Bionic Commando

Developer: Capcom
U.S. Publisher: Capcom
U.S. Release: September 1992
Genre: Action
Format: Cartridge

Based on: Turning the Game Boy into a tiny portable NES, no foolin'.

Games | Game Boy | Bionic Commando

By Jeremy Parish | July 6, 2009

Many were the NES games and franchises that made their way to Game Boy. Considerably fewer in number were the ones that did it well. You can't fault developers for their ambitions: they saw a handheld device that had somewhat similar raw specs to the NES and figured, hey, cool -- this'll be a simple transition. But portable games were an untested frontier, so the ergonomic realities of the format were slow to dawn on many designers. Lower resolutions, blurry screens, briefer gaming sessions, insufficient light sources. Who knew then that these factors -- never an issue with console games -- would have such impact on their creations?

Capcom was one of the few that got it right. In addition to a number of completely fantastic original Game Boy titles (Gargoyle's Quest, for instance), the company also managed to convert a few of its NES classics into handheld form with startlingly few compromises. That includes arguably its finest NES game, Bionic Commando.

That one of the greatest 8-bit console games ever made could play so beautifully on Game Boy is reason for even a hardened cynic to disavow his dour ways, maybe even start going to church or something. Only in a divinely-guided universe could something as good as Bionic Commando have happened. Capcom's designers took the limitations of the format into account, redesigning the graphical style to be futuristic (thus offering more flavor and contrast despite the visual limitations) while adjusting the visual proportions to avoid creating an overly-cramped game world. This allowed most of the NES game's exquisitely-designed levels to be ported over without compromise. And to top it off, Capcom even redesigned the endgame, adding a wickedly challenging new final stage to test the mettle of NES pros who figured the Game Boy version for a cakewalk.

The original story and setting were changed, removing the late 20th century aesthetic (and obvious Hitler nods) in favor of a more futuristic style that gave the remake an almost Contra-esque feel. While I was always a fan of the NES game's near-future stylings -- now near-past, I suppose -- the new look really pops on Game Boy. The harder, more technological look seems a better fit to the stark monochrome of the system. As with so much of Bionic Commando on Game Boy, it's a modest tweak that works surprisingly well.

In the face of countless skeptics who doubted the Game Boy's capabilities, Bionic Commando was breathtaking proof that game design, not hardware power, is king.

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