Oh, Capcom. I'm fairly sure it's the only major publisher left on the planet that believes excessively high difficulty levels is absolutely the right way to make games. I love them for it. But bunging a jump into Bionic Commando - a classic game which was modelled around the concept that vertical movement was only possible by grappling - might be seen as an act of hardcore betrayal; what's next, a Mega Man who can shoot up? I simply won't stand for it!
Still, a few minutes with Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 calmed me down enough to reconsider the angry letter I wrote to Capcom HQ with my own blood and vomit. If only I could rewind the clock! But alas, I'm not exactly Time Man (you know, one of the new Robot Masters included in the PSP remake of Mega Man 1... oh, never mind.)
Take the first 'real' boss of Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 - in customary Capcom fashion, the end of level enemies you fight before this are labelled as mini-bosses and have a 94 per cent chance of returning later as regular baddies - which has you dodging the fiery exhausts of a massive aircraft and then bopping it on the head to make it spit out a golf cart containing Fidel Castro. I mean, sure, it's not actually Fidel Castro; it's antagonist General Sabio, who (in what I'm sure is a freak coincidence) looks exactly like Fidel Castro.
Still, what I'm trying to say is this: you try blowing that up without jumping. It's sodding hard, which is exactly the point. I conceded after the first couple of times, leaping up to grapple the all-important exhaust thrusters, consciously honing up my muscle memory so I could go back later to take it out solely with the bionic arm.
In essence, your leaping ability has been implemented to segue into the more advanced tactics of the game. It works too, enabling players who don't quite fancy performing a chain of pixel-perfect swing jumps to get over that teeny-weeny small pile of crates necessary for progression. At the same time, however, jumping is not a necessity, and Bionic Commando's hardcore contingent can complete every level in the game without pressing A (or X, if that's how you roll) for shiny in-game commendations and also (probably) an Achievement or Trophy.
Try it without jumping, though, and even simple platforming becomes an intricate adventure playground. Returning hero Spencer (slightly older and wiser than before - a fact indubitably evidenced by his new ginger moustache) still comes complete with his resplendent bionic arm, which operates exactly in the same fashion as before - firing solely at 45-degree angles and allowing him to latch onto almost any surface in the game. Momentum is gained by swinging mid-air, and the necessary chains of jumping and hooking turns otherwise generic objects, such as lights, crates and pipes, into necessary pathways for progression.
Developer FatShark, comprised of many of the staff who worked on the original Rearmed at now-defunct GRIN, hasn't forgotten the series' roots - or the success which came about from the hi-def rejazzling of a NES title, which itself was influenced from a 1987 arcade game. Unlike the first Rearmed, the sequel is built entirely from scratch and thus allows FatShark to easily fall in line with modern trends. While the original was designed in a period when game design was predominantly about robbing you of your shiny pennies from the get-go, now the learning curve is far less aggressive. General game mechanics are taught to you individually, alongside fancier set-piece events, crumbling scenery and expanded customisation options via a fancy catalogue of newfangled perks. How delightfully modern.
Another new trick, the Bio Vision, allows players to pause the game to scan the environment for, like, clues and stuff. This feature, activated by holding down the right trigger, doles out hints on enemy weaknesses and highlights objects with which Spencer can interact. It's a lifeline for the player, and neatly details which things you can blow up right now and which you'll need to wait until you've got access to more destructive weapons and abilities.
The original's top-down encounters have been completely done away with; now the game is simply a linear chain of levels. Brief vehicle sequences have been dotted about here and there - allowing you to rack up kills from, say, a stationary sniper tower or attack helicopter - to cut up the repetition, but the overall design looks set to be business as normal: a delectable selection of lush, over-saturated platforms where you notch up kills and toss explosive barrels at hapless mooks with un-abating frenzy. And the action is still accompanied by an absolutely excellent soundtrack, including more of Simon Viklund's work; the title screen features the best use of the dubstep wub-wub-wub horn since Alpha Protocol.
Meanwhile, anyone who actually likes working themselves up into a blind, frothy rage of trial-induced agony and frustration, with the occasional euphoric high equivalent to a smack junkie getting their fix, will find themselves at home in the new selection of Challenge Rooms. Essentially another game in itself, these strip away the context and leave you to compete against the clock in a series of maddeningly difficult courses.
Where Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 looks set to succeed over the original is that it immediately feels more accessible without sacrificing on overall difficulty. Although veteran players will probably swing their way through the opening few levels without any fuss, later stages look set to seriously challenge your ability to judge distance and keep a cool head - that's the Capcom Way. Difficulty quickly ramps up, but this time newcomers (or just those unable to get their head around a game without jumping) will find themselves able to come along for the ride.
Phew. And I managed to get through a whole preview without mentioning the ridiculous "your wife is your arm" plot twist revealed at the end of 2009's disappointing 3D ga-- oh dear.
Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is due for release as a download on Xbox LIVE Arcade and PSN in Q1 2011.