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Review – Bionic Commando (NES)

NES – 1 Player – Capcom

If you ever hear someone complain about the “difficulty” of modern games, tell them to go play almost any NES classic.  Not only will they find many extremely difficult games, but they will be difficult games by design, not because the computer uses cheap AI to “always win”.

Bionic Commando is one such game.  Honestly, this, and any game in the Ninja Gaiden series, are some of the toughest NES games out there.  Possibly one of the toughest games ever.  The one major pitfall of this game is its lack of password or save features.  Yeah, having to write down a 16 digit set of random letters and numbers is a pain but it’s better than starting fresh each time.  Of course, a battery back up save file would be even better.

Honestly though, the modern philosophy of save everywhere, save often isn’t something I’ll cry about.

But enough about save files and passwords, let’s get to the game itself.  There’s actually quite a bit of variety at work here.  On the surface, Bionic Commando is a pretty straight forward side scrolling shooter.  It also has this clever gimmick in the Bionic Arm.  Your player can’t jump, instead he must use his quick grabbing arm to climb platforms and swing across pits.  It’s a lot of fun and ads a lot of interesting twists to the standard philosophy of shooter game play.

The arm isn’t the only thing about this game that helps it shine though.  If it was, Bionic Commando would just fall into the category of gimmick game.  No, the game play method and philosophy isn’t pretty in depth as well.  Between areas or levels, one must traverse an over head map.  Levels don’t have to be played in sequential order, in fact, it’s impossible to finish the game if you try to do so.  I’m pretty sure there are some levels you have to enter, collect an item, then leave for a different level.

Additionally, some levels are “neutral zones”.  You have full regular control, but shooting in these areas will bring down a mass of opponents on both sides of the war.  Essentially, you enter these areas to collect information or items.

On top of the standard levels, the map is full of mobile “levels”.  These are more like bonus rounds.  They play for a top down perspective similar to the older game Commando.  Truth is, this game is actually a pseudo sequel to the game Commando, these missions are meant as a throwback to it’s predecessor.  If you navigate the map well, you can often avoid these encounters but more often than not, you’ll get stuck in one or two.

Game play isn’t always set out with the standard “finish the level” either.  As mentioned, sometimes you simply need to collect an item to proceed.  There’s often a communication link you’ll have to hack into in order to gain access to a future area.  If you fail to break through, enemy forces will detect you and attack in mass.  This ads some level of covert operation to the game play.  It’s beneficial to avoid attracting the enemy.

All of this complicates things quite a bit.  Add in to this a fairly high base difficulty and a pretty long length and it makes for a game that’s hard to complete.  Completing it rewards you with the classic video game scene of, Hitler’s head exploding.  Ok, in the US version he’s not technically “Hitler” but the uncensored Japanese version is full of Swastikas and Hitler.  In the US version you’re fighting the Badds, in the Japanese version, they are Nazis, of the FUTURE!

Despite its high difficulty, Bionic Commando’s sheer variety of game play makes it a lot of fun to play.  Even if you can’t finish it, it’s still worth playing.  Heck, the Bionic Arm can be used for all sorts of random fun by itself.

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