Heralded as a pseudo-sequel to Commando, Bionic Commando is an excellent "realistic" action game that is a far cry from cutesy platformers of the time that require nothing more than reflexes. You play Ladd, a rookie soldier tasked with rescuing the original game's protagonist, Super Joe, from the evil Federation. It's interesting to note that in the Japanese version of the game, the Federation is actually the Nazis - the game uses plenty of Nazi references (swastikas etc.) to make that clear. These references have all been replaced with non-Nazi ones (e.g. replacing swastikas with eagles), and Nazis renamed "Federation" in all releases of the game outside Japan. Doubtless this was done to avoid controversy.
At first look, the game seems fairly generic: you start off by parachuting into enemy territory. The fun starts when you learn to use Ladd's bionic arm - that's right, our hero is equipped with a cool bionic arm (hence the game's name) that allows him to perform acrobatics and fire it at enemies. The key presses necessary to activate the arm are difficult to learn and use - but once you get the hang of it, you'll have a lot of fun. The controls besides the arm are all extremely responsive. The hit detection is solid, and the player moves quite fluidly despite the massive recoil when getting hit.
Two other high points of the game are the non-linear stage progression and adventure-game-style inventory: two features not commonly seen in a platformer. You can pilot the helicopter around the map screen, descending upon any battlefield within range. Most areas are enemy-infested encampments, while a few are considered "neutral zones." In these zones, you can talk to the various townsfolk (both friend and foe) and gather useful items. Picking up the flares in level 13, for instance, will brighten up the dark caves of area 4. The blue communicator, found early on in the game, will let you talk to your commanding officers near the end.
Overall, Bionic Commando is a lot of fun, even if Ladd in this PC version is more blocky and moves less realistically than his NES alter ego. The only gripe I have is that you can't kill enemies by swinging into them, but that's a minor disappointment. If you like Commando, you'll love Bionic Commando. Two thumbs up!
Reviewed by: Underdogs