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Bionic Commando (Arcade)
Bionic Commando (NES)

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Bionic Commando (Game Boy)
Bionic Commando: Elite Forces

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Bionic Commando Rearmed

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Bionic Commando (2009)

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Bionic Commando Rearmed 2

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by Sotenga - June 12, 2011

Capcom's Bionic Commando is secretly one of the companies best titles. It is a side-scrolling platformer, much like many side-scrolling platformers, with one important difference - the player cannot jump, and requires the usage of an extended bionic arm in order to travel. For anyone who's become solely comfortable with the likes of most games, it requires almost entirely rewiring one's brain to order to successfully play, but that's also the reason why it's totally brilliant.

The series was born in the arcades in the late '80s, although lamentably the original game wasn't very good and didn't attract a whole lot of attention. But like Ninja Gaiden and Strider, the NES home port is an entirely different game that takes its mechanics, refines them, and puts the game in a context that makes more sense for home play, which resulted in one of the best titles on the system. Although there were a few follow-ups on the Game Boy and Game Boy Color, the series was largely ignored until 2008, when the brand was resurrected in the form of a 2.5 HD remake called Bionic Commando Rearmed, which found great success. This was intended as a promotional device for a total 3D reimaging the next year, which unfortunately ended up flopping. The series as of now ends with a sequel to the remake, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2.

Bionic Commando (NES)


Bionic Commando / Top Secret - Arcade, Commodore 64, Amiga, IBM PC, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum, PlayStation 2, Xbox, PSP (1987)

Japanese Arcade Flyer

American Arcade Flyer

Computer Versions Cover

Bionic Commando first hit the arcade gaming scene in the late '80s, where you essay the role of Super Joe, the hero from the original Commando (at least, according to the American flyer - he's nameless in the Japanese version), as well as star of another Capcom game, Speed Rumbler. The titular Bionic Commando is named as such because of his Bionic Arm. The arm is what you use to get around. It's rather easy to use. Step 1: Fire it out to a nearby ledge. Step 2: Pull yourself towards the ledge when the arm retracts. Step 3: Hoist your keister up onto the ledge! Or, alternatively, swing on the ledge from left to right like Tarzan on a mechanical vine and drop yourself off below! And even if you're so inclined, thrust the arm towards oncoming enemies to stun their sorry ass! But usually, you don't do this, as Joe also brought along his own kick-awesome rifle. Don't let the ridiculous purple spiky hair fool you, he truly is a one-man army.

Bionic Commando takes you through five levels of an enemy-controlled stronghold set sometime in the not-too-distant future. It looks like it could easily be set anywhere in the late eighties to the early 21st century. Speaking of looks, the graphics are nothing to write home about, but certainly adequate for the time, like many of Capcom's games before they broke ground with Forgotten Worlds and the CPS1 hardware. The character sprites look a bit goofy, probably because they seem to have big heads, which gives them something of an SD-type look. The backgrounds are pretty good and colorful, and in level 3, you'll have to deal with giant red mechs in the background that can crush you rather easily. They may look a mite bit dated nowadays, but the graphics were okay for the time. The music is pretty dang good, even if the first level theme sounds a bit too jovial for the infiltration of the enemy base. The background music for stages 2 and 4 would also be used in the NES title to be released two years later. The sound effects themselves are pretty lame, though, but it's not like they were exemplary in many games around this time.

Perhaps the main thing that set Bionic Commando apart from all other 2D action games is the lack of a jump button. The Bionic Arm is what Joe uses to get around everywhere, and no jumping is allowed. It's a spin on a regular formula that worked without being too gimmicky, though it wasn't without its faults. The arm reaches out rather far, but it can't be fired at the same time as the gun, which seems like a minor inconvenience at first. However, the more you play the game, the more the little kinks in the control irk you. Only two shots can be fired at a time, the arm takes a slight while to retract if misfired, and you can't shoot the arm again while in midair.

