There’s hardly anything I enjoy more than digging through the hush-hush corners of the internet and come up with forgotten or underappreciated video game gems. There’s some weird non-sexual satisfaction associated with spreading a good word about a game half the world’s population has never heard before. While I wouldn’t dare to call 2009’s Bionic Commando truly a gem, I enjoyed it for what it actually is and given the circumstances behind the development, I’m quite pleasant that it works the way it does.
I adore Swedish developer Grin’s Wanted: Weapons of Fate. When I came to know that they also made Bionic Commando, how could I not keep my hands off it? This is not my first rodeo with the Bionic Commando series however. I have been playing Bionic Commando in NES rip-offs since I was a child. One of the first games featuring a grappling mechanic, it’s a classic as far as I’m concerned. While Capcom was successful in remaking the classic as Bionic Commando: Rearmed in 2008, pretty much everyone knows why they wanted to reimagine the 2D side scroller into a 3D action game with the western audience in mind. There’s two things one can never have enough of; wings with hot sauce and money.
Never Skip An Arm Day
Anyhow, coming back to Grin’s take on the series, Bionic Commando is a third person action-adventure game set in the backdrop of an irradiated cityscape. You play as Nathan ‘worst dreadlock ever‘ Spencer, an imprisoned bionic solider who finally gets a chance to reunite with his soul mate; his left arm (Forever Alone). Not just any arm, a 500 pound bionic arm that can do all sorts of bionic…stuff. Nate is able to grapple, hook, climb and bash enemies with his bionic arm, and what’s your excuse for not using it for anything other than spanking the monkey? Flogging your log? Playing pocket Pool? Audition your finger-puppets?
The entire game is split up into several smaller levels, all featuring tonnes of too-convenient grappling opportunities for dear ol’ Nate. you can grab onto ‘almost’ anything in the environment and I would be lying if I said the swinging doesn’t feel satisfying. Using your arm to throw around vehicles and debris, doing leaps of faith from heights so high my Acrophobia kicks in and all sorts of other stuff these bionic guys do makes you feel like a badass, while Spencer screams his lungs out like an all-too excited chimpanzee. This is easily the high point of the game. You’re basically the poor man’s Spider-Man with a dreadlock….and the worst voice actor in history.
With Great Power, Comes Great Frustration
Sadly enough it’s the level design itself that drags down whatever potential the game has. Bionic Commando could have benefited a lot from an open world structure similar to the Prototype games and open-ended missions. The level design is too limited and railroads you too hard. Instead of invisible walls, there are areas filled with hazardous radiation. So much so that, even if you accidentally end up swinging to such a place, you’ll be dead even before you get to say “oh shit!”. This crappy linear level design works at odds with the possibilities of the bionic arm. Then there is the crappier checkpoint system that are more spread apart than a gay pornstar’s buttcheeks. Why Grin? Why?
Everything in Bionic Commando revolves around using your arm for one thing or another. Sure there is a pretty nice selection of guns and grenades. But there’s nothing like grabbing a douchebag soldier and using him to beat down his entire platoon. Just like beating pizza dough. All the badass action you can pull of with Spencer’s bigass arm sometimes makes you forget how much of an anti-damage sponge he actually is. Seriously, this guy has to be the wimpiest of all Bionic Commandos. Your seemingly endless superhero fantasy can easily come to an end, thanks to two right jabs from the many bio-mechs hanging around. By the end game, you’ll be swinging around like a madman, avoiding getting hit and finding that sweet weak points in enemy armor. With great power, comes great frustration.
When it comes down to brass tacks, I had fun with Bionic Commando. Sure there are a lot of frustrating design choices but that never stopped me from enjoying a game. Could it have been better? Yes. Is it something I would replay sometime in the future? No. It’s what it is; A forgotten game that is cheap as hell and entertains you for 7 hours or so. I never expected it to do any better. Bionic Commando stands as an example of the difficulty of outsourcing the development of a title to overseas companies to appeal to a different audience.