Longtime gamers raised on the NES version of Bionic Commando drooled with anticipation when a revamped version of it was first announced. While Rearmed isn’t a 1:1 remake of the NES version of Bionic Commando, it sticks close enough to it with regards to level design, while changing things around (like some boss battles), that it's still able to evoke memories of its predecessor while forging new memories all its own.
One way Rearmed does that is by genuinely improving upon the original's gameplay - now allowing you to use your bionic arm to grab onto barrels and toss them at foes, or later on in the game, acquire an upgrade that allows you to grab your actual enemies and either toss them aside like a pile of garbage or use them as a human shield to absorb the punishment hurled your way by other enemies.
As shooting games, the Bionic Commandos were never the best in the business, and that holds true with Rearmed, which continues the simple tradition of shoot-duck-shoot back, but where they’ve all shined is in the swinging mechanic - something that not only separates the BC games from the rest, but helps them excel because of how well-executed it is. While it may seem simple at first, when you’re using it to climb upwards, and navigate your way past gaps, as the game progresses, you’ll have to use it to quickly block enemy fire, and use as a means to get through tight passages riddled with rows of deadly spikes that’ll take about 30% of your life away with one false move.
To help acclimate new players with the arm mechanics (and to help more experienced players keep their skills sharp), the developers at GRIN threw in dozens of addictive challenge rooms - with goals ranging from simply swinging from one platform to another, to swinging from platform to platform while dodging spike strips above, below, and beside you that require letter-perfect timing in order to complete. As time goes on, you’ll learn how to best make use of the arm - like using shorter-distance grabs in order to prevent swinging into either spikes, or oncoming fire.
I absolutely love these challenges - they’re great for quick romps in-between longer game sessions, and are addictive enough to warrant hours-long play sessions in their own right. Not only because of the sheer amount of rooms available, but because you can always strive for a faster time, getting more stars, or to simply beat a friend’s time.
While the challenge rooms may seem unforgiving, you’re given a wide variety of difficulty levels for the main game, and unlike the NES game - where you either died with one hit or gathered bullets from fallen foes to increase your hit count - you’re given a life bar here (like the Game Boy version of BC) that helps ease the tension a bit since you no longer have to worry about dying after one shot. Players yearning for the NES version’s higher level of difficulty will be right at home with the challenge rooms, which feature one hit deaths, and a fairly gradual increase in difficulty (along with some alarmingly difficult ones thrown in for good measure)
Unfortunately, there’s no option to go back to the old style of getting more life, which I can see as a big disappointment for some as the life bar can be seen as making the game too easy. I usually found it to be a blessing, as it made me worry less about being hit and allowed me to enjoy the game more, however, I wouldn‘t have minded simply having the option available to go back to the old style of regaining life.
While I do love most of what Rearmed has to offer, it could have used some minor control tweaking. The default control setup features a horrid button layout for practical use (fortunately, the third option is excellent), and using the left thumbstick for maneuvering isn’t as accurate as it should be - the D-pad ends up being far more accurate, and while I don’t mind using it, I would’ve preferred having both control methods work equally well.
Despite the minor issues I have with the controls, I must say that the A/V work is spectacular. Graphically, it looks like what an update of the NES version should look like - it keeps the same basic color schemes, but adds in 3D graphics and a ton of detail to the environments and the character models. Musically, things are also kept very close to the NES game, just without a simplistic MIDI-esque sound, and with a more robust sound like one would expect from a modern day game.
All in all, I’d say that its combination of stellar, addictive gameplay and well-crafted graphical and audio work make this a must-have. Between the core game and the challenge rooms, the replay value is through the roof, and it’s something that I can see myself playing in some form for years to come - even if it’s just to topple an existing score in a challenge room, or to beat my best time. If you’re new to the series, this is a fantastic starting point, while series vets will absolutely love it. At just $10 USD, it’s a no-brainer given how much quality content is contained within the game.