Bionic Commando (Arcade)

Super Joe has to take on lots of enemies, including but not limited to soldiers by the dozen, thick commandos who rush gung-ho at you and take about six freaking shots to kill, very irritating flying... things (who you only thankfully encounter in the first stage), and guns everywhere throughout the enemy stronghold. And he can only take a single hit. This was also an era where real men didn't need lifebars to play their games and could get through stages without dying. Unfortunately, Bionic Commando exercised this principle and ate quarters quickly as a result. It just feels that with the unfair assault of enemies, coupled with the muddy control response, this game really could have benefited from at least a lifebar. There are a few power-up guns that can help Joe out, but they turn out to be fairly useless in the long run when a goddamn robot crushes him from above. All the rest of the quote/unquote "power-ups" are just point items that do nothing to benefit you in the long run. Granted, the game isn't very long (only five stages long), but expect to continue frequently. Thankfully, they're unlimited, and you WILL need them.

It's not necessarily that Bionic Commando is a bad game. The Bionic Arm concept was fresh and new in the day where generic action games came by the barrelful, and it is still mildly fun to play the game today. It could, however, have been a much better game, with some repairs to the control here and more regulated difficulty there. But at its best, the original Bionic Commando is an okay platformer that gets to be a real pain to play over extended periods of time.

The Japanese version of the game gives the main character somewhat large eyes, which were redrawn smaller in all of the other releases. Until the Capcom Classics Collection for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox in 2005, the arcade version of Bionic Commando never made an appearance on any home consoles (although Capcom did use pictures of it on the back on the NES packaging, confounding us all.) However, it did make it to several home computer platforms, including the Commodore 64, Amiga, IBM PC, and Atari ST. There were actually two versions for the Commodore 64 - a crappy one made in America, and a much better one made by Software Designs for the European market. This version, along with the Amiga version, are notable for featuring arrangements of the soundtrack by famed musician Tim Follin. Interestingly enough, he manages to combine the level 2 song with the melody from the Star Wars theme.

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Bionic Commando (Arcade)

Bionic Commando (Arcade)

Bionic Commando (Arcade)

Bionic Commando (Arcade)


Additional Screenshots


Comparison Screenshots


Bionic Commando / Top Secret: Hitler no Fukkatsu - NES, Game Boy Advance (1988)

American Cover

Japanese Cover

European Cover

Capcom was shooting to the stratosphere of success with such arcade greats like Forgotten Worlds, Ghouls 'N Ghosts, and Strider, all of which are some of my most treasured favorites. While the CPS-1 board ensured their success in public game rooms, they looked to expand their market onto consoles by porting many of their classics to the NES. These ports would often receive some enhancements (like secret rooms in Commando and bonus items in Trojan). Eventually, they decided to make entirely different games based from their arcade hits, thus resulting in a very different Strider for the NES. And something possessed them to make a Bionic Commando game for the ol' gray box, despite the arcade title being a less than stellar hit. Perhaps they wanted to breathe new life into what was an enterprising concept that did not quite fly as they hoped it would and make gamers forget about the arcade game entirely?

If that was their agenda, they really pulled off a damn good job.

The stage is set sometime around 198X, when the U.S. government learns of a terrifying secret project codenamed "Albatross". Originally developed by a long gone faction named the BADDS, it's newly resurrected by the Imperial Forces, led by its ruler, Generalissimo Killt. The government sends in one of their best men, Super Joe (the hero of the arcade game), to investigate the cause and put a stop to it, but he goes MIA. You take the role of Radd Spencer, a name so awesome that it's... well, it's rad! It's your job to rescue Super Joe and foil the Albatross Project.

The plot is surprisingly good and original for the time, and it's not just mentioned in the beginning to set the scenario. It's actually developed upon throughout the game in the communication rooms. The first thing that you'll notice after pressing Start is the world map, where the areas are broken down into white (action scenes) and red (neutral zones). Yes, you can choose which areas you want to infiltrate first, although there are some limitations on places where you cannot travel until you beat others first. Obviously, you should be starting with Area 1, since it's the first one you hit. When Radd parachutes in and touches down on the ground... it's on!

