Bionic Commando
By Jason Vincion Wednesday, 14 May 2008

When I was younger, Bionic Commando was a game that I was either borrowing from friends or renting from Blockbuster frequently. I eventually bought a used copy of the game before my interest in the NES stalled out in the mid-’90s (and came back at the end of ’98). I always remember it as being one of my favorites, so let’s see if it stands the test of time.

The impeccably translated plot goes something like this:

“In 198x, we’ve found the Badd’s top secret material called Albatros, which was never put into practice. Imperial Force’s Generallismo Killt has seen the plan and decided to execute the plan himself. The Federation tried to stop his attempt by sending our hero, Super Joe. But, lost contact with him. One brave man was sent with a special mission… to rescue Super Joe. The story begins…”

It starts off with a relatively simplistic plot, but as the game progresses, certain events unfold to help build the story arc and make it much more intriguing. These events eventually lead to finding out that Project Albatros is a plan to raise an antichrist-like war criminal from the dead and harness his evil power. So yeah, you could say it gets a little deeper than “rescue Super Joe”.

Of course, the plot isn’t nearly as important as solid gameplay, and Capcom delivers it in spades. The character movement is smooth and once you get the hang of the bionic arm, play control is top notch. The button allocation is good for the most part, but having Select as the pause button and Start as the item button can get a bit confusing in the heat of battle. You might end up using an item at the wrong time, but that can be fixed by pressing A, B, Start, & Select simultaneously to bail out of a level. Also, the knockback when you get hit is a bit extreme, though this is balanced out by the second of invulnerability you are given.

The difficulty level of Bionic Commando isn’t really that high if you build up your power levels and have mastered the bionic arm. If you haven’t, the game can be kind of frustrating. Really though, the hardest thing about the game is trying to finish it in one sitting, as there isn’t a password system or a battery to save games with. I guess that’s what the Select button is for.

There are twelve stages to the game (not to mention the seven neutral areas), though things progress pretty quickly. It generally takes about 2 to 3 hours to beat (I did it in about 2 1/2 hours, but I took a little extra time). It’s a little longer than most of the other NES games in the genre, but that’s not really a problem as you’ll have a blast spending the time on it.

The graphics for this game are pretty sharp, as one would expect from Capcom. Your character and all the enemies are rather intricate, and the same goes for the buildings. On the flip side of that, the backgrounds for levels are usually just a plain color (light blue for Area 1, sunset orange for Area 5) and the palettes are a bit on the bland side. They do work well enough, as a military game doesn’t need to be all that bright and colorful.

The music for Bionic Commando ranges from good to fantastic. The full songs are very well written and a lot of them have a quality about them that really fits the game. Though the noise channel (snare drum) seems a little higher in the mix than it needs to be for some of the songs (Area 1), it works really well with others (Area 5). There’s an extreme sense of urgency with the music for the later stages, and the throttling music that accompanies the command rooms inspires you to shoot the core (and destroy it). The sound effects do drown out the music some, even if the sound of the bionic arm is pretty cool and reminiscent of the blade sound that Metal Man’s weapon makes in Mega Man 2.

To sum it all up, Bionic Commando is quite an amazing game. All of the additional elements of gameplay that the game has (compared to most of the NES action titles at the time) certainly add to its replay value. The bionic arm is one of the more innovative things in any NES game, and it greatly adds to the appeal. The ability to gain additional health bars through massive slaughtering of reich-like soldiers is a nice change of pace from games where you’re given a set amount of health and that’s it and that’s all. Certainly, it decreases the challenge a bit, but increases the playability.

Having five different weapons (and some handy items) at your disposal keeps things interesting, but you also have to be aware of what’s going to work the best in each area. The side and overhead view levels add variety to the action, and the neutral zones are almost reminiscent of towns that you might find in an adventure game or RPG. Also, the communicating/wire tapping system is incorporated into the game very well and helps slowly build more depth into the plot to resurrect Hitler… I mean Master D.

It’s very easy for me to come to the conclusion that Bionic Commando has greatly withstood the test of time. It was one of my favorite games growing up, and it’s still one of my favorites now here at the nursing home.

3 Responses to “Bionic Commando”

  1. Dan Hearth Says:

    Bionic Commando is one of my all-time favorites.
    I bought Capcom Classics Mini Mix for my GBA just so I could play Bionic Commando anywhere.

  2. Andrew Raub Says:

    Oof… Someday I should beat this game. I’ve never gotten past the 2nd level. I actually had no idea about the neutral zones and different weapons and stuff.

  3. Zach Patterson Says:

    i was always intrigued by this game as a kid. it was one of the few “quality” games that we had (i.e. ones that weren’t bargain bin stinkers) and while it was always too hard for me, i loved the unique play mechanics and excellent music.

    one day, i’m gonna beat this.

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