"Let's make a platformer where the player can't jump."
That sentence may sound like the ravings of a madman, and indeed there were few developers in 1988 that could pull the concept off; Capcom was one of them. Tying together the upgrade concepts gleaned from Mega Man, while continuing the story of the Commando series, Bionic Commando still stands as one of the most unique, difficult, and fun games from the NES era.
In August 2008, Bionic Commando got a remake in the form of Bionic Commando Rearmed and it was followed by a sequel (to the original game) simply called Bionic Commando, both games are developed by GRIN. A sequel to Bionic Commando Rearmed, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2, was released in 2011.
The story begins with Rad Spencer, the titular Bionic Commando, being tasked with rescuing Commando's protagonist, Super Joe from the "Badds," an evil empire bent on world domination. Super Joe had been sent in to stop the Badds' top secret superweapon, dubbed "The Albatross." All contact with Super Joe was lost, and Rad was sent in to go get him back.
Capcom took a page from Mega Man by giving the player the ability to choose which levels to tackle in any order. Players are initially presented with an overhead map of the game, divided into 16 levels. Players make their way from point-to-point, choosing whether to dive into the level and fight off the Badds and collecting power-ups, or moving onto the next level in the quest to rescue Super Joe. Of course, some power-ups are required to progress through certain levels, while others simply make it easier to take out more of the Badds. For example, in one level, the player must have the rocket launcher to destroy a wall to proceed.
The weapons have a cost/benefit system. One gun has a wider shot, sacrificing range. The rocket launcher can cross the entire screen, regardless of obstacles, but has a slow rate of fire. The types of enemies in each level varies, so matching weapons to enemies is crucial to success. This system is in contrast to simply getting more powerful weapons progressively throughout the game. Any weapon is viable in the correct situation.
One type of collectible upgrade is the communicator. In many cases the player must communicate with FSA agents to proceed through the level, in order to do this, the player must have equipped the correct colored communicator for that level. Failure to do so could result in the inability to complete the level. In special communication rooms, the player has the option to communicate with FSA agents or wiretap BADD communication- provided they have brought the correct communicator. In some cases, communication with the FSA agent results in the opening of a mission critical door, hence without the communicator, the level could not be completed. In instances where the player is unable to complete the level, the player can choose to be extracted from the level without penalty to lives, continues or upgrades, but losing any progress in that level.
Once in the level, the game has a very similar look and feel to other Capcom platformers, like Mega Man, DuckTales, and Ghosts 'N Goblins. Like those games, Rad will have to climb up towers, cross spiked pits, and shoot his way through wave after wave of enemy en route to the stage's boss. Oh, but he can't jump. Instead, Rad is armed with a bionic arm, which can cling to practically any surface, allowing him to swing his way across the level's hazards. While difficult to truly master, using the momentum from swinging quickly becomes second nature, though it's still pretty common to miss a crucial jump and fall to Rad's death. Being an old-school NES game, Bionic Commando doesn't forgive mistakes.
On the level select screen, enemy trucks patrol the roads. If Spencer's helicopter comes into contact with one of these, Spencer must navigate an isometric top-down perspective battle sequence. During these sequences, the Bionic Arm no longer provides the game's jumping mechanic, but springs in an AOE attack radius around Spencer, knocking back enemies and deflecting projectiles. Possibly to combat the difficulty of the game, continues can be collected by destroying trucks in these sequences.
Bionic Commando is one of the Trinity of Capcom game series focused on disabled characters. These are: B.C.- cannot jump, Rockman/Megaman- cannot duck/crouch, Biohazard/R.E.- characters physically incapable of the act of sidestepping. It is possible Capcom is not confident their gameplay would 'stand up' with fully functioning protagonists (R.E.4 was tested with strafing, but it was then removed to add 'drama').
Though extremely difficult, sometimes frustratingly so, many people think that Bionic Commando still holds up today. There simply aren't any other games like it out there.