The graphics are rather damn good. They may seem a slight bit dated now, but they looked great for the time. Detailed character portraits would pop up when somebody would speak, which was a nice touch. Radd himself looks infinitely more badass than Super Joe did in the arcade. Joe's dorky purple hair is now a fiery red, his combat garb is all green with black combat boots, and he wears shades too. The enemies are dressed in many colors (depending on the level), and have some decent animation to them. And the scenery itself, while mostly static, is vibrant with color and picturesque. From craggy mountain cliffs to a tower beneath a crimson sky, no two levels look the same (except for the Neutral Zones, more on those later). They are certainly very fine graphics that never look dull, even if they can be too colorful for a fairly serious game.

The sounds and music are top-notch. A couple of tunes (specifically, the ones that play in Areas 1 and 8) are taken from the arcade version, and somehow manage to sound better on the NES sound chip. Everything else is original, and very fitting for whatever area you traverse. One of the best happens to be the music for Area 2, as the composition goes so well while being carried by blue gelatinous blobs in the sewer. If there's only one setback, it's that there isn't much variety and BGMs are reused in two, sometimes even three stages. The sound effects are neat, though anything sounds neat compared to the arcade version. For one thing, the explosions actually sound like explosions here! Radd has a peculiar death noise that's somewhat reminiscent of a bursting grenade. And you just gotta love the metallic CLANK of the Bionic Arm as it grips cold steel.

Anybody who has played the arcade game can know what to expect as far as the action goes. The B button fires the gun, which is straightforward enough, and the A button fires out the Bionic Arm. No jumping allowed here, folks. But why jump when you can just climb and swing everywhere? The stages are designed to make use of the arm with some rather precise timing in certain areas. There are quite a few points where you'll have to latch, swing, release, and latch again to another object with damn near split-second timing. Truly, it can get to be difficult (Level 10 is particularly infuriating), but it never gets too frustrating. Thankfully, the control lag is much improved from the arcade game. The arm is a bit shorter in length, but it extends/retracts much faster and can be shot out again in mid-air.

You can choose where you want to go on the world map, where your helicopter flies around enemy territory. There are two types of areas, with the white ones being the action stages and the red ones being the neutral zones. In the main stages, you must guide Radd around the hostile territory, blasting off any enemies that try to bother him, and find the communicator area, which is marked by bars above the door. In the communicator rooms, you can either radio your base to obtain info on what to do and where to go, or for the slightly more daring, you can also wiretap into the enemy's frequency and find out what's going on over at the Badds' headquarters. The info that you receive is often helpful, though every now and then, you get a rather cryptic message (such as a rather disturbing one when you wiretap in Area 5) that doesn't really help your mission. Home base communication tends to be more useful (and mandatory in a few areas in order to open up the boss door), but should you wiretap, heed this warning; it is an absolutely random occurrence, but every now and then, the enemy will catch on to your attempt to pirate information from their base, and a loud alarm will suddenly blare out as soldiers rush and drop in to kick your ass.

You'll have to find the communicator rooms, as well as the boss room, over the large and semi-nonlinear areas. Most levels aren't too complex to figure out, but unlike most action games, many of the levels require both horizontal and vertical scrolling, as opposed to just one or the other. You won't get lost, though. The main challenge comes from either the difficult "jumps" (or "swings", rather) to make, which become more difficult with each new area (Area 6 is a particularly nasty one), or the various legions of the Badds out to stop you. They come in all sorts of flavors, be it basic infantry (who are liable to jump down if they're on a ledge higher than you), snipers who often hide behind barrels, strong knife-armed men who rush you head-on, huge strongmen who hurl spiked balls at you, stationary technicians who send out remote-controlled robots flying atcha, midget troops whom you often have to blast out of heavy machinery first, and that's not all! There are quite a lot of enemies, and Radd can only take one hit, three lives... and that's that. Or so it would seem. See, for every enemy you kill, a bullet jumps out of them. If you collect enough bullets, you gain a lifebar that allows for the sustaining of much pain. The more bullets you collect, the more hits you can take.

