(GB / Game Boy)

Bionic Commando (GB / Game Boy)

Game Review

Bionic Commando Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Jon Wahlgren

Don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing

If there’s one sacred cow in the entire platforming genre, it’s jumping. According to our highly scientific calculations, there are one hojillion sidescrollers that rely on hopping all about to climb, collect and kill. Capcom’s Bionic Commando series has plenty of climbing, collecting and killing but dines on hamburger through its rad mechanical arm, switching the dynamic of jumping to one of grappling, grabbing and swinging. When the original hit the arcade in 1987 and the NES the following year, nothing played quite like it, and that is still the case today.

Game Boy Bionic Commando is a kinda-sorta reimagining of the NES game, following the structure of the old plot while fine-tuning the mechanics a bit. Instead of fighting quasi-Nazis in a military setting, titular hero Rad (no longer Ladd) Spencer finds himself in a futuristic sci-fi world where he has to rescue his ally Super Joe from the clutches of an opposing army bent on carrying out a nefarious secret project codenamed Albatross. The world is a bit chunkier and pleasingly cartoonish, which at the time helped stymie the Game Boy's blurry screen from ruining things and now helps give the game a strong sense of character. This portable version follows the same story beats but expands it through animated sequences and anime character portraits that pop up between stages, making the game seem quite modern for a Game Boy release.

What also feels fairly modern is the semi-linear overworld that lets you fly and land your helicopter between enemy-occupied main stages and "neutral territory" side stages that contain items, power-ups and other bonus stuff. You're not the only helicopter hovering around the map, though, with enemy aircraft fluttering about as well — if you collide with one between landings then you go to a special encounter stage with hordes of baddies. This set up adds refreshing elements of both freedom and suspense, allowing you to choose your next mission while trying to avoid (or attack) enemy helicopters.

The arm has its ups and downs, with hard swings in the feeling of fluidity of movement. You can still get around as you would in a typical jump-'n-run way by grappling to higher ledges or swinging from the ceiling, but with feet planted firmly on the ground and more thought required behind your direction — i.e. instead of pressing a button to jump up to the ledge above you, you hold Up on the D-Pad to aim above you, fire the grapple arm, pull yourself up and then another button press to climb on top of it. This layer of deliberation helps Bionic Commando feel like no other sidescroller and comes at the cost of a steeper learning curve, but once you do get in the swing of things Rad Spencer feels like a more mobile character than most platformers dream. On the flip side, if you break momentum by way of a fat finger or brain fart during particularly active portions then prepare to panic.

Bionic Commando has always been a challenging game, in part because most of the skills the genre at large fosters are thrown out the window, but now that it's on Virtual Console it can be rendered as maddening or manageable as you'd like thanks to the save state feature. Purists can play the game as it originally appeared on Game Boy in 1992 and have a blast with its firm challenge, and newcomers or those averse to gaming frustration can make judicious use of save states to break difficult sections into something more manageable. Another area where the Virtual Console comes to the rescue is by including the instruction manual: where most games don't need much consulting, Bionic Commando's becomes vital as you try to decipher the non-descriptive item menus that show an image and nothing else. Given that before each level you can choose a weapon, support item, antenna receiver and defence item, it really helps to know what you're carrying in to battle. However, the game is still let down by its complete lack of maps of stages — as they get increasingly complicated and reliant on swinging for long distances and elaborate climbing, figuring out where to go can be a headache.


Because of its complete break away from genre convention by emphasising swinging over jumping, Bionic Commando is one of those games that you either love or hate. Nothing else plays quite like it, and this portable adaptation is a surprisingly robust and polished entry in the series. It might take some time getting used to the mechanics, but once your brain has rewired to Bionic Commando's method of madness then you'll find a real Game Boy gem.

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User Comments (20)



Link79 said:

I'm really liking this but I wish the Nes version would've made it to Wii VC.
I heard something about a Hitler look alike in that one though
so that's probably why not.



Kevin said:

Maybe now that we got the GB port the NES one will finally be on its way.



zeeroid said:

"...but dines on hamburger..."
Great line

Oh, the review was pretty good too.



Spoony_Tech said:

I really loved the nes version and never heard of this one till now. If its more of the same then its a definite pick up for me.

@Link79 Yes there was a hitler look a like at the end. Funny thing was at the time i remember him swearing for the first time in any video game that i had seen. I just remember not wanting my mom to see that because she probably would've taken the game away from me lol! It wasnt much but enough to get her mad.



lonlon-milker said:

How come more gamboy characters talked than Nes characters? It always seems wierd to me how in zelda 2 you hear things like-"Find magic in kings tomb" but in stuff like links awakening they have conversations like- "Dude your asking when we started to liv on this island?! I don't know I'm just a kid" (or somthing like that)



alLabouTandroiD said:

@Jon: Good review. Can you exactly say what's different between this and the NES version ? Is it just a reskin ? Does it have expanded stages ? Does it only feel comfy-er ?

That's not a criticism towards the review. I'm just not sure if i can support this game.
I want an uncensored VC version of the original on a Ninty console. I don't know what kind of signal supporting a cartoonier, less edgy version will get across.



MeloMan said:

@1 I believe that's exactly why it hasn't come, but at the same time, if they can tweak Arcade Shinobi, then they outta to be able to edit this as well, but ah well...



SparkOfSpirit said:

The game is, IMO, at least on par with the NES game, though I like it better than that one. The levels have similar ideas, but the Game Boy version approaches everything different enough that it's mostly a new game.

Honestly, I fully recommend it. This is a really fun game.



JonWahlgren said:

@battLeToaD: Stages feel an awful lot like the NES version, and according to Wikipedia (yeah, yeah) they both feature the same stages. A notable difference is in the enemy encounter stages: they're top-down on NES and sidescrollers on GB.

I wouldn't hold my breath for the uncensored BC on any platform either. I mean, we didn't even get arcade Donkey Kong.



chewytapeworm said:

This looks pretty decent, but I'd rather get VVVVVV as a "non-jumping game" over this. Just waiting on its EU release first!



grumblegrumble said:

Surprisingly, I liked this game... At first I thought I wouldn't then as I progressed I started to like it a bit more. I remember the original Commando on my NES, this is much better than that game!



Geonjaha said:

No thanks. Dont like this gameplay. I'll be waiting for VVVVVV and free Kid Icarus.



alLabouTandroiD said:

@Spark_Of_Spirit (8.) & @JonWahlgren (10.): Big thank you, guys !
I thought about it and i'd say it wouldn't be fair to accuse this game for being a "kiddy" version of the NES game. They made the effort to refine it and adapt it to the strengths of the system which is all but a given with many, many games / ports coming to various platforms. While a discussion about "how censorship influences your experience and what you can do about it" sure'd be interesting it's got nothing to do with this and just doesn't belong in this comment section.
I guess i'll download the game along with Kid Icarus tomorrow.

@grumblegrumble (12.): Are you sure you played Bionic Commando or may it have been this one ?



julianozuca said:

Excellent review. I remember not-liking the NES version but this one may be worthy a try.



Mok said:

I found the NES version extremely dull back in the day so I won't take the leap to download this version. I'm out!



TJF588 said:

I feel compelled to post the SMPS.Net review for this game, with bits like, "The NES version of Bionic Commando, great as it may be, had some pretty hideous flaws... [...] strangely enough, this game turns out to be the better designed iteration of Bionic Commando. It's a case where Capcom looked at everything they did wrong with the original NES game and fixed damn near every bit of it."



MC808 said:

With s name like Socks Make People Sexy, I can't help but take their review very seriously....

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