BIONIC COMMANDO / Capcom / NES
Bionic Commando is a mixed bag of Awesome and Suck, falling just a shade more to the Awesome side on the whole. It is actually the follow-up to the arcade blast-a-thon Commando, and much of this game has you chasing down the hero of that game (Super Joe) in an attempt to rescue him from the Badds Army.
This game has the best story in the history of gaming, in spite of Nintendo vigorously taking the censorship scrub brush to it. You see, in Japan the game was actually called Top Secret : Hitler's Revival (roughly translated). Nintendo insisted that all the Hitler/Nazi references be changed, which along with the typically bad 1980s localization effort led to absolute mountains of unintentional hilarity.
OK, so, for the English speaking world - you play as Radd (sometimes Ladd) Spencer, the world's only Bionic Commando (meaning you've got a bionic arm that functions as a sort of grappling hook). The Badds Army has a secret plan to revive "Master-D", a chap who bears a striking resemblance to Hitler, but is ripped and able to shoot lightning from his nuts. They've got him in some sort of cryogenic/formaldehyde vat and once he is revived, apparently he'll use the same military genius that got him trapped in a basement in Berlin to lead the Badds to world domination. Super Joe was sent in to stop him, but he hasn't called back in to base in a bit and the worried forces decide to send Radd/Ladd in to enemy territory after him.
The game has some notably interesting gameplay touches. The first is, obviously, the Bionic Arm. It can be a bit frustrating as it prevents you from jumping, and having to use it to make precision swings in certain areas is really a pain. On the whole, though, it's a really fun mechanic and also leads to some great gameplay moments.
The second is the fact that it is somewhat non-linear; you are allowed to move back and forth between levels via an overhead map, and will need to backtrack at a couple of points to find hidden items. While it appears that you can skip straight to the final showdown with Master-D initially, the game will actually prevent you from moving too far ahead until you've cleared certain levels.
Certain areas of the map are "neutral zones", which you need to enter to talk to certain people and find certain items; the trick here is that you are not allowed to fire a shot, or NATO forces descend on you or something. Enemy soldiers are running around in these zones too; they'll talk to you, taunt you and even try to goad you into shooting them by charging with a knife. When flying between levels, you can also run into enemy convoys that randomly truck about the map, which leads to a sort of bonus overhead level that plays similar to the original Commando game.
You also find new weapons and items along the way, and prior to entering each level you choose a gun, a usable item (like a health potion as one example), a protective item and a communicator. There's little computer/radio towers in each level that you bust into; if you have the right communicator, you can make contact with allied forces (necessary to open the door to the boss room in some levels) or eavesdrop on the enemy (mostly good for a laugh from hilarious mistranslated dialogue). If you brought the wrong communicator or weapon for the level? Mash A, B, Select and Start all at once and you'll return to the overhead map to give it another try.
One major issue with the game is that there is no password/save feature; it's one of those old NES titles that you have to beat in one sitting (unless you're emulating and using save states). This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that, in spite of the large-looking map, the game is actually pretty short. If you have a free hour or two, you can blast your way through it, as most of the levels really aren't very long.
The other issue with the game is that the difficulty jags constantly from too easy to too hard. Most of the hard stretches involve precision swinging over pits or spikes or some other instant death trap. By contrast, however, most of the boss battles involve shooting a stationary reactor while dumb guards swarm around confusedly, and are ridiculously simple.
The game allows you infinite continues, though for some weird reason they decided to hide that feature by forcing you to hold A when pressing Start at the game over screen. Unless you read about that in the manual or elsewhere, you would think that you get tossed back to the very beginning every time you die. Hey, it was 1986, console gaming was very young, and some of the decisions made by the designers in this period are just inexplicable looking back.
All those annoying factors aside, overall the game is still a trip. It's worth playing just for the hilarious quotes and pseudo-Nazis alone, but the fun portions of it really work well, and it also has one of the most kickass soundtracks on the NES.
Partial MP3 rip of soundtrack
* Gameplay Video
* Your number's up! Monster!