Capcom's Bionic Commando series is known for three things: a grappling hook, the lack of a jump button, and confidence-crushing hardness. The 1988 NES original is beloved in part because of this difficulty, an element that returned unscathed in 2008's HD remake, Bionic Commando Rearmed. However, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is its own beast. You want to see Rad Spencer jump? Just hit a button. Look forward to constantly dying? Well, first off, that's weird, and secondly, I hope you're patient. Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 will eventually destroy you, but it takes a while.
The sequel lets us off easy for the most part, at least until the game's final third. Levels aren't as unforgiving as you'd expect, with fewer moments where missing a single specific spot will always result in death. If you have a solid handle on the core mechanics you probably won't sweat until the last few stages, which are cruel enough to make the Dalai Lama put his foot through the TV. Bosses can be rough, though, and you'll grow sick of repeatedly failing against them until those holy moments when your pattern recognition and fleet fingerwork align in victory.
Rearmed 2 also does away with some of its predecessor's idiosyncrasies. There are no communications stations to hack into, no neutral territories, no helicopters on the world map whose interruptions lead to overhead shoot-outs that play like the original arcade game. This doesn't hobble the experience, but it does strip it of much of the franchise's distinctive flavour.
Rearmed 2 tries to replace those absent features with new asides, like sniper turrets that let you take out enemies from afar, and helicopter rides that are basically on-rails shoot-'em-ups. However, these minor digressions aren't any kind of thoughtful evolution of the series. Safely picking off enemies one by one and mindlessly holding down the fire button while a helicopter flies itself doesn't resemble the fast-paced, high-risk action you expect from Bionic Commando.
The level design also disappoints. The first Rearmed had the task of rebuilding a time-tested classic. Rearmed 2 features brand new levels that fail to replicate the concise design and gradual escalation in difficulty of the originals. The new stages often sprawl in all directions, making it hard to figure out the correct path, and occasionally leading to cheap deaths when you fall into an unseen pit or spikes buried below the bottom of the screen.
And then there's the jump button. It might initially sound like sacrilege, but the jump button isn't much of an issue - it's entirely optional, you can turn it off in the settings, and you get an achievement if you win the game without using it once. Rad's also a horrible jumper, clearing maybe two feet at the most, limiting the ability's strategic utility. I was determined to avoid it, but the seconds saved by jumping over a crate instead of swinging really add up. By the second stage I was shamelessly leaping over obstacles, and leaping to reach higher platforms with my grappling hook.
All this dilutes the patented Bionic Commando experience, but doesn't entirely destroy it. The kinetic thrill of swinging from platform to platform, measuring your motions, and reacting with pitch-perfect timing still exists, and you don't have to dig that far to find it. And if you want a real test, new challenge rooms like those from the first Rearmed return, and might be even more demanding this time. Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 isn't the best game in the series, but it's far from a disaster.
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