The Many Faces of the Bionic Commando

Bionic Commando, originally an arcade game from 1987, found its way onto the Famicom/NES, where a new plot involving Nazis Badds and an improvement on gameplay features made it a hit, particularly in the United States. Since then, while not a super popular franchise, Bionic Commando has gotten a number of remakes, most notably the HD 3-D retooling of the original game, Bionic Commando: Rearmed and the 2009 Bionic Commando sequel.

In each game, you control a man with a gun and a bionic arm, whose goal it is to climb and swing through levels while eliminating enemy soldiers and reach the end of the level. While the gist of gameplay has remained fairly consistent, the art direction has not, resulting in a very different face for our cyborg hero over the years.

Our hero from left to right: Bionic Commando (Arcade, 1987), Bionic Commando (NES, 1988), Bionic Commando (Game Boy, 1992), Bionic Commando: Elite Forces (Game Boy Color, 1999), Bionic Commando: Rearmed (PS3 and 360, 2008), Bionic Commando (PS3 and 360, 2009)

Here you can see the Bionic Commando go from a simple blue-haired arcade hero to different degrees of fantastic and realistic, producing about as wide a range of portraits as a franchise can get. Note that portraits two, five, and six are all supposed to be the same character, i.e. Radd Spencer, bane of mustached fascists. What is immediately evident is that the NES Bionic Commando was originally made for a Japanese audience with his vaguely manga-style 80’s looks, while the newest Bionic Commandos are both conscious of the fact that the NES version built a sizable American audience, and are attempting to appeal to a childhood image of the NES game being a fairly gritty and serious affair. Square jaws are the name of the game here.

Now, compare the Game Boy version to the Game Boy Color version. Can you guess which was done by a Japanese development team and which was done by an American one? Yeah, pretty hard I know.

What I find so interesting about the GB and GBC incarnations of Bionic Commando relative to each other is that they are both trying to achieve the same aesthetic goal: a far-flung whiz-bang high-tech laser future setting for the game that appeals to the audiences in their native countries. The GB Bionic Commando is a full-on early 90s anime bishounen hero with big eyes, small mouth, and hair reminiscent of Cyborg 009 or Soldier Blue from Towards the Terra. The GBC Bionic Commando meanwhile is a rough and gruff 90s X-Treme superhero akin to Marvel’s Cable or DC’s Lobo. “Yes! This is exactly what kids want!” both development teams must have thought as they approved the designs.

If Bionic Commando gets remade again in a few years, I look forward to how the cultural fashions of the time influence our hero yet again. Who knows? Maybe he’ll be some kind of strange amalgam of realistic muscley dude, superhero, and anime protagonist.

5 thoughts on “The Many Faces of the Bionic Commando

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