Title:Bionic Commando
Developer: Capcom
Date Published: 1988
Platforms: NES (others mentioned, but focus is on NES version)

One of the more inventive games for the NES Bionic Commando was a side-scroller that did not involve a jump key, but instead a grappling hook arm.

The game is a semi-sequel to Commando although it bears little resemblance to the earlier game (the only similarity is the character of Super Joe). The game was released in six different versions. Top Secret (Japanese title) and Bionic Commando arcade machines were released by Capcom in 1987 and were very different from the console versions with only four levels. In Japan the console version for the Famicom was titled as Top Secret: Hitler's Resurrection (Top Secret: Hitora no Fukkatsu). This was virtually identical to the US version except for the usage of Nazi regalia and the ending character actually being a revived version of Hitler (which accounts for his strong resemblance in the US version). A Game Boy version has also been released rather recently along with Bionic Commando:Elite Force (an altogether different game) for the Game Boy Color. The Commodore 64 and Spectrum System also received versions of the game.

The story was rather simplistic, but it was workable. Essentially you are Captain Ladd of the Federation sent in to rescue Super Joe who has been taken prisoner by the Imperial Army while attempting to thwart their Albatross project.

The gameplay is where this really shines though. The use of the bionic arm to get around is excellent allowing you to swing across gaps as well as grapple vertically and horizontally not to mention being able to pick up objects with it. Mastering the arm takes some practice, but isn't excessively hard and the game is well-designed to accommodate this learning curve.

You travel in a helicopter on an overhead map between various zones in a turn-based fashion, for each move you make the enemy will likewise. Some of the zones are neutral zones where you can talk to people and pick up items. Other zones, however are combat zones which is where most of the action takes place. When you land in a combat zone you first select your item load and then enter the zone where the goal is to make it to the boss room. Along the way you can stop at the communications room to talk with your allies and gain information as well as tap into enemy communications... so long as you have the proper communicator. In many cases stopping at the communications rooms is not optional, but an essential part of advancing through the level. Likewise attempting to tap into enemy comms can bring down a horde of angry enemies if you get caught. After defeating the boss, which entails blowing up a reactor core, you receive an additional item and move on.

The item system allows a relatively good degree of flexibility for a game of its time and adds to the replay value. For each zone you are allowed the choice of only one weapon, one communicator and one misc. item (health potion, helmet, etc.) giving it a bit more strategy as well as a means of improving your weapons as time goes on.

As well you will often get a small bullet after you kill each enemy. Collecting these is a form of experience more or less. Every time you collect enough (the current total and goal is on your pause screen) you gain another health box. While slight this along with the item system gives the game slightly RPGish attributes, just enough to make an action game a little bit more.

As well as side-scrolling areas occasionally you'll encounter mobile enemy forces and be forced to fight them in a short top-down segment. The advantage is that at the end you get a gold eagle (albatross?) which allows you to continue if you should lose all of your lives. On the whole though these tend to be rather boring, easy, and are the only real weak point.

This game never seemed to be terribly popular, but seemingly retains a strong cult following. Finding it on the secondary market doesn't seem especially challenging with current eBay prices running around the $10 range.

If you still have access to a NES and can find a copy I highly suggest you pick up a copy of this game, it's a great deal of fun and often times better than most modern games. This game is also currently supported by MAME as well as NES emulators.

4 1/2 out of 5

Game Genie codes (NES):

SZNUIYVG                Infinite Lives in Main Game
SXUEZPVG                Infinite Lives in Sub-Game
AAUGSZZA                Start with 1 Life
IAUGSZZA                Start with Double Lives
AAUGSZZE                Start with Triple Lives
VGKKNXUK                Start with 3-Way Gun
LAUKOZAA + XTUKUXVU     Start with 3 Life Energy Capsules
SXSTYNVK                Don't take Damage from Bullets and Collisions
VTNZXVVK                Don't take Damage from Spikes
SZUOAOVK                Don't take Damage from Bullets and Collisions in Sub-Game
XYXUUOEN                Autofire - Main Game

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