AKA: Captain Ladd' Nathan Spencer
As seen in: Bionic Commando (NES | Game Boy)
Also in: Bionic Commando (Xbox 360 | PS3 | PC)
Distinguishing feature: Resembles Dr. Octopus as a multiple amputee.
Strengths: Swings through the air with the greatest of ease (without a trapeze); advanced metabolism converts bullets into stamina.
Weaknesses: Low obstacles; stupid retcons.

Profile by Jeremy Parish | December 1, 2009

Whether you prefer to call him "Captain Ladd," "Rad Spencer," or even (gack) Nathan, the fact of the matter is that the hero of Capcom's Bionic Commando achieved an unparalleled feat: He perfected the art of platform-based swinging mechanics. Many have imitated his abilities, but none have ever matched the exquisite excellence of Spencer's bionic arm.

This, of course, is true only for the NES version of Bionic Commando. In the arcade game -- and the numerous home ports based thereon—the bionic commando in question was Capcom mainstay Super Joe, former star of The Speed Rumbler and Commando. Believe it or not, Joe is the only connection between Commando and Bionic Commando; in Japan, the former was called Senjou No Ookami (Wolf of the Battlefield) and the latter was known as Top Secret. The arcade game lacked the top-down stages that fully unified the two titles on NES. However, on NES, Super Joe appeared again, not the hero but rather as the damsel in distress, of sorts. You might wonder how Capcom's main man could be reduced to P.O.W. status, but if you've ever played the original version of Bionic Commando it actually makes sense. Hero of the people though he may have been, Super Joe sucked at swinging. He extended his arm forward by default rather than at a 45-degree angle, and he couldn't grapple in mid-air, either. Little wonder he went missing midway into his infiltration of the Badds' empire: He lacked the skills to make it past the adventure's midpoint.

Captain Spencer, though -- he had what it took. His control over his bionic grappling wire was precise, his reflexes speedy, his versatility impressive. So he couldn't jump; big deal. Most people can't jump like Mario?. That's what makes Spencer so compelling as a hero: He's not so different from us, aside from his incredible skill with a powerful bionic arm. As a protagonist, he has the same appeal as Batman. He's an normal man with awesome toys and the wherewithal to use them for justice. Also, he has awesome shades.

Spencer is available in two different flavors: The near-future (now recent-past) version who put down a thinly-veiled Nazi plot in the year 198X, and a far-future one who did pretty much exactly the same thing except against much less interesting bad guys, and in monochrome. Creators Capcom also greenlighted a really terrible update of the character for GRIN's 3D Bionic Commando, but it's probably best if we don't mention that. It involves him becoming an angry, disfigured jerkhole whose bionic arm contains the soul of his wife, Evangelion-style. If only I were making that up.

Character erosion is a natural function of time, so it's probably best for those of us who grew up playing NES to remember Spencer as he was originally portrayed: A stoic warrior who quietly and effectively went about his mission to save Super Joe and help the Federation's top hero take down the Badds. He wasn't a cocky sumbitch turned surly cynic but rather a determined fighter with respect for his captive superior, and in time that respect was reciprocated. Bionic Commando on NES was actually presented as Super Joe's memoirs, an old man's recollection of "a man [he] once met." Like so many 8-bit heroes, Spencer's personality was defined less by his words than by his actions, and by the impression he made on those around him. He was the only man who could succeed where even Capcom's most celebrated combat vet failed, and that's no small feat.

GameSpite Quarterly 3 | Previous: Q*Bert | Next: Ralf Jones & Clark Steel