Capcom struck upon an incredible idea with the original Bionic Commando for arcades — why don’t we try removing the one crucial mechanic in a platforming game (the ability to jump) and try to circumvent that with some other means of traversal? And it was an interesting experience, to be sure; stripping out vertical movement via a button press and replacing it with a grappling arm that allowed you to climb and swing instead was a bold choice back in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the arcade dev team couldn’t create a compelling world or strong enough gameplay to assist its audaciousness. However, Capcom would not let the concept die; instead, a new team would revisit it on the Famicom and NES and absolutely nail it this time.
With the second go, Capcom came up with one of the most unique and crazy ways to go through an action game. Not being able to jump causes your reactions to completely go haywire — how can Radd Spenser avoid damage if he can’t leap out of the way of bullets or soldiers? He has a gun, and the bionic arm, but…how? And figuring out the best way to approach each section of the stage and then pull off some amazing grapple, blast some “BADD” (i.e. Nazi) and then storm the base? It’s astoundingly satisfying. Capcom made nearly every stage present some new challenge to Radd and the player, to push the grappling mechanic further and make it more and more incredible with each lesson learned. And Area 6 is the ultimate showdown — beating that stage opens up so much euphoria. Add in sharp NES pixel art and a solid soundtrack and you have a masterwork of a cult hit.
However…getting the mastery down pat is the most punishing part of the game, and it can easily push away players unsure of what to do. It took me some time to actually have the game click, but once it did it was among my most memorable moments in any game. But there are a few other problems — minor, but still downers — uninspiring bosses, a localization that isn’t super clear and rife with Engrish and other typos, and some cheap enemy placement mar the overall joy the game otherwise brings. But in all honesty, these issues aren’t enough to make me not love it wholeheartedly. Even more than Portal.
To revisit my earlier picks, check out this tag.