#085 – Bionic Commando

Mechano-armed man takes on Hitler, succeeds, wins hearts of millions.
Little Johnny Quest is all grown up and fighting against Nazi robot arms and evil Russian spotlights.
Rad Spencer handcrafted his suit out of Velcro and glow-in-the-dark paint.




GENRE: Action

RELEASE DATE: December 1988

Bionic Commando is arguably one of the most revered NES games among hardcore gamers; the kind of people who believe continues and passwords aren’t a right, but a privilege. Unlike the majority of my reviews which cost me little time or effort, I wanted to give this game a fair deal. For starters, I knew it was going to be challenging, and boy howdy, did it not disappoint. This is probably the most difficult NES game I’ve ever played outside of the original Ninja Gaiden. I decided to give the game several days to “sink in” a.k.a. I needed to get better at the game before I could properly review it. Well, I could postpone this review indefinitely, or I could just admit what my ego wants to keep hidden: I really suck at Bionic Commando.

Thankfully, the game is so well made, that my suckiness doesn’t prevent me from appreciating the game’s depths and intricacies. Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: the game is an side-scrolling platformer that doesn’t contain a jump button. This in and of itself is huge, and not just when the game was released in 1988; even now, in 2011, I can’t think of any side-scroller that does this. In clumsier hands, such an audacious tactic would have likely failed, but Capcom pulled it off beautifully. The arm often knows where it needs to go, and if you’re confused about where to hook on to, take notice of your surroundings: the answer often lies right in front of you, like with the lamppost/spotlight in the first level. Rad Spencer, said commando of the bionic variety, isn’t the easiest chap to get along with at first, but once you master his arm, you won’t miss the jump button in the slightest.

While you do progress from one level to the next, like any other side-scroller, Bionic Commando gives you the feel of non-linearity with the main level grid. When you first begin the game, Rad is in a helicopter and you’re asked if you want to “transfer” to a different level or “descend” into the level highlighted. Once again, BC shows its uniqueness: you’re allowed to play the game out of order, even though you really shouldn’t; this made me feel like I was on a unique mission with Rad, instead of just a mindless drone obeying orders from the Army. The level grid may look confusing at first with its mishmash of random numbers, but it’s easy to tell what direction you want to go after you beat a level; blocks that are colored completely white are actual levels, while blocks with red middles and white borders are “neutral” bases.

It makes me sad to report that I have brought shame to my family and my ancestors by only reaching Area 4. For those who have yet to play BC, Area 4 is only the second level. To make myself feel slightly better, I will say that I almost beat the second boss, but sweet dancing Moses, this game throws everything at you to make sure you do not survive. The obscene difficulty specifically reveals itself in two ways: the first is not mastering the reach of your bionic arm; the second is avoiding the stupid soldiers that randomly drop all around you. The former is an attainable goal that merely takes practice; the latter is a exercise in cheapness that is designed to make the game harder. What difficulties await me in the later levels? I’m not sure because, as my thesis statement made clear, I suck at this game. But unlike, say, Battletoads, I desire to get better at this game because it’s just so darn fun. I’ve played the first two levels like fifty times, and I still want more abuse. That should say something.

Bionic Commando fun facts that everyone already knows:

– Hitler is the final boss. If that doesn’t make you want to reach the end, etc.

Bionic Commando is actually a sequel to a less-impressive game, Commando. Neither game has anything to do with the award-winning Schwarzenegger film, which emerged around the same time.

– People often quit Bionic Commando because of the lack of a jump button. Bunch of babies!


The following two tabs change content below.

Latest posts by Dylan Cornelius (see all)

7 replies on “#085 – Bionic Commando”

Loved this game!
It is one of the (shamefully) few Nintendo games I played that I actually finished. I do not remember it being punishingly difficult.
That title went to Legendary Wings which I lost while using a cheat code for infinite lives.
& has ANYONE ever finished Legacy of the Wizard?!?

I finished it once, but it took me a long ass time, following a walkthrough, lots of swearing, and sometimes abusing a glitch to let you infinitely rejump in mid-air in order to bypass some of the more bs block puzzles.

There are few games I revisit even today and one of those is Bionic Commando. The game holds up still today and can be beaten in an hour or so. Probably one of my favourite NES games ever released.
**There is a video of a Japanese game show that has someone beating Legacy of the Wizard. Pretty sure no one has ever beaten it outside Japan though. I agree with you it is one of the hardest most confusing NES releases.


This game definitely has a bit of a learning curve. Once you get it though, it’s well worth it. I don’t recall it being that difficult, but it was one of the first games I played so maybe I didn’t know any better. Still has one of the most satisfying endings in the history of gaming.

I am not alone! I can complete all 3 SMB games, both Zeldas, both Contras (yes with lives codes shhh), all 6 Megamans (plus 9 and 10 on wii), first two Castlevania’s (haven’t played 3rd one), Little Nemo, Little Samson, Metroid, Kid Icarus + more… And I too, cannot get past Area 4 in Bionic Commando. I can’t even swing past the spikes after setting off the flare. The crazy thing is I used to play the Turrican games and love the grappling arm mechanic… This one’s just got me stumped, I feel the same way though and I keep booting it up periodically so that I can whoop the first main system, get my flare, then get my ass handed to me in about 20 seconds on Area 4 lol -Matt

I’m still convinced that BC is one of the crowning jewels on the NES walkthrough, but holy balls, it took me YEARS to get remotely decent at this game. And I only got around to finishing it with 0 save states a couple of years ago, which is sad when you consider that I’ve been playing the game on and off for a couple of decades.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *