Review: Bionic Commando Rearmed 2

Lending a helping hand
By MITCH KRPATA  |  February 18, 2011

You can jump in Bionic Commando Rearmed 2. Don't say I didn't warn you. If you're an orthodox fan of Bionic Commando, this news may distress you. Since the 1980s, when it first appeared in the arcade and on the NES, this series has been defined by its main character's inability to use his legs. Nathan "Rad" Spencer is a man who can achieve vertical motion only by using the mechanical grappling hook so cruelly grafted onto his arm.

Here's the stroke of genius in Bionic Commando Rearmed 2: the jumping stinks. That's not even a backhanded compliment. Rad leaps so slowly, and so pathetically, that you will find no greater incentive to master the grappling hook. To jump in this game is like eating that leftover slice of cake before bed - it seems like a great idea at the time, but you'll regret it almost at once.

To be sure, the grappling hook is where this game sings. In true retro fashion, you have to master its limited moveset before it's any help. When Rad is standing, the hook will shoot in a 45-degree angle from his body - unless you are pressing up on the thumbpad, in which case it will shoot straight upward. If your aim is off, it will not magnetically attach to a grab point somewhere in the vicinity. This is a lesson you will learn again and again when you are attempting to grapple between points that are suspended over an abyss. It's an old-school approach, and though it leads to numerous instant deaths, it also affords you an unmistakable feeling of mastery - you know when you're not plummeting to your doom. When you've nailed a tough sequence, you'll feel someone should be handing you a championship belt.

Unlike so many retro reboots, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 doesn't rely on crushing difficulty for its appeal. To play through it from beginning to end isn't easy, but a moderately skilled player can do so with a little perseverance. The truly grueling stuff is relegated to special-item pick-ups - and they're helpful, not mandatory. To earn a powerful weapon upgrade, you might need to swing over a bed of spikes while your grapple points disintegrate in front of your eyes, but the path to the exit is safely tucked away in a different part of the level. If you want a real challenge, you can complete the game without jumping at all, by using only the grappling hook. You'll even get an achievement for it!

Perhaps the game's smartest move is one that at first seems a typical sop toward replayability. Every level has several hidden items, some of which may not be accessible your first time through. To get a 100 percent completion rate, you need to go back through the levels you've already completed with the upgrades you've earned deeper in the game. It isn't non-linear in the classic style, but this method helps you improve without your even realizing it. When a level seems too challenging, you can run through past ones like a pro, gather some upgrades, and return to where you left off as a much improved player.

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is hardly a world beater, but in this bleak, endless winter, it's as warming as a cup of hot cocoa. Sometimes you don't need a paradigm buster. You just need to swing around on a grappling hook and shoot some exploding barrels. Hey, if the worst thing you can say about a game is that your character can jump, then it must be a pretty good game.

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