BIONIC COMMANDO / Capcom / Arcade

The arcade version was actually the first release of Bionic Commando, and nearly every gaming platform in existence in the 1980s got a port of it; sadly, it bears only passing resemblance to the remixed (and superior) version which was later released for the NES.

This version of the game sees the grapple-equipped hero Radd Spencer up against not the Nazis, or even the Badds, but what appears to be a militarized Santa Claus and his army of chubby elves in purple uniforms. You traverse five levels with the goal of assassinating Santa and restoring the glory of Jesus to the holiday season (or so I speculate).

Since the NES version is probably more familiar to most folks, I'll use that as a reference point. You still climb and swing in the same manner as you do in that game, but Radd is a bit more stiff and limited in his movements here than he is there. For example, you cannot throw the bionic arm out when falling, or after a swing. Actually, swinging is really used only for climbing here; there's very few sections where it is necessary to traverse a gap. The NES version definitely did a much better job implementing this mechanic. This one also lacks the non-linear structure of the later game - the five levels present here are short and taken in order in typical arcade style. You also don't switch weapons or collect items between levels, weapon upgrades are obtained on the fly from random parachute drops as you play (and are lost each time you are killed).

Though the five levels are relatively short, they are very difficult simply due to the amount of enemies that are dropped upon you. The overwhelming amount of danger on the screen combined with Radd's stiff control (and the fact that a glancing hit from just about anything kills him instantly) makes the game rather frustrating in spite of it's compacted levels. The game is a shameless "quarter sucker", an arcade game that has had it's difficulty cranked to ridiculous levels in an intentional bid to make the player pay as much as possible. Radd seems poorly equipped for his mission, as most of his foes take multiple hits from his weak rifle to dispatch, while any contact with them (outside of kicking them during a swing) fells Radd instantly. You are no longer ever allowed to drop onto the heads of enemies to stun them; instant death for you if you try that. Even Radd's bionic arm is no longer a unique advantage to him, as the fattest of the Elf Army all seem to be equipped with them, and will use them to pursue you up and across ledges if you try to manuever around them.

The game really has something of an unfinished feel, due to the short levels combined with an almost complete lack of boss enemies (one is expected to kill a military officer or two to conclude some of the levels, but they offer no more resistance than the average grunt does). Indeed, the final boss General Santa Claus is kind of just pacing around on some random ledge, and puts up no more of a fight than any other enemy. Instead of presenting clever challenges as was done in the NES version, the designers seem to have instead chosen to just drop tons of enemies onto your head at random intervals. The game ends up with a very cheap feel to it, and I can see why it was never very prevalent in the arcades during it's time.

The one advantage that the game holds over it's NES cousin is that the graphics are sharper. Aside from that, there's not much to see here, although fans of the NES soundtrack may be interested to note that two of the more popular musical themes from the later game got their start here in a somewhat different form.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video