GDC '08: Bionic Commando Rearmed Hands-On

Fans of Capcom's classic swingin' side-scroller ought to be getting excited--this one's looking like the very definition of a great remake.

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SAN FRANCISCO--Longtime action fans have known for years that the nearly two-decades-old Bionic Commando is a series sorely overdue for revival. Capcom agreed, clearly; the company is collaborating with Swedish developer Grin to create a modern 3D adaptation of the hallowed platformer on current consoles. As if that weren't enough, Grin is also working on a feature-packed love letter to Bionic Commando fans with a new downloadable remake of the game subtitled Rearmed, which we got to try out at Capcom's demo suite off the GDC show floor. Even after only a few minutes with the game, we're confident in saying that anyone with even a passing affection for the old Bionic Commando will want to keep a close eye on this game when it lands on Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network in the May to June time frame.

Everything about this remake looks faithful to the original, from the numbered world map to the visual aesthetics and layout of the levels. In the communication centers--where you contact your agents deep in the field--you'll see newly drawn 2D portraits of the soldiers you're talking to, just like in the NES version. Even the arm-swinging physics feel right on point, so if the timings involved in swinging from lamppost to lamppost are permanently imprinted on your neural pathways (as they are with any BC fan worth his or her salt, let's face it), you'll be able to jump right in here and start fighting back against the Imperials in no time. There's one new arm-related move called the side swing, which lets you grab a grapple point directly in front of you while falling to get some extra distance out of your swing.

Grin has added a ton of new features to the game that look like they'll enhance the entertainment value of this remake without impinging on its authenticity. There's now a two-player cooperative mode where the second player takes control of a red-suited version of Super Joe on the same screen as the first player. For the most part, the two characters will play separately, though you can launch your arm into the back of the other player to make him skid forward in a slide move that will get him underneath enemy bullets.

In co-op, the camera will zoom way out as you move farther apart from each other, and when you go too far, it will seamlessly switch over to a split-screen view, so you can effectively operate with complete independence in a given level. Interestingly, the game will split the screen horizontally or vertically depending on the layout of the level. Playing with a second player will also influence the behavior of some bosses, making their defeat more complicated.

Speaking of bosses, Capcom producer and professed BC nut Ben Judd admits that they were lousy in the original game, so the designers at Grin have gone back and added more creative and challenging boss encounters to the mission. We saw the first boss, called the beetle, which was a flying spheroid robot with various guns and shielding. The trick here was to grab a barrel with our bionic arm, hurl it at the beetle to drop it to the ground, then blast away at its exposed weak spot before it got back into the air. In the co-op version of this fight, the boss was able to move its shield around, making both players coordinate to throw barrels high and low to strike the right spot.

Rearmed even has a 50-plus-level challenge mode that Judd likens to Metal Gear Solid's VR missions, due to its wireframe, virtual reality-like appearance and its focus on quick, simple action-related tasks. From what we could tell, all of the challenges will focus on the swinging mechanic; specifically, most of them just want you to get from point A to point B. The problem is what lies in between, which mostly consists of sparsely distributed grapple points and platforms over spike traps and bottomless pits. Judd says the later stages will become so complicated that figuring out how to pass them will be more like solving a puzzle than playing a simple action stage.

There's a lot more to Rearmed than we got to see in our short demo, from the new weapons (such as grenades) to a new hacking minigame and even secret areas in each level that will require extremely precise arm-swinging to access. The game also looks beautiful running in HD, using tasteful colored lighting effects and soft focus to effectively capture the look and feel of the original Bionic Commando's levels. We're big fans of the NES original, so it especially warms our hearts to see it being done proud on the Xbox 360 and PS3. Capcom is still hashing out pricing details for the game, waffling between $10 and $15 on the download service, and you have until the summer to make your opinion known.

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