The downloadable services for this current generation of consoles have seen a handful of remakes of classic games. But there isn't anything out there quite like Bionic Commando: Rearmed. This remake is built from the ground up, rather than an emulation of the original with a new coat of paint. It modernizes a classic by staying true to the soul of the game, evoking the right pieces of 8-bit nostalgia in the right places, but without feeling tired or dated. In short, it's absolutely terrific.
Of course, I say all that as someone who has probably played and finished Bionic Commando for the NES around 50 times. While I can speculate and say that I think people who didn't play the original game will probably really like it, too, I don't fit that category and won't pretend to know for sure. But other than the game having an elevated level of difficulty that some players without NES chops may find frustrating, I can't see any reason why new players wouldn't be just as psyched.
The thing that always made Bionic Commando so rad was the way the grappling hook felt. You play as Nathan "Rad" Spencer, a soldier with an extending metal hook where his left arm should go. You can't jump, but you can launch your metal arm out and grab onto ceilings and other surfaces. This lets you pull yourself toward things and swing from place to place. The original BC still holds up because of how cool and skill-based the hook was. Timing your hook shots, like shooting it out to get airborne, then launching it again from mid-air to keep off the ground felt great. More importantly, it still feels great in Rearmed. While the timing of the hook seems slightly different (at least when compared with my memories of the original game), it still works.
The story of the game follows that of the original game. As a soldier fighting for the Federal States of America, you go in to fight off the advance of the invading Imperial army and find Super Joe, a legendary soldier who has been captured by the enemy. The Imperials are also cooking up some kind of super weapon called Albatross, and there's talk of resurrecting some sort of evil leader from the past. Surely this can't go well, and if you remember the original game, you pretty much know who the major players really are and what's going on. You probably also remember the payoff at the end of the game. It satisfies just as much here as it did in the original, if not moreso.
The game is structured as an overworld map that lets you travel between levels. When you parachute into a level, you'll work your way through, taking on enemy soldiers, tanks, walls and floors that are covered in spikes, oozing slime that tries to wash you away, and more. At the end of the level, you'll typically fight a boss of some kind and earn a new item or upgrade. Some of these items give you new abilities that you'll need to proceed deeper into enemy territory. Occasionally you'll encounter enemies on the overworld map, which drops you into an overhead view styled after the original Commando. These encounters are pretty easy, but make for a nice change of pace.
The graphics in Rearmed have, obviously, been completely redone. They look fantastic, too, primarily because of how colorful the game is. As you get deeper into enemy territory, you'll run into rooms with great, dramatic lighting. The game also makes enough visual references to the old game to trigger that feeling of nostalgia, but it never uses the old stuff as a crutch. The same goes for the soundtrack, which does a great job of remixing the music of the original game, as well as using the Commodore 64 version of Commando's music as inspiration for the overhead levels. I won't hear arguments on this absolutely true fact: the music in Commando on the C64 is one of the greatest pieces of game music ever produced.
In addition to the main game, BCR also has a collection of challenge rooms that take the game's swinging and movement mechanics and apply them to a puzzle-like race against the clock. The time requirements can get absolutely ruthless in the later challenges, but this is still a perfect application of the game's best mechanics, and seems like the sort of thing that would make for meaningful downloadable expansions after release.
The game also offers two-player co-op and a set of modes for up to four players. These are both fantastic ideas, and the competitive multiplayer has a lot more to it than you'd expect from a $10 downloadable game, but unfortunately the game doesn't offer online multiplayer in any of its three versions. The only online player interaction comes from leaderboards, which only appear in the console versions of the game. Your score for each area is posted online, as well as your times in each of the challenge rooms.
The other differences between the platforms are minor. All three versions have some form of achievements, though the PSN version doesn't tie into the PS3's trophy system (yet). The PC version runs in a higher resolution and has fewer instances of tearing than the console versions do, but again, that's pretty minor. The PC version also lacks leaderboards and is best played with some form of analog gamepad. Also, there are a few challenge rooms that are exclusive in some versions of the game. The load times seem a little long on the Xbox 360, especially when compared to the near-instant loading I got on the PC version.
Bionic Commando: Rearmed is terrific in almost every way, revitalizing a classic but long-dormant game in an exciting way that stands on its own, but also serves as a potent reminder that there's a new retail sequel on the horizon that'll bring all this crazy swinging to 3D environments.