He's not angry, just misunderstood
HIGH Hanging motionless for a split second a hundred feet in the air above a boss before crashing down on it bionic fist first.
LOW Fumbling ineptly with certain biomech enemies for a large amount of time before discovering their weakness.
WTF When replaying certain sections, the in-game chatter is sometimes replaced with more profane versions of the same sentence.
Bionic Commando is a name that carries a lot of weight in gaming culture. Asking about the NES game among a group of gamers is effectively equal to asking them to present their hardcore gaming IDs. Nearly all reviews for the current-gen sequel to the game pay lip service to the legacy of the original, and Brad's is no exception. This left me feeling like the one person in all of gamedom who actively hates that accursed game. Unburdened by the shackles of nostalgia, I purchased the PS3 version of Bionic Commando, knowing that it was my duty to deliver untinted clarity to a mixed critical climate. Ironically, after reaching the end of the game I struggled for a week trying to think of something to say about it that Brad hadn't already said, and better.
Brad's review of Bionic Commando is definitely in line with my own experience. More than once while playing, the idea of late '80s game designers being teleported to the present day and then introduced to modern gaming tech almost felt like a plausible explanation for how this game came into being. The game frequently feels more true to those roots than any number of current-gen reboots of old franchises, which seem content merely capitalize on nostalgia, while using the term "old-school" as an excuse for uninspired cut-and-pasted game design. BC actively interprets old-school design philosophies and presents it in a way that feels modern. Rather than using nostalgia as a crutch, it attempts to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the high-def crowd, and largely succeeds.
Engaging in acrobatic antics throughout the beautifully rendered locales of Ascension City is just as enjoyable on a third playthrough as it was on the first, if not moreso. I found my approach to the same situations would evolve over the course of my time with the game, as I became increasingly comfortable with BC's central mechanic, the bionic arm.
Grappling hooks have been featured in games time and time again, and it's a testament to GRIN's development chops that they didn't allow the arm—fundamentally a grappling hook by another name—to be a throwaway gimmick. There aren't a ton of techniques available through the arm, but each one has its own practical applications, whether zip kicking from target to target or therapeutically flinging soldiers over the horizon. The fact that it is an arm, and NOT just a tool of some kind is actually a great unintentional metaphor for just how organic of an experience BC is.
This organic feel extends beyond just the basic mechanics of the game. Nathan Spencer himself is one of the most alive characters I've seen in some time. Despite being presented as your typical apocalyptic third-person actioner, Bionic Commando has a surprising spirit of playfulness. If Sonic the Hedgehog were transformed into a soldier/convict with dreadlocks and a bionic left arm, I imagine he'd act almost exactly like Nathan. The protagonist howls with excitement when plunging through the air and tosses jibes and insults at enemy soldiers as if he were Miss Local Municipality in a street parade throwing candy to children. Nathan Spencer has as much fun being in Bionic Commando as I do playing it.
With so much going for it, the critical and consumer reception of the game has been a real shame. As Brad has touched on, there was a disconnect between what gamers were expecting, and what BC had on offer. But, I'm not content dismissing this phenomenon as gamers being collectively unable to "get" the game. On the contrary, it seems that at least some of the blame for this situation lies at the feet of the developers.
The one weak point of BC is the gunplay. These guns feel like little more than distractions. They aren't particularly useful or fun to mess around with (with the notable exception of a heat seeking rocket launcher that you receive two or three times during the entire game) and all of them come with very little ammo that isn't easy to replenish. Given how robust of a mechanic the bionic arm is, it feels suspiciously like GRIN included a gunplay element because all of the other third-person kids were doing it.
If gunplay was presented less frequently it would be easy to ignore these shortcomings, but Bionic Commando has tons of guns in it. Guns literally rain down from the sky every few minutes. It seems like anytime the higher ups notice Nathan is about to take on a threat more dangerous than a blind, one-legged dog, they're immediately dropping guns all over the place. With a seemingly endless hailstorm of guns, it's easy to imagine why a lot of gamers came to the conclusion that the game is about shooting people. Unfortunately, anyone who tries to play it in that mindset will almost assuredly have a mediocre experience.
Aside from potentially giving the wrong impression, the guns are also a symptom of a wider issue with BC. It seems like the developers lacked confidence in their own design. The game is short, roughly six hours if you play straight through. The three boss battles, while fun, were also fairly easy and felt like the developers were testing the waters but were afraid to actually go for any real depth. Between this and the unnecessary emphasis on guns, Nathan Spencer starts to seem less like the second coming of Sonic, and more like a nervous wallflower at the prom: dressed like the cool kids while clearly not part of their clique, and slinking to the door at the first opportunity to minimize his embarrassment.
It's probably a good sign that my biggest complaint about Bionic Commando is that I didn't get enough of its central mechanic. I guess that's why I'm still playing it. Whether or not GRIN recognized the quality of what they've created, I certainly have. I can only hope that when and if Nathan swings back on to the scene, he can do it with a bit more swagger.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 20 hours of play was devoted to single-player mode.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore, strong language, and violence. Parents should keep the kids away from this one. The blood isn't really all that bad, but the violence and the language are here in spades.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You shouldn't have many issues with this one at all. Nearly all conversations are subtitled, the exceptions being idle chatter between enemy units. Also there are no significant auditory cues.
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