Your goal in each stage is to infiltrate the reactor core, where each reactor is guarded by a different defense system. Sometimes, it's a platoon of neverending soldiers that constantly bombard you. Or it could be a sikduer with a large shield and a Bionic Arm of his own which he uses to prevent you from swinging over him. Or perhaps you'll face a large floating gun that says "Pi Pi Pi" before you fight it. The hardest one to deal with is an uber-large super soldier who has three times the Bionic Arms you have, and will use them to slam Radd into his cybernetic person. However, you do not have to kill all of the enemies, just destroy the core. It could take a few seconds, or at least a minute, depending on which weapon you have.

All you have at the beginning is your basic rifle. However, beating certain levels endow you with new weapons and items. There's the Wide Rifle, which doesn't go very far but can hit enemies above or below Radd, the Rocket Launcher, which fires a super-strong projectile and is my personal favorite, the 3-Way, which sends three fireballs out directly forward, above, and below, and then there's Joe's Machinegun, which fires bullets out at a nice constant spray with repeated taps of the B button. But that's not all! Before touching down on terra firma, you go through four menus to choose your weapon, your item, your armor, and your communicator. Items each have their specific purpose, but more than likely, you'll reach for the medicine, which resurrects all of your life when used. Armor can deflect enemy bullets for a certain amount of hits, but not melee attacks or explosives. And finally, only certain communicators work in certain areas. The Alpha communicator that you start out with functions in areas 1, 4, and 5, but using it in the comm. rooms of other areas only gives you a garbled response of "GA GA GA" from your comrades. You'll receive pieces of information about where to use the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta comms so you can avoid this error. But just in case you brought the wrong receiver, pressing Start and Select simultaneously returns you to the map screen. You'll receive some items from destroying the reactors, and others from the Neutral Zones.

The Neutral Zones are certainly one of the more peculiar bits about BC. They are noted by the white numbers on the red backgrounds, and are out of the way of the Action Zones. The point of these non-hostile areas is that no fighting can break out. Ally and enemy soldiers hang out around these areas to take a break from fighting or heal their wounds. You may be surprised to see a rough Badd accost you when you first step in to a certain Neutral Zone, but instead of attacking, he instead imparts some words of threat: "GET THE HECK OUT OF HERE, YOU NERD!" (Yes, that is actually what he says.) Aside from some amusing lines of script, the true purpose of the Neutral Zones is to receive information about what to do, where to go, and what items to bring (some of which can be found in the zones themselves). However, if you want to piss the neutral guards off, just fire a single shot. Watch as everybody disappears, only to have the background flash wildly as white guards jump in to severely penalize you for stirring up trouble in the peaceful area! You can fight them if you want, but they generate no bullets, so they serve little more as target practice.

The map screen is also filled with green trucks. Frequently, these trucks collide with you on the map, and a fight breaks out! Choose your weapon and head into the fray to combat the Badd caravan... in an overhead perspective reminiscent of Capcom's groundbreaking action classic Commando. More than likely, they designed it like this on purpose, and there are many who say that Bionic Commando is something of a sequel or side-story to Commando. It certainly does make sense, as the protagonist of Commando is Super Joe, the man whom Radd is sent in to rescue. Anyway, these action scenes are straightforward. Just blast all the guys in red while moving forward and getting to the end. They may grow a bit redundant over time, but they do serve as a nice break from sidescrolling as well. Plus, they're the only way that you can obtain precious Continues. There's a strong enemy in these scenes that, if defeated, gives you a Continue symbol which you can certainly use if you run out of lives. Not all overhead scenes are found by meeting with the enemies on the direct path. There are also a couple of hidden tunnels that become open after receiving information on where they are. Passing through them initiates a battle with a commando that has a bionic arm, just like yours.

