Bionic Commando Rearmed

Grappling with promise.

The original Bionic Commando may be nearly old enough to rent a van and buy fireworks without ID, but don't let that put you off this modernised and expanded 2D remake: the 20-year-old game's bionic arm, which latches onto things with a grappling hook and allows you to swing from them like Spider-Man, was ahead of its time, and Swedish developer GRIN gives it a new lease of electromechanical life in Rearmed for XBLA and PSN.

Initially it's hard to grasp. Standing still and pressing the bionic arm button looses a grappling coil diagonally upward, while pushing forward or upward with the d-pad or analogue stick sends it in one of those directions. Once you've grabbed a ledge or a concrete block, you can then reel yourself in and sit or hang there. Alternatively, diagonal grapples allow you to swing, and then you can detach, soar and fire off the hook again to avoid flopping back to the ground. After a while, you can build up momentum, and with practice and fast reactions you can propel yourself almost anywhere by varying detach timing and plotting a route.

It's a massive amount of potential - more versatile than Mario's feather or Ratchet's Clank-powered copter - and the rest of the game falls into place around it: you're only able to fire left and right, so hovering adversaries have to be chased upward over platforms and stunned by your elastic punch to bring them into range; sandbagged platforms require a double-swing to scale because they block handholds from below; and bosses' weak spots are scattered up and down their metal bodies to force you skyward. Seemingly regressive steps like the absence of a jump button instead provide focus, justified by depth and variety of gameplay scenarios. There are tricks that veterans of the NES original won't recognise, too, like bolts to unscrew and a number of objects that can be reeled in and thrown.

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Rockets fired by enemies aim for your head, so if you duck just as they approach they swoop past you.

Progress through the single-player campaign brings you face to face with new enemy and level designs to recalibrate your approach. Levels are scattered across a rectangular world map, over which you're ferried by a jabbering female chopper pilot (she's got serious "stones" though, so don't worry), and which is split into colour-coded territories that you can only access when you've acquired the right pass-codes. As you pick between levels, you're occasionally set upon by the enemies' mobile goons, who have to be dealt with in a throwaway top-down shooter sub-game, while progress through individual levels is punctuated by hacking sections: little 3D logic puzzles that involve pushing a coloured orb between blocks to reach a goal.

Of most interest though are the Challenge Rooms you unlock by visiting friendly areas. An extension of the game's Metal Gear Solid-style virtual reality training level, these give you 30 seconds to traverse an aerial obstacle course, and for gamers who warm to the unique demands of the bionic arm, these will provide most of the replay value. There are over 50 to unlock, each with its own online leaderboard, and after a few basic attempts they ramp up in difficulty, covering every surface in one-hit-kill spikes so you can scarcely mis-time a single bionic swing.

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