The Essential Games: Bionic Commando (2009)

Let me tell you about the man I met when I was still young.

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You might think I’m crazy for saying this…but Bionic Commando 2009 is one of the greatest games ever made.

If you didn’t run away from your computer right now, welcome friend.

Capcom tried really hard to make Bionic Commando a thing again. They hired up-and-coming studio Grin to take their awesome prorpietary graphics engine and make not one, but two new Bionic Commando games.

The first game, Bionic Commando Rearmed, was an early downloadable hit on the Xbox Live Arcade platform. It was a gorgeous remake of the classic NES game, with enough weird new stuff shoved into it that it could serve as the setup for the “Big” game.

That big game was just called Bionic Commando. It’s a fast-paced shooter/combat game with a heavy focus on swinging and zipping around with a grappling hook arm. It has some of the most fluid swinging action ever in a game, excellently-designed and tightly-focused levels, and one of the most hilariously stupid stories ever told in any medium.

It was also marketed all wrong.

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Capcom used screens like the one above to show off the game. They really wanted players to think that it was an open-world swinging game, like Spider-Man 2. This was in an era when every single person on every single forum would ask “Is this an open-world game?” about every new game that came out. Open worlds were hot, and Capcom wanted you to think that’s what you were getting here.

Instead, it’s a highly linear, level-based game. The levels are really large and happen to be set in one contiguous world…but the game is not at all open world in its design. This left most reviewers and game fans cold to the whole thing, and as a result many never gave it a chance.

But the action here is exceptional. It easily competes with character action games like DMC once you get a hang of the gameplay. It’s not a game about exploring a large world and completing quests, but rather one about leaping, swinging, and dashing effortlessly through the air as you take out bad guys with your pistol and melee combat moves. It is a pure joy to play. It is a game that’s about mastering combat encounters, and not much more…and it’s over in about 7 hours.

I’m now going to spoil the most famous thing about its story.

The reveal that Nathan Spencer’s arm is in fact made out of his dead wife is hilarious and weird in all the right ways…but just one of many awesome things about the story.

They turned Super Joe, protagonist of the hit game Commando, into a horrible villain.

They introduced a whole squad of morose bionic limb soldiers, whose limbs were also made out of loved ones…and thankfully got to pay off their stories in Bionic Commando Rearmed 2. A game that miraculously got to happen after 2009 kind of flopped. Incidentally, if you were wondering who all those other Bionic people were and why they all knew the main character, you have to play Rearmed 2.

Capcom also had the guts to end Bionic Commando with a dark, slightly tragic resolution, without any real loose ends to speak of. No sequel hook in sight.

Shame. Maybe with a cliffhanger we would have seen another one.

And the music. The music is exceptional. I’m listening to it right now.

Bionic Commando 2009 was a victim of circumstance. It was an awesome, gorgeous action game coming out in a world that just wanted another Grand Theft Auto or Spider-Man game.

It’s pretty easy to play these days if you’ve got a PC, as it’s up on Steam for 10 bucks. Sadly, Grin’s other fun games from that year, Wanted: Weapons of Fate and Terminator Salvation, have been lost to the expired movie license graveyard.

If you are a hardcore action gamer, and you like the sound of a challenging shooter with a lot of movement abilities, you should give this game a shot. It’s one of my favorites of all-time, and something I still revisit regularly.

The Essential Games highlights games from throughout the industry’s history that I would recommend without reservation. For the full list click here!

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I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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