For an action title, it's a slight tad on the long side (taking a bit over an hour to beat on average), and there is no password feature, but the game isn't overly hard once you've got the controls down. Not to mention that you can run into as many enemies you want to on the map and collect all the continues you need. Although the last three action areas are especially hectic, the game's curve of challenge bends at a steady angle, so you'll be ready by the time you get there.

Bionic Commando is remembered fondly for many reasons, the most infamous of which is... well, it requires a bit of backstory. However, any astute gamer can probably deduce that the BADDS were not named that in Japan. Indeed, the BADDS are actually the Nazis. And yes, where the Albatross stands in America, the Swastika is instead prevalent in the Japanese version. With Nintendo's strict censorship laws in the late '80s, it's easy to see why they wouldn't be called Nazis... yet ironically enough, this game displays one of the most graphic examples of unreserved violence ever caught on 8-bit.

First off, you learn at some point in the game that Badd/Nazi commander Generalissimo Killt, is attempting to resurrect an enigmatic figure titled "Master-D." You'll face off against Master-D very late in the game, and when his character portrait appears, it becomes blatantly obvious that Master-D is Adolf freakin' Hitler! (The game's called Top Secret: Hitler's Resurrection in Japan - it certainly wears it's controversial plot on its sleeves, at least over there.) Hilariously, Capcom redid some of the arcade artwork by giving Hitler glasses, a hat and scribbling on a beard, turning him into... Not Hitler, apparently.) And what he says to you was highly shocking for 1989; "What, you're going to fight against me? You DAMN fool." A swear word in an NES game!!! Unheard of back then, and you can imagine the shock of gamers who have come this far, only to be insulted by Hitler! Oh, but that's not even the good part. After you've scrapped the Albatross, you get only one shot to obliterate Hitler's getaway chopper. Doing so brings up his character portrait, which then EXPLODES in a really disturbing and gory mess! The flying eyeball is a nice touch. One can only wonder how the hell this sneaked under the radar of censorship.

Bionic Commando has it all: Unique action, substantial adventure, amusing dialogue, and a big fat exploding head to top it all off! The arcade game had some good concepts that weren't quite executed gracefully, but it's grear that Capcom gave it a second chance and made one of the greatest NES games of all time. To top it all off, this is one of the few games that exists as a defiance to Nintendo's early phobia of sex and violence, with Monster Party and the two Golgo-13 games being the only others that come to mind. If only Radd Spencer was around in Poland during the mid-1930's, the course of history could have been altered forever.

Other than the removal of the Nazi references, there are a few other minor changes between the NES and Famicom versions. Mostly, some of the items and enemies have been moved around certain levels, making various instances easier or harder. Other than that, it's just some name changes - Generalissimo Kilt is named "Wiseman" in Japan, and Hal, the guy who helps you get some weapons, is known as "Schwarzenegger". Ha! Other than the initial NES release, Bionic Commando also showed up on the Capcom Classics Mini-Mix compilation for the Game Boy Advance, along with Mighty Final Fight and Strider. The resolution has been squashed, but otherwise it's a decent port. It would've been nice to have some kind of save capability though.


Bionic Commando (NES)

Bionic Commando (NES)

Bionic Commando (NES)

Bionic Commando (NES)

Bionic Commando (NES)

Bionic Commando (NES)

Bionic Commando (NES)

Bionic Commando (NES)

Bionic Commando (NES)


Additional Screenshots


Screenshot/Artwork Comparisons


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Bionic Commando (Arcade)
Bionic Commando (NES)

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Bionic Commando (Game Boy)
Bionic Commando: Elite Forces

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Bionic Commando Rearmed

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Bionic Commando (2009)

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Bionic Commando Rearmed 2

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