The evil Avar Empire and their evil leader are planning evil things such as an evil invasion of the peaceful and generally lovely Karinia. Commander Joe was sent in to sabotage their evil plans but unfortunately he was a bit rubbish and got himself captured (again!? – no wonder they stopped calling him Super Joe). Joe did however manage to send a garbled transmission referring to the “Albatross Project”, so now the general of the Bionic Corps is sending in the Elite Forces to rescue him and put a stop to the presumably evil project. This then is the setup for Bionic Commando: Elite Forces, the second portable title in the series and as you would expect you must swing, shoot and swing some more on your way to victory.
The game gives you a choice of badly dressed commandos; one female and one male who you can name whatever you like. Whether you select Petunia or Tarquin however, the experience is much the same, although a couple of levels are different depending on your pick.
As with other Bionic Commando games each level contains several platforms for your Commando to move between. In the Bionic Corps jumping is frowned upon, however, so you must use your extending Bionic Claw with a tap of the A button to grab overhead platforms and objects to swing across in a much more spectacular fashion. You can also fire your claw directly above, with a second tap pulling you upwards where you can then climb up on to the platform. This way of negotiating levels may at first seem strange to anyone unfamiliar with the series, but it works well even if it would be more sensible to just hop over that gap or metal drum.
It's not just a matter of swinging through the levels though, there are also enemy troops to defeat — some are just wandering the levels, some parachute in whilst others will hide behind objects. Not all enemies will stay where they are and may drop down to shoot at you, and some stages feature troops flying around with rocket packs. You can, of course, shoot back with a tap of the B button, whilst holding the button down will charge up a more powerful shot; unlike the Contra gang the Bionic team can only shoot directly in front of them (though a scattershot weapon is attainable). An attacker may drop from above and rather than simply firing upwards, you must reposition yourself and wait for them to land before putting a bullet in them. The game is never unfair with this – you won't find yourself with nowhere to sidestep to, but it is a little inconvenient.
There are other things to contend with in the game including ceiling-mounted guns, flames and some dull boss bottles where you avoid a bit of enemy fire whilst blasting a stationary object. Luckily there are also some exciting boss battles where you find yourself chasing each other around a room firing off shots when you can.
Graphically this is competent if unspectacular. Character portraits and end-of-level artwork look OK whilst sprites lack detail but are smoothly animated. Some backgrounds are simple but others go for a bit more detail and colour. Generally it's decent, but can at times look like it's been drawn with a selection of coloured biro’s. The action always remains easy to follow, however, and there are some neat little effects such as how some objects are placed in front of the sprites, allowing you to walk through bushes or run inside and through a building — your character is visible through the windows.
On the audio side of things the game features a variety of basic but effective sounds — the crunch when you drop to the ground working the best. There are a few instances of sampled speech in the game that hiss a little but do add to the experience. The music goes for an adventurous vibe which fits the action, but the tracks are ultimately forgettable. At times it beeps and whines but it is mostly inoffensive.
After beginning the game you are presented with a map screen showing eighteen levels and given the option to either play the level or move on to another one. You can't however simply stroll on over to the final stage as attempting to enter some levels well result in you being told you're not prepared for it, or you may lack a required item obtainable in an earlier stage. Also on the map screen are a few trucks that move around as you do — should your paths cross you'll enter a short top-down Commando-style stage.
The only other change of pace comes with the sniper sections during which you have a set amount of time to take out a few enemies. Most of the screen is given over to the distant area, whilst a smaller section provides a zoomed-in view as you move your scope around looking for your targets. The graphic artists seem to have been in a brutal mood for these sections as troops hit by a bullet jerk violently back whilst blood spurts out. Only a few levels feature a sniper section, which is a pity as they work well. Should you eliminate the troops in time you are rewarded with a power-up.
The enemy communication rooms found in levels, meanwhile, are needed to unlock doors; you can also listen in on communications, which sometimes provide gameplay tips or a bit of story. Alternatively it may cause you to be discovered, at which point people arrive and start shooting at you. Saving is also possible in these rooms and you can save after you've cleared the stage — as a Virtual Console release there is also the option of setting a restore point if you need to.
The game can be quite tough but whilst there's the occasional moment where you have no real choice other than to drag yourself up onto a platform to a waiting enemy, it's mostly fair. You begin with three lives and your character can take three hits before losing one of those. Things get more difficult as you progress with enemies getting more troublesome and things to latch onto getting smaller, but you will have acquired enough upgrades by then to help you out, though it remains challenging. Once cleared there's not much replay value, but learning the best way to swing through the levels and eliminate the opposition will take a while, ensuring that there's still plenty of entertainment here.
Bionic Commando: Elite Forces has some problems; a few dull boss battles, forgettable music and it could use a few more of the well put together sniper sections. Luckily it's an entertaining, challenging title with enough swinging action to keep players busy for some time. Once cleared it may be a while before you feel the urge to go back to it, but it's a decent entry in the series and a good choice for people who think jumping is over-rated.