bionic arm that makes Bionic Commando such a fun game. You're probably thinking that all of this new swingin' gameplay will be tough to control, but somehow Capcom did a marvelous job of making the bionic arm usage intuitive and fairly simple to learn. Like any new gameplay concept, it will take a short while to get the hang of the bionic arm, but once you do, jumping as a means of traversing terrain will never seem adequate again! You truly must play this game in order to understand the brilliantly conceived gameplay.
A Sad Loss
You have probably figured out that I really feel that Bionic Commando is one of the greatest games of all time. Both the NES and Gameboy versions are excellent, and I have enjoyed the games immensely. However, I feel that Bionic Commando had enormous potential to be a great SNES or Genesis game, but that avenue was never explored. I remember that when I got my SNES the first year it came out I was dreaming of new Bionic Commando, Ninja Gaiden, CastleVania, Contra, Blaster Master, Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and Startropics games. These titles come to mind although there were many other games that deserved sequels as well.
Anyhow, I feel that the absence of a 16-bit (or even 32-bit) version of Bionic Commando is a terrible loss. Although the "Mountain Climbing Suit" in The Magical Quest: Starring Mickey Mouse by Capcom was an admirable attempt to use Bionic Commando style gameplay, it is a tragedy that such great gameplay ideas can be wasted. I say wasted because Bionic Commando would not work as well in 3D which seems to be the way games are headed. I just don't see how the gameplay could be translated without substantial loss. Imagine swinging in 3D without seeing what is above, below, and on each side of you all at the same time. Since 3D games have a limited field of view, the gameplay would never be quite as good in my opinion because you wouldn't be able to see as many possible moves to make as you swing. In fact, you would probably end up trying to latch your bionic arm onto things that you can't see due to the view-camera not switching to the desired angle. I'm not dumping on 3D gaming in general because I enjoy Mario64, Tomb Raider, GoldenEye, and other 3D games a great deal. However, I don't think 3D is the only way to successfully present a game. Well, I have spoken my peace so I'll take it easy for a while. Don't worry though; look for future rants in the near future...
I guess that's it for the Bionic Commando overview! Now go play the game and see what all this fuss is about!
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