Bionic Commando (Xbox 360)
Let's begin our review with a song.
The two coolest words that I know
are "bionic" and "co-man-dooooooooooooo."
Put them together and what have you got?
An awesome game about a one-armed maaaaaannnnnnnn.
He shoots his proboscis all over the place
Trying to save the human raaaaaaaccceeeee.
He fights off robots and says dumb things.
He dies a lot and that's the end of our sooonnnnggggg.
Good luck getting that out of your head for the rest of the day!
There is a moment about halfway through Bionic Commando when you walk into a large, dramatic-looking stone arena. The game goes into cut-scene mode. (Spoilers ahead, reader.) You encounter a woman named Mag during the cut scene. She is angry with you, Nathan "RAD" Spencer, for some reason that is not clear. She starts beating the crap out of you during the cut scene. And then you knock the woman down using your bionic, extendable proboscis. (The bionic arm, particularly during the hacking sequences, looks like an elephant trunk crossed with a penis.) And then you say something dumb, and she says something dumb, and then she runs away, and the cut scene ends.
You do not have to fight Mag in this moment, and I was kind of relieved about that at first. But then I thought, Wait, so I don't get to fight her? Because the game just gave me all the signs -- big stone arena, introductory cut scene, dramatic music -- of a boss battle. What the hell? Welcome to Bionic Commando, a cock-teasing, uneven, confused mess of a videogame that, I'm pretty sure, is not the reinvention of the original that Capcom was hoping for.
Disclaimer: I did not play the original game. I have read that it's very good. I was curious about it, so I bought Bionic Commando Rearmed a few months back on Xbox Live Arcade. I tried to enjoy it, but I found it difficult to like.
Because I didn't play the original, and only played around 50 percent of Rearmed, I didn't have a lot of context for what is going on in this game. I tried to follow along; I tried to understand who Spencer is, and who Super Joe is. I tried to understand why Spencer is doing what he's doing. But it's pretty hard to follow. I gave up eventually, and proceeded to steep myself in what I was sure would be some truly epic, kick-ass, third-person action. Capcom has made some of my favorite epic, kick-ass, third-person action games of all time. Example: Devil May Cry. God Hand was another total piece of junk, but I liked it anyway. Onimusha was also great. Capcom publishes the best nonsensical, epic, kick-ass, third-person action games in the world. They should put that on their stationery: Capcom: Publisher of the Best Nonsensical, Epic, Kick-Ass, Third-Person Action Games in the World.
So I didn't care that Bionic Commando did not make any sense to me. I didn't expect it to. But I did expect it to feature some epic kick-ass third-person action.
It does not.
I found myself spending much of the game running through somewhat barren environments. I remember one particular section in which I was running, running, running; I looked at my watch, and about 10 full seconds elapsed and I was still running. Groan.
Enemies come out sometimes and shoot very tiny guns at you. You are equipped with a tiny gun as well, so you can shoot back. Several hits, and they will go down. A few levels later, you meet a pair of robots that you must defeat. To beat them, you need to somehow get behind each robot and target the vulnerable panel on its back, then attach your proboscis to this panel, and then do a zip-kick (A button). Do this several more times for each robot, and they will soon be defeated. An electric gate will vanish, and then you will get to run for awhile, and then more enemies with tiny guns will come out.
That's mostly who you will fight in the game: humans and a couple of different kinds of robots. There isn't really much variety when it comes to enemies in the game. Plus, I never felt like these enemies were working as a team, or displayed even a dim sense of intelligence beyond "GET THAT GUY!!!!!"
But Bionic Commando's downfall -- yes, that is a play on words -- is its crummy, mushy, totally dodgy swing mechanic. There are environments in the game that have clearly been designed as places for you to "get your swing on." But it almost never works. I'd get one, maybe two swings in, and then Nathan would fly out of control and plummet back to earth. Then there are the floating-mine sections of the game, where you have to swing from mine to mine high above a deadly body of water. (Because the bionic arm is heavy, you will sink like a yacht anchor should you fall into the water.)
These floating-mine sections are extremely tricky. You have to have a lot of patience, and a bit of luck, to get through them. You can't simply swing through the whole thing, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. Instead, you have to hold your breath and carefully target each floating mine and then swing away, hope you release your bionic proboscis at exactly the right time, and then, as you fly through the air, hope that you have enough distance to reach your intended target.
Instead of feeling like a total bad-ass, instead of feeling like this bionic arm was truly a gift, I found myself working through these swing-sections with the same kind of deliberate, fussy focus that my grandmother employs when she clips her Denny's coupons from the paper.
I fell into the water many, many times. I am sure my neighbors heard me say the phrase "OH COME ON!!!!!!" at the top of my lungs on dozens of occasions. It's these swing-centric sections of the game that undo whatever dramatic momentum that the game might have generated. Example: There is the underground/cave/Tomb Raider section of the game where I needed to use the swing mechanic to cling to the cave walls to reach my target. Only instead of performing this act with any kind of gymnastic grace, I bounced; I dangled. Instead of feeling like a muscle-bound, savvy superhero worthy of a song -- "Put them together and what have you got/An awesome game about a one armed maaanannnnnn" -- I looked like I was attempting to rub my genitalia all over the cave walls.
Bionic Commando is grim. It's cheerless. It takes itself much too seriously. (Rearmed, at least, was kind of funny.) Take away Nathan's crappy, useless high-tech arm, and all gamers are left with is the sound of one hand clapping.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Want more? Get the first hour in Kyle Orland's Games for Lunch: Bionic Commando