Bionic Commando Rearmed 2

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2
Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 Cover
Platforms PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade
Genre Aims high, swings low
Score 7  Clock score of 7

One of my favorite activities in college was brainstorming ideas with my roommates. When bored, we would gather in the living room, get out the whiteboard, and come up with some imaginative business idea or a get-rich-quick scheme or an outline of a blockbuster screenplay. The ambitiousness of our outlandish dreams was matched only by our enthusiasm to start making them a reality.

Then, after disagreeing for a few hours about what the title should be for our Atlantis-set romantic comedy, we'd give up and play Smash Bros. For the record, though, I still think "Mermaid for Each Other" is just brilliant.

I get the feeling that Fatshark, the small Swedish developer given the reigns to Bionic Commando after its previous steward was dissolved, had similarly lofty goals and equally tragic work ethic for the series' first 2-D sequel. The result is Bionic Commando Rearmed 2, a sequel that I suspect was conceived with a drive to do it big but produced with a reluctance to do it at all.

Something about the game just felt much weaker than the original when I played through the first hour. As it turns out, there isn't one glaring flaw to the game, simply a number of little disappointments.

The game's introductory trailer immediately established that Fatshark was willing to tinker with the formula. Case in point: jumping. Bionic Commando was unique among platformers on the NES and in the arcades because players lacked any vertical leap, instead using a bionic arm as a grappling hook to traverse the treacherous territory of the Imperial Forces. And this is still mostly true: though hero Nathan "Rad" Spencer has been granted a short hop this time around, it's only useful for bypassing small obstacles like crates and barrels and providing a tiny bit of horizontal or vertical cheat when reaching with that bionic arm.

It's a move that could have erased a defining element of Bionic Commando, but I think it's a worthy addition. It also brings a minor overhaul to the game's control scheme, dropping some of the nuances that series veterans have mastered for something more accessible. It will take newcomers and veteran Commandos alike some time to adjust, but the learning curve is more manageable this time around, curbing many frustrations that might have discouraged those trying out the original.

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 Coop

Likewise, Fatshark saw fit to replace the upgrade system found in the first Bionic Commando Rearmed. Where there was once a small number of arm-based abilities that stacked atop each other, BCR2 features a broader and more customizable set. The player can equip one active upgrade (arm whip, grenade thrower, electrical discharge) and one passive upgrade (regenerating health, speed enhancer, item magnet) at a time. Passive upgrades are limited in use by a regenerating ability meter, and all upgrades can be switched at any time via a pause menu.

Though I welcome an expanded arsenal, the upgrade system in the original game was definitely the more elegant implementation. My beef with BCR2 extends from the mutual exclusivity of the active upgrades. Many of them are situation specific: for example, one allows the player to hack into control terminals, disabling nearby robots or opening shutters. These control terminals serve no other purpose, and neither does the hacking ability, so it doesn't make much sense for the player to have to go into the pause menu, switch abilities, and activate the hacker every time the opportunity arises. The new setup's ambitious variety is weighed down a bit by somewhat cumbersome menu implementation.

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 Rocket

The upgrade system can at least be praised for its ambition, but the weapon selection is purely subtraction by addition. The 2008 remake featured a small rack of guns, but each boasted its own strengths, weaknesses, and quirks for a balanced and fun arsenal. BCR2 throws balance out the window by juicing up the standard revolver with unlimited, ludicrous rapid fire while enforcing limited ammo reserves on each of the other weapons. Even though ammo is plentiful, the alternatives are only preferable to Spencer's trusty sidearm once fully upgraded, and that's if they're lucky: a few of the more creative options, like the surface-sneaking electric orb, are essentially useless in combat and reserved for occasional puzzles.

Guns themselves are only half the fun of firearms: the other half is the target. And here is where Fatshark's lack of effort begins to show through. BCR2 borrows heavily from the previous game to fill the ranks of its antagonist army. Despite resorting to a direct copy in most cases, the new game still manages to come short of the variety and depth of its predecessor, offering only a few infantry soldier variants and a mere handful of robot attackers to patrol each stage. The boss fights are similarly gimped: BCR's creative and unique encounters see a notable downgrade in this sequel.

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 Boss

Bionic Commando's unique movement demands some ingenious level design, and Fatshark again falls somewhat short in this category. If the challenges in the prequel's stages were equal parts frustration and elation, BCR2 trades the peaks and valleys for an even keel that seems to merely be going through the motions. I can't think of a single standout segment, for better or worse, prior to the final few stages that offered plenty of difficulty but little reward. Though the main goal in each stage is to get from A to B, exploration is encouraged via the dozens of upgrades and collectable doodads hidden in the most precarious corners of each stage. There's not quite as much brilliance in the hidden locations this time around, but it is at least where the game shines brightest. A few short sequences task players with manning sniper tower or a helicopter's guns via a targeting reticle on-screen. These are pretty short, very rare, and even more forgettable.

Finally, the game's presentation is pleasing at best and bewildering at worst. The soundtrack is quite catchy, mostly comprised of remixes from the NES version of the original game, much like the first Rearmed. Visually, BCR2 looks familiar in style and polish. The only notable difference is in the backgrounds, which trade the remake's foggy, monochromatic backdrops for full-colored detail. This provides a depth to the environment that wasn't present before, but unfortunatley makes it tougher to discern the foreground action at times. The story, however, is the primary offender in this category. Its mood is stuck in limbo somewhere between the 2008 remake's absurd humor and the 2009 reboot's mockable grit, achieving neither the tributary charm nor the hilariously contrived Metal Gear Solid mimicry that stuck with me. It's also quite lazy when it wants to be: at the end of one stage, Spencer is captured and taken to a POW camp...where he starts prison stage in possession of all of his weapons and his bionic arm, with no guards in sight. I expected a brief foray into stealth or puzzle solving in order to escape, but apparently this prison apparently operates under the honor rule. I don't expect the story of a Bionic Commando game to be structurally sound, but I can't help but guess that a novel idea was lazily adapted from the drawing board.

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 Chopper

Final Thoughts

Although the first Bionic Commando Rearmed was marketed as a mere update to the NES cult hit with HD visuals and minor tweaks, it ended up being a modern classic in its own right, thanks to some unexpected improvements in the fundamental game and an impressive suite of peripheral features. On the other hand, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 was billed as the series' first true sequel and boasted a number of tweaks to the formula, but it just doesn't boast any worthwhile improvements over its predecessor. That doesn't make it a bad game, but it does qualify it as a disappointment, especially considering the higher price.

If you enjoy platformers and haven't checked out the series yet, grab the first Bionic Commando Rearmed ASAP. If you've still got some lingering desire for more bionic action afterwards, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is probably worth $15 if you don't mind that it swings a little lower than its $10 prequel.

*This review was written after playing through the game once on Normal mode in singleplayer, tracking down all the upgrades in either Hard or Retro (no jumping) difficulty, and finishing all 24 Challenge Rooms.

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