Translating an old, beloved 2D game into 3D is like inching your way through a minefield. At every turn, there’s yet another development decision that could derail the entire process, whether it makes the game feel “too edgy” or “not evolved enough.” It appears like it’s practically impossible for developers to pull it off, but if Capcom’s new Bionic Commando game holds up as well as it initially seems, it could come together amazingly well.
While using the same title as three other games in this franchise might make this new release seem like some kind of “re-imagining” of the series, Bionic Commando is actually a sequel to the 1988 NES game. Five years have passed since the events of the NES game, and the lead character, now named Nathan “Rad” Spencer, has been betrayed by his government, and is forced to serve out a death sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. On the day of his execution, terrorists lay waste to Ascension City. And (dun dun DUNNNNN!) the only man who can stop the terrorist assault is the Bionic Commando himself.
The main thing about actually playing Bionic Commando is, naturally, the swing. Using the bionic arm to grapple onto stuff and swinging forward absolutely has to feel right, considering the whole game is based around it. Thankfully, the feel of the swinging was the thing that impressed me the most about my time with the game. It feels really natural, and it’s well-balanced between giving you control over your motion while also providing enough auto-targeting to prevent you from spending more time aiming your arm than aiming your guns.
Capcom was showing off the PC version of the game with an Xbox 360 gamepad attached, and the arm shoots out and stays connected for as long as you hold down one of the triggers. But there’s more to when you release your grapple than there is to where you start it. If you want to maintain momentum and keep swinging at a high speed, you need to release your arm while you’re still swinging forward, not when you’re nearing the furthest point of your swing. If you mess that up, you can use the analog stick to get some momentum back, so it feels somewhat forgiving, at least in the early levels that were on display. I have to assume that at some point you’ll be swinging over lava or fire, rather than safe ground or water.
The arm also comes into play during combat, as you have a handful of different moves at your disposal. The coolest example is the zip kick, where you grapple onto an enemy, then retract the arm to fly at your foe feet first. You can also punch cars into the air and kick them at enemies, or use the arm to yank debris out of your way.
Of course, beyond all the arm stuff, there’s still some shooting involved. The level on display showed Spencer getting his hands on Super Joe’s machine gun, which is handy for blasting enemies. You can zoom in a little bit with the basic weapons, giving you a more accurate shot. But most of the shooting felt a little plain when compared to the wild swinging action that the arm provides. The game will have some weapon upgrades in it, such as an increasing number of simultaneous lock-ons for the rocket launcher, so hopefully the gunplay will feel better in the final game.
Capcom used this event to unveil some very basic information about the game’s multiplayer mode, as well. Up to ten players will be able to compete in a handful of different modes, and as you might expect, it sounds like the swinging mechanics will make the game feel pretty different. If you see a player escaping with his or her bionic arm, you can just latch onto them with your arm and go along for the ride. The game will have matchmaking for both individual players and groups, as well as extensive stat tracking. You’ll be able to find out just how long you used the arm, how long you’ve spent swinging, and so on.
While the game’s deliberately darker and edgier story has the potential to go wrong, Bionic Commando seems like it’s doing a fine job of combining the spirit of the original game with some exciting, modern gameplay. It’ll hit the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 at a currently unspecified date.