Games That Defined Me — Bionic Commando
I really have to thank Capcom for making this game and actually having the guts to localize it here in the US all the way back in 1988. Yes kids, this game came out 21 years ago, which makes the same game that’s chillin’ in my collection in my basement older than most of the gaming community in general. Though there are quite a few of you out there that will remember this game fondly and are yelling at your monitor as I read…FUCK YEAH! BIONIC COMMANDO!
Seeing how my parents decided to get me the cheapest NES they could find back in 1988…(i.e.: one that didn’t come with anything packed in with it, including no game) this was THE first game I ever owned for my NES.
Up until few years ago, I always had thought that this game’s title was just Bionic Commando, and appeared so throughout universe. Then I find out that when the game was in Japan it was known as Top Secret: Hitler’s Revival. I don’t know about you guys but I think any game that has Hitler as a bad guy in it is sure to be solid gold. Capcom, however, decided to not only change the name of the game to the generic Bionic Commando, but also changed who the antagonists in the game were, from Nazis to “Badds”. They even went as far to replace the Nazi swastikas with Albatrosses. Luckily for us gamers they kept the end sequence intact. That’s something you’ll have to wait and see…I’ll save that for later just so I don’t spoil it for you all.
The premise of the game is rather simple; you are a bad-ass commando who happens to have a bionic arm and are on a mission to save Super Joe! Full of plot holes and suspensions of disbelief, you are expected to not question the game like “Where did he get the bionic arm?” However, if you were an unlucky kid who couldn’t afford the game or you wanted to find out more of the story…you could buy the novelization!
That’s right kiddies, apparently Nintendo decided to make a series of novels known as the ‘Worlds of Power’ Series and Bionic Commando was lucky enough to be a target for one of the books.
According to the novel, your character (named Jack Markson) loses his arm to ninjas when they attack your hotel room and kidnap ‘Super Joe’…As to what hotel doesn’t have proper anti-ninja devices or why Super Joe was doing in the same hotel room as your character, I guess we’ll never know. I’m holding out hope that we’ll have questions answered in the new version of Bionic Commando that I have yet to buy.
Some of the more astute and old-school-of-gaming readers out there will jump at the ‘Super Joe’ name and wonder to themselves “Hey, where have I heard that name from?” The ultra gamer geek already knows of course that Super Joe was the same name for the main characters in Commando, the arcade version of Bionic Commando, and Speed Rumbler.
Enough rambling from this old man…back to the story, you are a Bionic Commando and you are on a mission to save your buddy Super Joe from the clutches of the Badds (aka the Nazis) led by Generalissimo Killt who are trying to resurrect Master-D (Hitler) in order to help them conquer the world. You must traverse through a multitude of levels (many of them are non-linear) in order to track down where Super Joe is being held prisoner and to put a stop to the enemy’s nefarious plans. I say non-linear as a comparison to games of the time like Metroid, as in you can go anywhere in the world, but not saying you’ll progress far without the special equipment you find in some areas.
Finishing a level, generally nets you a new piece of equipment (a new radio, weapon, or special item). There are a few stages that are ‘Neutral’ territories where you could talk to the citizens to find hints on where to go next…much like the towns in Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. Being neutral towns, there are enemy troops walking around that talk shit about you and Super Joe, even though you might get pissed and want to shoot them, you mustn’t ever fire your weapon within a neutral stage, otherwise all hell breaks loose and troops come flying from all sides of the screen and will attack you until you leave.
The level design was really nice, whether it be a Nazi stronghold, an enemy listening outpost, the ubiquitous snow level, an underground base, a mountain lookout, a shipyard, etc. The neat thing about the stages of this game is that there were so many places to grapple to.
You see…back in the NES days kids, you had 2 buttons you could count on using…sometimes 3 if select was used and for most games, these simply meant jump and shoot…this game however, involved lots of shooting but no jumping. That’s right, you could only walk left or right, the worlds best hope for rescuing Super Joe was incapable of jumping. You simply had only your bionic arm to grapple up ledges, or in the case of some levels, swing across chasms.
The animations for the grappling and swinging were amazingly fluid for this being out in ’88. In fact, all of the sprites are pretty nice for a NES game…meaning that the stages all look like they should, and the enemies all look clean enough to distinguish between what type of troop they are. They even went to the trouble of including more detailed sprites of characters when they’re chatting in game’s radio scenes.
The game’s difficulty level was just so unforgiving. You got maybe through the first level before shit got really hard, really fast. Your character can take one shot, yes 1 shot before you are dead. Luckily, you can level up the protagonist by collecting bullets that the dead soldiers drop which give you more hit points up to the wonderfully random limit of 8. Once my eight-year-old brain figured that tidbit of information out, I’d generally spend a good hour killing as many troops as I could on the first level to be decently strong enough to beat the game using as few continues as I could.
I have waaaaaay too much love for this game. Thanks to game companies like Capcom who were willing to take a risk to localize and censor their work (thanks Nintendo of America!!!), people like me were able to have games of this caliber to play (then) and reminisce about (now). I highly suggest that you find a way of playing this game. Legally or not, it’s worth the risk to see a game that shaped a whole generation of gamers like me. I know that you can go out and pick up the Bionic Commando: Rearmed out in the PSN and XBLA stores, and while I loved it, I suggest playing the original before hitting up the remake.
One more thing that I wanted to touch on before I go…I wanted to tell you all about the game’s ending. If you haven’t played it yet and want to, please skip this paragraph unless you want it spoiled…you’ve been warned! The last boss fight is between your character and Master-D (Hitler). The last shot you make with your special Bazooka pierces his helicopter’s cockpit and this is what you see…
Amazingly and thankfully Nintendo didn’t catch it and it wasn’t censored out! This remains one of the goriest, yet satisfying, images I ever saw on the NES…keep in mind that this was all happening when I was 8! So Jack Thompson, in all of your wisdom, where were you back in ’88? How’s that for warping a child’s mind?