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Bionic Commando: Rearmed Review

By Matt Cabral, 9/9/2008

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If I had a nickel for every time a friend or colleague insisted I download one of XBLA's excellent offerings, I'd be one wealthy gamer; I get it that recent gems like Braid or Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 are well-worth coughing up a few Microsoft points for. But, the sad truth is I don't even have the time to enjoy all the excellent retail titles, never mind Marketplace's over-flowing options. Despite my stubborn aversion to adding to my already-brimming library of games, the recent release of the NES classic Bionic Commando remake forced my hand. The original--along with Capcom's other awesome side-scroller Strider--was one of my favorites back in the day, so checking out Rearmed was a no-brainer.

Thankfully, my recent visit to the Xbox Live Marketplace blade payed off in full. Not only has Nathan "Radd" Spencer's return upped the ante for all future XBLA titles, it could also teach full-on, full-priced 360 games a thing or two. This content-packed download sports amazing visuals, addictive gameplay, and a local co-op mode that'll drag even your most frag-happy friends back from the Call of Duty 4 front line. The fact this endlessly entertaining title only puts a tiny, ten dollar dent in your wallet, when many games not half has good cost six times that, is astounding. In fact, I think Capcom (and developer GRIN) have set the bar so high, they should be concerned as to whether their upcoming true next-gen Bionic Commando can top this appetite-whetting effort.

Okay, so my gushing, glowing comments leave little question as to how much I like Rearmed. And, you may be wondering why I'm already jonesing to jump back in for another playthrough. Well, first up, whether you're a fan of the original or not, there's no denying the eye-candy on display here--Rearmed is the best looking XBLA game, period! The vibrant colors--especially the reds and greens--pop off the screen, offering an unparalleled feast for the eyes. Add to this, shadowing, lighting, and particle effects on par with the best retail releases, and you've got a game that's as much fun to watch as it is to play. The newly added ragdoll effects are especially impressive; you'll be continuously taking out baddies not just because they're in your way, but because you want to witness the visual splendor injected into each death.

The gameplay is equally impressive, albeit a tad on the hardcore side--Rearmed is no walk in the park. That said, unlimited continues guarantees you'll never frustratingly be sent all the way back to the beginning. If you've played recent reimaginings of classics, like last year's Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles on PSP or Contra 4 on DS, then you can expect a similar challenge. Even if you're unseasoned in the ways of old-school button-bashing, you'll still want to check this one out; just spend some time in the skill-honing challenge arenas before diving into the action-infused campaign.

Once in, Radd's longtime supporters will recognize most of the levels, as they've been pulled right from the original. And the controls, aside from a few new twists, have also largely remained unchanged. The most significant tweak comes in the ass-whupping appendage's default diagonal projection; with it automatically firing in this direction, you'll find yourself swinging with Tarzan-like ease in no time. Of course, with a little D-pad love, you can still shoot the hook wherever you like. And plan on doing just that, as the power-packing arm can deflect mid-flight bullets, send henchmen to their deaths, and make boss battles a hell of a lot easier to handle. Speaking of end-level menaces, Rearmed has significantly retooled these guys (boss battles weren't the original's strongest areas) and tailored them to strategies that'll keep your arm swinging and your guns blazing.

One thing that could rub newcomers--and even a few longtime fans--the wrong way is the lack of a jump button. However, this omission not only stays true to the original, it also ensures you master the maneuvers of Spencer's bionic arm, the title's coolest feature. It does take a little practice, and plenty of traps ensure you'll spend some time impaled on spikes before you get the hang of it, but the end reward far outshines the early frustration. When you aren't shooting your arms through the air, you'll be picking off bad guys with a variety of cool guns, all supported by their own explosive eye-popping effects. Even the tired act of plugging an explosive barrel with a rocket-propelled grenade seems fresh again in Rearmed's fire-filled, beautifully rendered world.

On top of the amazing campaign, this one packs dozens of training missions a bit reminiscent of the Metal Gear Solid's VR Missions. There are also three four-player offline modes allowing you to master your skills with or against friends. These extras are okay, and certainly worth checking out, but if you really want to bring a buddy into the action you'll want to stick with the fantastic two-player campaign mode. Unfortunately you can't co-op online, but the fact the co-commando option is available at all is a bonus on this already jam-packed title. Don't be stingy with those MS points; Rearmed is more than worth the tiny hole it'll burn in your bank account.

Overall: 95%



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