Video game remakes rarely reach the notorious, controversial heights of Hollywood remakes. Not because there aren’t many, but because almost all of them manage to translate well to the modern audience. The original Need for Speed Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted were positively received in their time; and their high-profile remakes were nothing short of extraordinary, bringing substantial style and glamour to substance. Very few people objected. Half-Life pioneered the path for first-person shooters, and was considered “untouchable” until the still-in-development Black Mesa changed all that. Initially approached by gamers with trepidation, it is now closely followed by everyone who’s played even a minute of it. The 2012 remastered version of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is to me perhaps the standard benchmark when it comes to applying a fresh coat of paint. Grin’s 2008 HD remake of the 1987 seminal classic, Bionic Commando, is as close to a perfect translation for the modern audience as can get.
In Bionic Commando, you play the role of the titular hero named Spencer. Your primary task is to rescue Super Joe, who has been taken hostage by who can be said as one of the most memorable villains ever to grace video games; Generalissimo Kilt (who bears more than a passing semblance to Hitler and may very well be the model-basis for Street Fighter’s M. Bison). Playing pretty much similarly to its side-scrolling, action contemporaries, Bionic Commando was unique in the regard that Spencer could not jump. By removing an integral part of the platforming experience, Bionic Commando was able to distinguish itself from its peers and allowed Capcom to experiment with perhaps the first instance of a now-ubiquitous weapon; the grappling hook.
A truly innovative device, the grappling hook is what Spencer uses to travel around; swinging off ledges, lamps, platform edges and just about anywhere the hook is capable of reaching. Though chiefly a device for moving around, the hook (or claw as it is sometimes mentioned) can also double as a weapon. You can reel-in enemies and throw them at each other; or you can reel-in barrels and other hard-to-reach items and use them as either defensive shields or projectiles. This ability comes in handy (see what I did there?) most especially at boss battles. Your weapons, both primary and secondary, have infinite ammo, meaning you never have to worry about strategy and all that nonsense. Love the rocket launcher a little too much? Why not use it for the entire level, and when the boss appears, tear him a new one? Fancy the machine-gun more? No problems, it’s yours for the keeping!
Challenging with an extra amount of oomph, Rearmed really stings you with its difficulty and steepness of the learning curve. A game for beginners, this is not. But this doesn’t mean veterans should treat it as a walk-in-the-park either. The 1987 original is easily among the most difficult on the NES, and Rearmed is just as hard, with several of the levels guaranteed numerous re-attempts. If everything were to be taken aside, the two reasons I’m going to state below are perhaps the selling point of the game and where 90% of the fun lies, respectively.
The graphics, for one, are simply drop dead gorgeous. A perfect marriage between 2D and 3D – with 2D being the backdrops and the characters 3D -, the graphics and the artwork are stunning and handsome. Some of the scenery require more than mere minutes of observation, and don’t be too surprised if you catch yourself gaping at a particularly impressive backdrop longer than you usually would. A further extension for reason one is also the animations; smooth, crisp, and a delight to watch. While you’re falling from great heights, your character starts to yield his bionic arm in relation to the decreasing altitude. This subtle effect, coupled with the landing animation, will make you want to fall off high places more. In the game mind you, not in real life.
The second reason is the co-operative gameplay. This should go unelaborated but what the heck, I might just as well. Up to two players in campaign mode – and four in competitive deathmatch and similar matches – the carnage is best experienced like this. Player two gets to control Super Joe, who is basically Luigi to the titular hero’s Mario. The thrill of taking down the enemies with your best buddy is beyond 11; the co-operation required to takedown a boss simultaneously imminently leads to victory shouts and smug happiness should the other die in the process. You will notice that in co-operation mode, you and your buddy will gradually focus all your energy from killing soldiers to being the first commando to find the elusive “extra life” icon or secret areas; and believe me, that is when the fun really begins. The only mildly frustrating thing about two-player mode, and overall in general, is the responsive nature of the screen.
Should either of you get too far from each other, the screen splits in two; sometimes horizontal, sometimes vertical, depending on which plane you’re in. Though it’s not a major deal, a-great many cheap deaths have occurred due to its unfortunate timing to split the screen. Also, many areas will require the both of you to stay together if you’re to stay alive because once the screen’s split, you won’t be able to see more than a few feet ahead of you; and that can make all the difference between life and death. I do wish they had adopted the infinitely stretching as in Drive to Survive (a.k.a Mashed), where the screen keeps on stretching to keep the action in view.